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Maureen Austin

Sub-Region: Southern California Coastal, Inland
State: California
Business: Executive Director CHIRP for Garden Wildlife, Inc.
Website: www.Chirp.org

Biographical Information

My passion is winged wildlife in the garden-and my personal mission is to increase garden habitats to attract and sustain those winged things-birds, butterflies, ladybugs, etc.

Please tell us briefly about your favorite cause/business/product in which you are involved that you would like to share with the general public and why.
CHIRP for Garden Wildlife, Inc. (Center to Help Instill Respect & Preservation for Garden Wildlife), a non-profit educational corporation dedicated to positively impacting our environment--beginning in our own backyards.

Where can members get more of your advice?
Ask me! Phone, email...attend events where I do talks. I'm happy to share information.

Background Information Briefly describe the climate where you garden now (climate zone, state, area) and any other areas where you have gardened in the past.
Alpine, California--foothills just east of San Diego. Hotter summers/colder winters. If a nursery tag says "part sun" we know to give it lots of shade!

How long have you been gardening?
30+ years.

What triggered your interest?
It's in my genes.

What is your specialty, expertise or claim to fame?
Specialty: Gardening for birds and butterflies. Claim to fame: Spearheaded a drive in my hometown community of Alpine, California to become the First Community Habitat in the United States--certified by the National Wildlife Federation. The project is known as "Sage & Songbirds."

What formal education do you have?
College unrelated to horticulture. Landscape design classes which taught me there is a huge difference between gardening and landscaping. I'm proud to be a "gardener."

What formal horticultural training do you have?

What is your favorite garden or plant-related topic? Tell us a little about them.
Gardening for birds and butterflies. The winged creatures bring joy to our lives and life to our gardens!

What is your biggest gardening pet peeve? Tell us about it.
Chemical insecticides and fertilizers, and their widespread, hap-hazard application.

How much time per week do you spend gardening?
As much as possible! (It varies with what else is going on. Usually about 5-20 hours/week.)

How much time per week do you spend working at the business of gardening, such as consulting, reading, writing or talking about your gardening subject?
All my waking hours. I'm obsessed! (But there are so many different projects, events, etc. that there is always great variety in my "work"--BTW, I don't call it "work".)

Maureen's Book Recommendations

Sunset Western Garden Book
It is broad-based and succinct, with enough plant care information to know if a plant is worth pursuing.

Landscape Plants for Western Region: An Illustrated Guide to Plants for Water Conservation
Color photos, includes wildlife benefits, and plant particulars related to garden design.

American Horticultural Society's SOUTHWEST Smart Garden Regional Guide
Beautiful photos, interesting categorization of plants.

  Maureen's Favorite Websites

Buena Creek Gardens
Lots of great information about a wide variety of plants!

Dave's Garden
Lots of great information about a wide variety of plants

San Marcos Growers
Lots of great information about a wide variety of plants

What gardening or horticultural clubs, societies, or organizations (or any other interest) do you belong to?
CHIRP Garden Club, San Diego Horticulture Society, San Diego Floral Association.

What other biographical information would you like to share?

Gardening Questions

What do you like most about gardening?
The creative aspect--making a space beautiful and alive. It is also great stress relief!

What do you dislike most about gardening?
Gophers! They can ruin the best of days!

What individual has influenced your gardening interest the most? How?
My step-father. He taught me the benefits of earthworms and earthworm castings--25 years ago. (He was a man ahead of his time.)

What is your favorite place or activity in the garden?
I love an early stroll through the garden with my morning cup of coffee--watching as the garden comes to life.

What is your favorite time in the garden?
Sunrise and sunset.

What is your favorite public or private garden in the world? Why?
Zoro Garden in Balboa Park. It's full of butterflies!!!

What is your favorite color in the garden?

If you could grow only one plant, what would it be?
It would be the herb, fennel. (I know some folks hate it, and consider it invasive.) I would keep ONE fennel plant because it is a host plant for anise swallowtail butterflies AND ladybugs, and the bushtit birdies love it and flock to it. I enjoy the seeds fresh for munching while in the garden, and dried for making pasta sauce.

What plant have you tried to grow that has given you the most trouble? Or, what plant would you like to grow and can't, and why?
Some of the native plants have been troublesome for me. I think I've spent too many years enriching my soil and they don't like it? As for what I'd like to grow but can't--Fremontodendron (flannel bush).

What is your favorite gardening outfit or costume?
Funny you should ask that. Truth is, I garden in my bikini because I HATE "farmer tan lines". (My garden is not in view of my neighbors--(good for them!) And yes, I do apply an SPF lotion.

Do you have a gardening philosophy you would like to share with other gardeners? What is it?
Be loose. Have fun. Try it--you can always move it or take it out.

Who is your own favorite gardening personality on TV, radio or in print? Why?
No real favorites. I glean goodness from whoever is offering it.

What is the one question about gardening you would really like people to ask you?
How can I attract butterflies to my garden?

And what's the answer?
Answer: Grow their host plants.

What is a garden myth you hear frequently which you know is untrue?
Myth: Caterpillars will eat ALL my garden plants.

And, what is the reality?
Reality: Caterpillars are very selective eaters. If they don't have enough of their specific host plant, or are taken from it, they will die.

What group or kind of person do you think would benefit most from the advice you can give on gardening?
The beginning gardener who wants to learn how to create a bird/butterfly garden, the seasoned gardener who wants to bring winged wildlife into their yard--and anyone in between.

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