Oh, those noisy blue jays–bully birds, planters of acorns in the most inconvenient spots in the garden. That’s what many say about those electric-blue birds that, in fact, are all of the above! But there’s a book dedicated to jays whose author, Judith Larner Lowry, has a totally different perspective on jays. She has written a wonderfully lyrical book about jays. Below is my review of her second book The Landscaping Ideas of Jays (following Gardening With a Wild Heart). Upon reading the book, perhaps you will change your mind about jays.
Lowry doesn’t beat around the bush, her favorite coyote bush, to be exact! Gardening with California native plants is the way to go, the only way. If her dream could come true, she would re-landscape California, neighborhood by neighborhood, with California native plants. We would each become our own backyard restoration gardener, taking our cues from the scrub jay, the quail, the insects, and our native plant communities.
Her book can be read and appreciated on several levels, one, as a lyrical paean to the benefits and virtues of gardening with California native plants, and two, as a practical guide for re-designing and restoring one’s yard to eliminate the exotics and incorporate the natives. The language is similar to that of her 1999 book Gardening with a Wild Heart and reaffirms her commitment to our native plants. Her advocacy is both gentle and poetic.
This book is organized by seasons, with Lowry adding a fifth: the “quiet time” between summer and fall, “esperamos la lluvia”, or when “we are waiting and hoping for the rain”. Each season has it attributes, its gardening activities, its sequential periods of waxing and waning. One can follow the seasons, learning when to collect seed, till, plant, harvest, clean up and wait. Some of her intriguing chapters are entitled, I Live in a Quail Yard, Eating the Rain, The Weed Dance in Modern Times, and Do You Talk to Plants.
Lowry’s basic premise is that we ought to plant what was originally here. Visitors to her demonstration garden in Bolinas often remark about the beauty of particular plants growing there, not having previously seen them or knowing what they are. They are amazed to hear, “Why, that’s a California figwort (Scrophularia californica), or gumplant (Grindelia stricta),” both California natives. Due to what she refers to as “European gardening practices”, the natives have been removed and then replaced with exotics. Folks think they are seeing new plant introductions, when in fact they are seeing California natives!
Readers will also be fascinated by the interwoven histories of three of Lowry’s female heroes: Gerda Isenberg, founder of Yerba Buena Nursery; Lester Rowntree, supreme advocate for California native plants; and Edith Van Allen Murphey, collector of wildland seed and friend to Native Americans. All three were pioneers in recognizing the beauty of and the necessity for preserving our California native flora.
Both philosophical and practical, this readable book also contains a collection of colored photos of some of California’s most beautiful native plants and landscapes. Lowry somehow can sing the praises of pond scum, bare dirt, and dead twigs to make them sound necessary and lovely. She praises our bee, quail, and deer helpers. “Expand your aesthetic sense to appreciate the subtleties of annuals in their post-seeding decline,” she advises. “Be open to the results of happenstance.” Through the eyes of Judith Larner Lowry, the unattractive becomes beautiful, the impossible possible. Though The Landscaping Ideas of Jays is a logical extension to her first book, it can be read and enjoyed independently.