It was a typical June afternoon on the California Central Coast when I visited the Oceano Campground’s Nature Center, with sun trying to burn off the morning’s coastal fog. I wanted to see what new things were blooming for June. I was not disappointed. Almost immediately, I saw a whole border of the Hooker’s Evening Primrose (Oenothera hookeri) with their large, soft yellow flowers attended by black Bumble Bees. The bumbles hardly noticed my presence, so busy were they with the pollen-rich blooms. I had not seen these flowers before, as they don’t bloom here until June. Summer is their time to shine. They were very tall, 3-4 ft in height.
The Hooker’s Evening Primrose is a native California plant that thrives in communities like the Coastal Strand & the Coastal Sage Scrub, where the Oceano Nature Center is located. It tolerates sand, obviously very important so close to the beach. Oenothera hookeri also attracts butterflies, YAY! It has been called tough, in that it can stabilize newly disturbed sites. Besides growing at the coast in nearby places (such as Morro Bay, CA), it will also tolerate higher elevations, up to 7,000 ft (such as Mammoth Lakes, CA).
I have seen Evening Primroses before, but never this one. How nice to have their soft yellow flowers on 3ft tall stems at the back of a border, attended by bumblebees & butterflies alike. The sphinx moth is an attentive visitor in the mornings & evenings. A tough plant, it will survive drought and flooding, sun, wind and cold.
My next visit was to the Oceano Depot, home to a brand new permanent museum exhibit: arts & artifacts of the Dunites. Now, sometimes when visiting a place you might see a museum with Native American Indian artifacts for the peoples that originally inhabited the local area. But here the museum was sharing artifacts of a different kind: the peoples who inhabited the Dunes, and not so long ago. Aptly called Dunites, they lived on the dunes from the early 1930′s until 1946, when the sands began to shift.
If you have ever visited sand dunes, you know how impossible it seems that anyone could live out there! For one thing there seems to be no water, except the salty ocean, and the winds that blow the sand are relentless. Without modern day camping gear, how could one survive what to all extents & purposes is a desert? But they did it. The Dunites survived & thrived, in a small, quiet community of artists, free thinkers and intellectuals. They knew how to live with nature.
And, the Dunites gardened! They grew all of their own food. Mostly they were vegetarians, but also there were lots of clams & mussels to be caught in the sea. How the Dunites gardened and how they found fresh water is another interesting subject to explore.
But for now, what had my attention was the fact that the original cabin of the Dunite leader, Gavin Arthur, had been donated to the Oceano Depot and relocated there. (Born Chester Alan Arthur III, and called Gavin by his friends, Gavin was the grandson of President Chester Alan Arthur) I was in attendance at the cabin’s grand revealing at the Ocean Depot during “Dunite Days”. Sitting on the dunes, Gavin’s cabin had been the most elaborate dwelling of the Dunite community, yet it was only a small beach shack with lots of windows, in order to let as much sunlight in as possible.
The reason for relocating the cabin was to add it to the Oceano Depot, which is a historic train depot in the center of the small community of Oceano, CA. The Dunites are a prominent part of Oceano’s heritage, as is its early train history. Bringing the Dunites and their natural lifestyle to the attention of the community is an important part of the Oceano story, as is their plan of a native dune plant garden.
The Oceano Depot Association has plans to work with the CA State Parks Off Highway Recreation Division to create a native plant garden, much like what has been done in the nearby Oceano Campground. This will give residents a chance to get a look at what native plants grow in their community and why they are important. I have volunteered to help the docents with this project. These are the same docents that manage the Butterfly Grove, with its overwintering Monarchs.
Gavin’s Cabin will be surrounded by native dune plants, complete with recreated sand dunes. While telling Gavin’s story and that of the Dunites, visitors will also be told the story of the native plants of the dune ecosystem, plants that don’t just withstand the sands but thrive in them, as the Dunites themselves had.
Every community can find room for more such public areas to showcase natives & to educate people about why they matter. As I mentioned in an earlier post “Runway natives” public areas are an important.. no an essential tool in opening eyes and answering the question, “What is a native plant anyway?”
No matter where you garden, I’ll bet your community has room for another such promising & beautifully eye-opening area~
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