Wild Spaces in Urban Places is a photo documentary project about nature in the city. The photographs selected for this series document the wild places that exist within the densely populated San Francisco Bay Area. As a higher percentage of the global population becomes urbanized, maintaining our vital connection with nature has become increasingly difficult. A concept called restoration landscaping, which involves installing plants that are native to an area, has been gaining popularity. Not only is this approach resource efficient, but it also provides valuable habitat for wildlife, and fosters a connection to the land.
Even in urban areas, a surprising amount of open land has not yet been built or paved over. An aerial view of the city reveals greenery growing out of backyards, emerging from between buildings, extending along street medians, and surrounding the periphery of the built environment. This greenery is coming from city and state parks, public gardens, and even small private backyards.
Many residents and businesses in California are changing their homogeneous, resource-intensive lawns into diverse climate-appropriate landscapes. Often these newly transformed landscapes are filled with California native plant species that provide habitat for local wildlife. In a sense, they form a network of a thousand “mini-wildernesses” dotted throughout an urban area.
One place that highlights California's native plant species is the Regional Parks Botanic Garden. Situated in the hills above Berkeley, the garden grows plants native to of each of the state's distinct climate regions. A walk through the garden takes visitors from the lush coastal rainforests to the Channel Islands. Many rare and endangered plants grow here. According to Michael Uhler, who has been a gardener for the park for twelve years, "If the last remaining specimen of a plant can only be found in the garden it's too late." Uhler spends his free time roaming the Sierra backcountry for weeks at a time, cataloging the plants and wildflowers he encounters, and coming up with ideas for possible additions to the garden. The garden's primary purpose is to be a place where people can learn about plants that they may otherwise not have a chance to see.
An Anna's Hummingbird lands on a Salvia gesneriiflora 'Tequila' branch at the Quarry Lakes demonstration garden in Fremont. The garden is meant to showcase landscape plants that thrive in the Bay Area's climate while using minimal inputs such as water, fertilizers, and pesticides. One section of the garden was planted as a "habitat garden" with species intended to attract birds, butterflies, pollinators, and beneficial insects. Selections include Coast Live Oak, Ceanothus, and Toyon. Anna's Hummingbird is one of two species found in this area.
During the development boom in the 1960s and 1970s, many of the East Bay's urban creeks were buried underground. Along with the creeks, valuable habitat was lost and humans lost their ability to enjoy them. Now, through various local efforts, many of the buried creeks are undergoing creek daylighting and restoration efforts. Sausal Creek, in Oakland, which runs from the hills to the Bay, is an urban creek that is now the focus of extensive restoration efforts. Over 240 species native to the Sausal Creek Watershed are grown at the nursery. With the help of volunteers, the plants are being installed to replace invasive ivy and eucalyptus currently growing along many sections of the creek.
Lupine is a plant native to California. According to the Jepson Manual California boasts 136 species of lupine. They range from tiny alpine varieties, just a few centimeters tall, to five-foot bushes in the coastal scrub. The lupines pictured here were grown from seed out of a seed package created by the Alameda County Water District, for school children to grow at home. Each seed packet contains a mix of wildflowers native to Alameda County.
Coast Live Oak trees were once abundant in the east bay hills. This mature oak was left intact when the road was constructed. Behind the tree is a view of John Hinkle Park. The park was landscaped with California native plants when it was established in 1926. Over the years, the original vision for the park has faded. Now the underbrush is a monoculture of invasive grape ivy.
When the Berkeley hills were developed, a network of pathways connecting residential neighborhoods was planned. An organization called the Berkeley Path Wanderers Association, maintains and looks after these pathways. A map guide was created for people wishing to explore the paths. Each year the association holds organized path walks and tours. Keeler Path, which connects Poppy Lane and Sterling Avenue is surrounded by lush greenery in a densely developed neighborhood. One Berkeley hiker remembers playing on the pathways as a child. Now he takes his grandson for walks along the path.
Mortar Rock was preserved during the residential development of the Berkeley Hills. The Ohlone people used the rocks as mortars. This park, once covered with invasive plant species, is being restored by local volunteers.
Judith Lowry, the owner of Larner seeds, is the author of several books on the topic of restoration landscaping. She maintains a demonstration garden which is open to the public several days a week. The milkweed seeds are ideal for people who want to grow a plant that is critical for monarch butterflies during their migration.
A closer look at the leaves reveals wildlife on all scales.