Celebrate Earth Day with a native Burbank gardener

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

It’s Earth Day! April 22 marks Earth Day each year, as it has since the modern environmental movement in 1970 and is celebrated in more than 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.

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

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

Erin Orr is a native garden guru and has worked on gardening campaigns for the Jane Goodall Institute, teaches gardening classes at the Burbank Adult School and native gardening to 3rd graders at Bret Harte Elementary where it focuses on why native plants are important and how they are under threat. “We fell in love with the native plants so much that it became a lifelong passion for me and my husband,” Orr said. “One of the things I love the most is that it’s for everyone. We don’t need to be experts to grow a native garden. Anyone can take action for our local environment in their own backyard or patio by growing native flowers and plants.

Erin Orr teaches at Bret Harte Elementary.

In honor of Earth Day, Girl Scouts of Los Angeles Troop 76, led by Johanna Schofield, visited Orr’s Garden. Along with 14 of their Junior and Brownie Scouts, they learned about the impacts of indigenous gardening on our community. “Native plants want to live in our gardens. They evolved to thrive here! This means that native gardens attract and support many more wildlife, such as birds, bees and butterflies than a non-native garden, while helping to conserve water and reduce runoff without the need for pesticides. or fertilizer,” added Orr. “By planting natives rather than non-natives, we can maximize our positive impact on the local environment.”

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

The Girl Scouts used Orr’s Garden as inspiration to complete two of their five stages for their Junior Outdoor Art Explorer badge. The girls learned about the different species of plants around the yard, then took some time to sit in the garden and create an oil pastel artwork inspired by a flower of their choice. They also learned photography and took turns taking macros and microphotos of the plants in the Orrs yard they were educated on. “We wanted to celebrate Earth Day by meeting and visiting a woman in our community who is actively doing her part in preserving biodiversity and how her entire career has been dedicated to empowering and educating young people,” Schofield said.

Orr has two young children and believes young people are more eager and eager to learn, which makes it a passion of hers to educate children to make better choices for our planet. “The truth is that they are the ones who will suffer the consequences after we leave,” adds Orr. “Let’s give them all the tools possible to have the best possible impact.” While animals and insects are often taught to children, the ecology of native plants is what allows these insects and animals to survive.

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

So what’s the buzz around native gardening in Burbank? The Orrs have lived in their Burbank home for 13 years and learned about the eco-friendly gardens through Orr’s mother, who is a native plant volunteer in the Bay Area. They learned that indigenous gardening extends far beyond landscaping and becomes home to an incredible amount of biodiversity. “It is almost impossible for us to look in any direction without seeing an abundance of birds, lizards, butterflies and bees. The garden is literally buzzing with activity,” Orr said of his front yard.

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

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

“Fortunately for us, Burbank is surrounded by incredible native plant resources,” Orr said. The Theodore Payne Foundation for Wildflowers and Native Plants is located in Sun Valley and strives to inspire and educate about the benefits and beauty of native plant landscapes. They offer classes and have a shop to buy your own California natives. An endemic California plant, Nevin’s barberry, is even endangered, and the Orrs are truly thrilled to welcome the shrub to their front yard. “By planting a native garden, you maximize your impact. A native garden will support and attract many more wildlife, like essential pollinators: birds, bees, butterflies, etc., than a non-native garden,” Orr said. “So it’s about supporting animals, increasing the biodiversity of our environment, and improving the lives of the people who live around the natural space you cultivate.”

Photo of the Orr Native Garden by Jon Orr.

There is such a wealth of information and support for growing native plants in our online and in-person community, and Burbank is home to a few, including the Facebook group called Burbank Backyard Food Growers, which never stops not food. “Group members understand the importance of growing native plants to support our local wildlife and pollinators to create a healthy and thriving garden ecosystem,” Orr said. “The Burbank Community Garden, next to the Chandler Bike Trail on Pass, is another in-person opportunity to get involved and find support. They will plant and cultivate CA natives around the perimeter of the garden in the fall.

Here are some additional resources to learn more and get involved in California Native gardening.

Bloom California Garden Inspiration

Theodore Payne Foundation for Wildflowers and Native Plants

Theodore Payne Foundation Getting Started Guide

California Native Plant Society

Calscape’s comprehensive database of CA native plant species

Burbank Backyard Foodgrowers Club

Burbank Community Garden


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