National parks and urban gardens: Tales of native plants at work, in the yard and abroad

National parks may not be the first things to come to mind when thinking of a garden–but let’s compare and contrast with what one might typically call a native garden.

One a native garden called the Pinnacles National Park where we recently hiked, and the other, The Regenerative Organic Agriculture Training Farm for college students at Hester School.


What do these gardens share? How are they different?

  • They each promote biodiversity and pollination.
  • Each have abundant food for humans and wildlife.
  • Both protect ecosystems services for all the organisms that live there.
  • They each have connections between plant communities that are dependent on those connections to complete their life cycles.
  • No tilling happens in either garden.
  • Pesticide use is permitted in our national parks but not at Hester garden.
  • The Pinnacles does not have an irrigation system; Hester Garden does. But the Pinnacles has rivers and a reservoir. Hester does not.
  • You don’t see a lot of exposed soil at the Pinnacles. There are timeless rock formations covered with colorful lichens and algae. Then each species growing on the rocks has associated microbiomes to assist them in completing their life cycles. The soils are covered with leaf litter, many biodiverse plants, vegetative matter decomposing on the soil surface and many species of plants growing very close to each other.
  • The ecosystems at the Pinnacles make their own mulch to protect the soil microbiology. At Hester, We cover up all the soil.
  • We don’t till soils at ROA farms because we don’t want to disturb the soil’s microbiology or disrupt microbial networks. We also want to stop soil erosion, save water and build organics.We use compost, mulch, straw and last year’s crop residue, nitrogen fixing plants, and plant many species of plants closer together to cover up all the soils at Hester garden.
  • At the Pinnacles this process happens by not disrupting nature’s cycles, like the carbon, nitrogen and water cycles.
a natural spring with giant ferns
woodland garden with lichen at moss at the Pinnacles
all surfaces covered with organisms and debris
Hester Garden last year
Perennial food plants like tree collard, which can be harvested daily, adjacent to native hedgerows that supply food and shelter for pollinators. Hester Garden
ROA gardens at Hester, featuring aquaponics, native hedgerows, straw covered polyculture mounds with drip irrigation and edible native plants
The trails have sandy soils exposed
the reservoir at the Pinnacles
Newly planted polyculture food plants covered with straw to protect beneficial microbes in soils at the ROA Hester teaching lab.
Rocky outcropping covered with colorful lichens

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