Back in June, Charlotte, Annette and Alyssa from the Creative Services department volunteered on Patagonia time for Growing Solutions, a great non-profit doing native plant work on the Channel Islands just off the coast of Ventura. Charlotte sent us this story about their day away from the office.
Karen Flagg wrapped her hand around a stem of Nassella pulchra and with one sweep up the stalk, deftly stripped it of its tiny seeds. She dropped the small pinch of seeds in a paper sack, and patiently moved on to another stalk. She showed us how to do it – collect seeds from this native California plant commonly called Purple Needle Grass – with just the right amount of pinch and pull.
“We need them for the greenhouse,” she said, “but we obviously need to leave enough so this clump repopulates and stays where it is.”
Karen and her partner, Don Hartley, founded and operate Growing Solutions, a non-profit dedicated to the restoration and preservation of native plants in California. They have several plant nurseries in Santa Barbara and Ventura counties, where they propagate native species that are then transplanted to nearby restoration sites.
[The good times gang gets ready to build a plant nursery. Photo: Karen Flagg]
Three of us from Patagonia’s Ventura office volunteered a few days to help them with one of their newest projects: establish a native plant nursery on Santa Cruz Island, the largest of five islands that make up the Channel Islands National Park (check out the Live Eagle Webcam), just a few miles and a one-hour ferryboat ride off Ventura’s coast. We swapped seed collecting duty for power tools and built a small shed that will be used for potting plants, sorting seeds, and contemplating life while sitting atop a composting toilet – one with a stunning view.
In a few seasons, Growing Solutions’ Santa Cruz Island nursery will be producing plants that will be relocated to places around the approximately 16-mile long island, slowly bringing back some semblance of its pre-settlement natural state. It will be a decades’ long project. Much of the island’s native flora and fauna was wrecked by domestic sheep, goats and cows, who for decades roamed free on the island eating native plants into oblivion and causing horrible erosion – in places, the hills lost up to several feet of topsoil, physically exposing root systems of huge trees to the wide open air.
Pigs were the worst, mainly because they’re smart and scrappy. They ate everything, it seems, and reproduced in huge numbers long after humans gave up trying to do anything with them. Feral and fearless, they threw all sorts of natural processes on the island out of whack – of both plants and animals – by rooting and just generally running amuck. The domestic animals have all been removed (or eradicated), and things are slowly beginning to turn around.
Today the island is overrun – in a good way – with researchers. In the few days we were there, we met a soil scientist, North America’s foremost expert on lichens, two abalone researchers, and several botanists. They ask unending questions about the natural processes and interconnectedness of species on the Channel Islands. We were just the gals slinging hammers, but for a few days we were a small part in something monumental: the restoration of one the California coast’s great natural beauties.
Growing Solutions is a 501c (3) non-profit organization located in Santa Barbara County. They are dedicated to the restoration and preservation of California’s remarkable botanic wealth and rich diversity. Please consider supporting their work by becoming a member (members receive a 10% discount on all plants) or by volunteering like the girls from Patagonia.
[Photos: View of Santa Cruz Island from the boat; the Growing Solutions crew warms up the new nursery; lunch break on the island. All photos courtesy of Charlotte.]