Jan 25, 2020
by Roger Raiche David McCrory, Planet Horticulture
Plants have always been my best friends, and when I moved to California 42 years ago, it was mainly because I could garden all year — rather than hibernating for 5 months as I was in upstate NY. It seemed a perfect fit. Initially, I was in San Francisco and then Berkeley, but my first visits to Sonoma County back in 1979 made me feel like I was touring through Eden. Every time I returned to Berkeley from my day trips, I dreamt that maybe someday I would live here.
I guess it is not surprising that in the trajectory of my life, I ended up living here. I feel at home here. But long before moving here, Sonoma Co enticed me in many ways, and it was a close, and easy day trip, or weekend jaunt. It was also a big positive for me that overall it was — and still is — an accepting, friendly place to visit and live. I love it that I don’t have to hide who I am, and that feels good. The County has excellent botanical diversity along with a variety of people and perspectives. Our company, Planet Horticulture, has been blessed to work on a wide variety of projects in the County including gardens, managing natural areas, and creating trail systems.
As my horticultural and botanical career developed during the ’80s and ’90s, it was Sonoma County that kept drawing me back; for indeed, it is the second most diverse county in CA for native flora due to the incredibly diverse landscape, climates and soil types and so on. There are over 1400 native plants that occur in the County, with 20 known to occur only in the County and nowhere else on Earth, and about 125 are considered endangered or threatened to some degree.
One of my favorite shrubs is manzanita (genus Arctostaphylos), and California is the center for the diversity of this exquisite genus, with about 100 named entities. I was fascinated by this group and Sonoma Co has 18 native types — and many named and unnamed hybrids — I figured if I could figure out the ones here, I could figure them out anywhere. I spent many long days traveling around looking at the manzanitas and seeing if I could make sense out of them, some of the most memorable days of my life.
And the manzanitas fit into my other excellent plant passion — plants that grew on serpentine rock and soils – and Sonoma Co had lots of serpentines, a strange stone that originated in the Upper Mantle of the Earth and is now up on the surface, defying anything to grow on it. This led me to wander into The Cedars, a sizeable serpentine area at the headwaters of Austin Creek, a hike that changed my life. It was love at first sight, this amazing canyonland of harsh rock and unique plants. Exploring and documenting this most unexpected landscape has become a core interest in my life since that initial encounter 39 years ago. 4 new endemic plants (found only at The Cedars and nowhere else on Earth) have been published due to my explorations there. One of these endemics was named in my honor, this being The Cedars’ fairy-lantern, Calochortus raichei (see main photo). Planet Horticulture helps facilitate ongoing scientific research into this other-worldly place, and considerable chemical, geological and microbial research has been published from The Cedars, enriching our knowledge of the planet.
The ongoing dichotomy in my plant lust — horticulture vs. nature, resolved here. The County has some of the most beautiful land and natural places one could imagine: the Russian River, the Sonoma Coast, the valleys of apples and grapes, wild mountain areas. And it has a vibrant nursery scene — rare plants of every persuasion and gorgeous gardens, and brilliant plant folks.
I am still in love with Sonoma County and the beautiful life it has offered me.
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