Celebrate Earth Day with a Burbank Native Gardener

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Erin Orr with Girl Scout Troop 76. Photo by Ashley Erikon

It’s Earth Day! April 22nd marks the date of Earth Day every year as it has since the modern environmental movement in 1970 and is celebrated in over 190 countries. This Earth Day, Burbank resident, Erin Orr, provides insight into the impacts of California native gardening and how you can incorporate it into the landscape of your Burbank home.

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Erin Orr with daughter in their native garden. Photo by Ashley Erikson

Earth Day has always been a day to appreciate the environmental laws in place that have protected our waterways, air, land, and the biodiversity of our world. Many people use this day to make small changes to their habits from switching to reusable water bottles, ditching plastic bags for totes, or visiting a local beach to do a clean-up.  Another way to learn how to be eco-friendly is by creating a native garden around your home. 

Erin Orr is a native garden guru and has worked on garden campaigns for the Jane Goodall Institute, teaches garden classes at the Burbank adult school and native gardening to 3rd grade students at Bret Harte Elementary where she focuses on why native plants are important and how they are being threatened. “We fell so in love with native plants that it became a life-long passion for both me and my husband,” said Orr.  “One of the things I love most about it is that it’s for everyone. We don’t have to be experts to grow a native garden. Anyone can take action for our local environment in their very own yard or patio by growing native flowers and plants.”

Erin Orr teaching at Bret Harte Elementary.

In honor of Earth Day, the Girl Scouts of Los Angeles Troop 76, led by Johanna Schofield, visited Orr’s garden. With 14 of their Junior and Brownie scouts they learned about the impacts of native gardening on our community. “Native plants want to live in our gardens. They have evolved to thrive here! This means native gardens attract and support significantly more wildlife, like birds, bees, and butterflies than a non-native garden, all while helping to conserve water and reduce run off without needing pesticides or fertilizers,” added Orr. “By planting natives instead of non-natives, we can maximize our positive impact on the local environment.”

Erin Orr teaching Girl Scout Troop 76. Photo by Ashley Erikson.

The Girl Scouts used Orr’s garden as inspiration to complete two of their five steps for their Junior Outdoor Art Explorer Badge.  The girls learned about the different plant species around the yard and then took time to sit in the garden and create an oil pastel art piece inspired by a flower of their choosing.  They also learned about photography and took turns taking macro and micro photographs of the plants in Orrs yard that they were educated about. “We wanted to celebrate Earth Day by meeting and visiting a woman in our community who actively does her part in preserving biodiversity and how her entire career has been dedicated to promotions and educating the youth,” said Schofield.

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Orr has two young kids and believes that young people are more eager and willing to learn, making it a passion of hers to educate children on making better choices for our planet.  “The truth is that they’ll be the ones faced with the consequences after we are gone,” adds Orr. “Let’s give them every tool possible so that they may have the best possible impact.”  While animals and insects are often taught to kids, the ecology of native plants is what enables those insects and animals to survive.  

Oil pastel art done by Girl Scout Troop 76. Photo by Johanna Schofield.

So what’s the buzz about native gardening in Burbank? The Orrs have lived in their Burbank home for 13 years, and learned about environmental friendly gardens from Orr’s mother who is a native plant volunteer in the Bay area.  They learned that native gardening stretches far beyond landscaping and that it becomes a home for an incredible amount of biodiversity. “It’s almost impossible for us to look in any direction without spotting an abundance of birds, lizards, butterflies and bees. The garden literally hums with activity,” said Orr, about her front yard.

Erin Orr in her native garden. Photo by Ashley Erikson.

The big question is how to get started.  According to Orr the conceptualization was easy, it was the implementation that was the real work.  They first designed their space on paper and looked at other California native landscapes for inspiration. “In the meantime, we killed the lawn where our future garden would go. We stopped watering it completely and let it dry out over one summer,” said Orr. They then dug up the top 3-5 inches of remaining roots.  Next they mapped the space creating a pathway to their front door and a seating area comprised of decomposed granite.  Finally they laid cardboard over every inch of soil to block out the sun and covered it with five inches of mulch.  Once the groundwork was set and the mulch settled, the Orrs were ready to plant.

“Lucky for us, Burbank is surrounded by incredible native plant resources,” said Orr. The Theodore Payne Foundation for Wildflower & Native Plants is located in Sun Valley and works to inspire and educate about the benefits and beauty of native plant landscapes. They offer classes and have a shop to purchase your own California natives. One endemic plant to California, the Nevin’s Barberry, is even endangered, and the Orrs are really excited to host the shrub in their front yard. “By planting a native garden, you are maximizing your impact. A Native garden will support and attract significantly more wildlife, like critical pollinators: birds, bees, butterflies etc, than a non-native garden,” said Orr. “So it’s supporting animals, it’s increasing the biodiversity of our environment, and improving the lives of people who live around the natural space you are cultivating.”

Photo of the Orr’s native garden by Jon Orr.

There is such a wealth of information and support for growing native plants in our community online and in person, and Burbank is home to a few of them, including the a Facebook group called the Burbank Backyard Food Growers, which doesn’t stop at just food. “Members of the group understand the importance of growing native plants to support our local wildlife and pollinators to build a healthy and thriving garden ecosystem,” said Orr. “The Burbank Community Garden off the Chandler Bike Path on Pass is another in-person opportunity to get involved and find support. They will be planting and growing CA natives around the perimeter of the garden in the fall.”

Here are some more resources for learning more about and getting involved in California Native Gardening.

Bloom California Garden Inspiration

Theodore Payne Foundation for Wildflowers & Native Plants

Theodore Payne Foundation Guide for Getting Started

California Native Plant Society

Calscape’s comprehensive database of CA native plant species

Burbank Backyard Foodgrowers Club

Burbank Community Garden