Debbie Arrington

Seeds: Train to be a ‘green’ gardener

This native plant garden was featured on an Elk Grove Greener Garden tour. Learn how to create and maintain your own greener garden during a 10-week course.
This native plant garden was featured on an Elk Grove Greener Garden tour. Learn how to create and maintain your own greener garden during a 10-week course.

Every gardener wants a green thumb. But why stop there? This winter, become a totally “green” gardener.

“Green” gardeners know how to save water and make the most of the resources they have on hand. They nurture their soil along with their vegetables and flowers. They keep chemicals out of our rivers, lakes and oceans. They’re kind to wildlife and reap the benefits of “good” bugs.

And they grow amazing gardens, with bountiful harvests and beautiful plants.

Learn how to be a “green” gardener with the help of a 10-week course designed for local homeowners. It starts at 6:30 p.m. Thursday, Jan. 14, at the Roseville Utility Exploration Center (1501 Pleasant Grove Blvd., Roseville) and continues through March 17. The fee is $55 for Roseville residents, $65 for non-residents, including all course materials. (Sign up by calling 916-746-1550 or visit

A separate 10-week class, priced at $150, is geared to landscape professionals and will be held at the Sacramento Tree Foundation (191 Lathrop Way, Suite D, Sacramento) on Wednesday nights starting Jan. 27. (Register at by Thursday, Jan. 14.)

Cheryl Buckwalter of EcoLandscape is the facilitator for both courses. An expert in “river-friendly landscaping,” she’s taught hundreds of gardeners, both pros and hobbyists, how to be better stewards of their landscapes while helping the environment. These gardeners have created their own “greener” outdoor spaces, using the principles learned in EcoLandscape’s classes.

River-friendly landscaping is “an integrated, watershed-based approach to landscaping that works with nature to reduce waste, prevent pollution and support the integrity of the Sacramento region’s waterways,” she said.

“One distinction between (the two courses) is that this ‘at home’ series includes a class on edible gardening and one on landscape design,” Buckwalter explained. “Other class topics will be an overview of river-friendly landscaping, irrigation, (the concept of) right plant/right place, soil health, compost and mulches, pruning, integrated pest management, fertilizers and lawn care that includes lawn alternatives.”

Three sessions of the pro course are devoted to irrigation, including conversion of traditional sprinklers to drip systems. El Niño or no El Niño, water conservation remains a top priority for local water districts and utilities. The 10-week class is co-sponsored by EcoLandscape, the Regional Water Authority, the California Department of Water Resources, Sacramento County Stormwater and the city of Sacramento.

Licensed landscapers who complete the course can earn continuing education credits from several professional associations as well as the title of “qualified green gardener.”

“This training program is for everyone who designs, installs, maintains and manages landscapes,” Buckwalter said. “During this wonderfully wet season with cooler temperatures, now is the perfect time to broaden your knowledge and add to your menu of environmentally-friendly services.”

Because folks with no green thumb tend to hire people who do.

The ocean needs friends, too

Our inland suburban gardens affect a lot more than our immediate neighborhoods. What flows off our landscape goes into streams and rivers – and eventually the Pacific Ocean. Clean California beaches start here.

That reminder comes from the Surfrider Foundation, which recently launched its own “Ocean-Friendly Garden” program. Find out details and tips at

Similar to river-friendly landscaping, ocean-friendly gardening concentrates on water – both its use and quality.

What’s an “ocean-friendly garden”? According to the foundation, it minimizes traditional turf and grass areas and instead focuses on creating a less-thirsty landscape with native plants.

Extra soil, used to create berms or swales, and mulch act as sponges to retain water, so plants have their own built-in reservoirs to keep them healthy, the foundation says. That “sponge effect” does more than hydrate plants; it can help prevent flooding during El Niño storms.

The goal is to limit runoff as well as use, notes the foundation. All water – rainwater or water used intentionally for irrigation – that isn’t absorbed by your soil runs off your property and into the street, picking up such pollutants as fertilizers, pesticides, automobile oil, brake pad dust and exhaust. That runoff goes untreated into storm drains that lead to the ocean.

Such urban runoff is the No. 1 cause of ocean pollution, the foundation says. Less runoff means cleaner water and beaches. That’s something everyone, not just gardeners, can appreciate.