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2014 Sage & Songbirds Garden Tour: Sneak Peek of Garden #2


Sea-faring adventurers set roots in Alpine habitat – Sneak Peek of Garden #2
Story by Maureen Austin, CHIRP /  Photos by Mendi Wyatt, CHIRP

Scattered car carcasses and tall, dense weeds were the only “garden elements” around the pressboard shanty home that once sat on this Peutz Valley property.

Today, the 4.5-acre site, sloping sharply up the hillside, is an engaging commentary on “living off the land” through such practices as sustainability and permaculture.

Coursons_garden2Mike and Alison Courson spent the first 17 years of their marriage living aboard a 34-foot sailboat, exploring such distant places as Bora-Bora.  Alison describes their boating life as “being integrated with nature’s rhythms.”  It wasn’t until they moved to Alpine that they considered living on the land to be equally fulfilling, she said.

It was the Sage & Songbirds Festival that first brought them to Alpine, over 14 years ago, when they were living in LaMesa.  How appropriate that their garden is now a featured site for the 17th annual event!

Their National Wildlife Federation-certified habitat is in-sync with “nature’s rhythms,” largely through Alison’s gentle prodding and coaching of her husband.  Mike laughs as he recalls his intention of planting “tropical gardens” where California native and other Mediterranean perennials now thrive.  It took an on-site visit by native plant guru/author Greg Rubin to convince Mike that native plants would provide the color, texture and excitement he wanted in their garden.

But Mike did have many worthy ideas–one of which was the construction of about 100 feet of hillside waterfalls and ponds, which he worked on for 15 minutes a day, over a period of 1 1/2 years.  It was ultimately finished by a team of professional waterscape builders who Mike convinced to use his property as a demonstration project for teaching.

The water feature is a focal point of their garden, and a hub of wildlife activity, including a chorus of croaking frogs, hummingbirds, songbirds, insects and a variety of mammals.

Mike and Alison marvel at how “nature” has nourished their garden.

“It’s amazing what the birds and animals bring in the way of seeds and ‘plant’ around the property,” Mike said.  “We started the growth here in as close to a natural way as we knew how, and the animals and birds took over and have brought in an uncountable variety of other beautiful plants!”

In a strange twist of fate, it was the Cedar Fire of 2003 that actually revealed the depth of the beauty of their property to the Coursons.  Their entire yard burned, but their recently remodeled home was spared because of its concrete resin siding, they said.

Coursons_them“We discovered 3 natural, seasonal waterfalls and ponds on the backside of the property that we didn’t even know about!” Mike said.  After the fire leveled the decades of thick growth, they were discovered.

Alison saw the fire as a motivator to implement permaculture practices such as planting gardens with immediate needs (i.e., herbs, lettuce) up-close and lesser needed items (seasonal veggies) farther away.

As one might infer, this pair of adventurers is not done yet!  Future plans include setting up bee hives, finishing an aquaponic symbiotic gardening system with fish and veggies, and lessening their needs for non-renewable power.

Those things are down the road, but for now, they invite Sage & Songbirds Garden tourists to “visit, linger, enjoy the wildlife and see their version of gardening.”

Theirs is Garden #2 on the Tour.

                Tour Information:

  • Five fabulous Alpine gardens are showcased in this year’s tour, plus a place-of-worship garden and raptor rehabilitation facility.  Admission to all seven sites is $20.
  • Ticket includes a map for the self-guided tour, and is valid all three days of the event.  Visitors may stay as long as they desire in each garden.
  • Tickets may be purchased in person at Jennifer’s Feed or Alpine Garden & Gifts.  Cash or checks only at those locations.
  • To purchase online with credit card, please visit
  • Instructions to purchase by mail may also be found at, or by phoning 619-445-8352.
  • The event is hosted by CHIRP for Garden Wildlife, Inc.





17th Annual CHIRP Sage & Songbirds Garden Tour: May 2-4, 2014


Tickets: $20 each

Gardens open from 10 am – 4 pm all 3 days

Spectacular water features, sensational succulents, sprawling natives, a lush but low-water jungle, and a veggie garden that could feed an army…just some of what will be found on this year’s tour.

All 5 gardens on tour are owner-designed, and this is the debut showing of each site.  (None have ever before been featured on this or any other garden tour.) Presented by CHIRP for Garden Wildlife, Inc., a not-for-profit habitat education corporation.  All proceeds benefit habitat education for our backyards and schoolyards.

For additional information or to purchase tickets please visit or phone CHIRP at 619-445-8352.

17th Annual Sage & Songbirds Garden Tour & Festival 2014

17th Annual Alpine Sage & Songbirds Garden Tour: May 2-4, 2014 – Gardens open 10 am – 4 pm all 3 days

Spectacular water features, sensational succulents, sprawling natives, a lush but low-water jungle, and a veggie garden that could feed an army…just some of what will be found on this year’s tour.

All 5 gardens on tour are owner-designed, and this is the debut showing of each site.  (None have ever before been featured on this or any other garden tour.) Presented by CHIRP for Garden Wildlife, Inc., a not-for-profit habitat education corporation.  All proceeds benefit habitat education for our backyards and schoolyards. For additional information please visit or phone CHIRP at 619-445-8352.

Sage & Songbirds 17th Annual FESTIVAL – 10 am – 5 pm • Saturday, May 3, 2014 • ONE DAY ONLY!!
New location! Alpine Creek Town Center 1347 Tavern Road in downtown Alpine

FREE!!!! • FREE!!!! • FREE!!!!
• Live Entertainment
• Art & Craft Vendors
• Birds-of-Prey (owl, hawk, more)
• Live Hummingbirds
• Snakes, lizards & other live reptiles
• Monarch Butterfly Release at 2 pm
• Opportunity Drawings
• Silent Auctions including a 4-pack of Disneyland/California Adventure Hopper passes, a Julian cottage getaway & more

Sage & Songbirds 2014 Flyer

Order Early Bird Tickets Now and $AVE!!  Early Bird pricing ends April 1, 2014!

Early Bird Price – $15
Regular ticket price – $20


To order tickets:

Online with credit card:
Mail:  Send check or money order, payable to CHIRP, to CHIRP, PO Box 532, Alpine, CA  91903


CHIRP Garden Club Meeting: Special Guest Nancy Conney of Sky Raptors – April 2, 2014

Nancy Conney

Please JOIN CHIRP Garden Club at their upcoming meeting on Wednesday, April 2, 2014, 6:30 pm at the ALPINE COMMUNITY CENTER (1840 Alpine Blvd.)

Program: “Raptor Rap”
Nancy Conney of Sky Hunters Raptor Education & Rehabilitation
With special guests:  Barn Owl, Kestrel & Screech Owl

Get a rare, up-close look at the birds-of-prey Nancy will bring with her to this meeting and learn how they can benefit our gardens. Learn where these amazing birds live, what they eat, and how long they live. Also learn what to do and what NOT to do if you find a sick, injured or orphaned bird, and the laws we have protecting all wildlife.

Thinking about a barn owl box? Nancy will give you all the scoop!

The meeting is free and open to the public. Please phone 619-445-8352 or email with questions.

Alpine Community Center Thanks CHIRP for Beautiful New Landscape

Alpine Community Center_CHIRP Landscaping_3-2014_2

Thank youThe Alpine Community Center wants to express their thanks to CHIRP, and Executive Director, Maureen Austin, for their tireless work on the Beautification of Alpine Blvd., especially in front of our Center!

Most citizens of Alpine are unaware that 100% of the funds used for this project are from CHIRP’s fundraising efforts!

Thank you CHIRP!!

Cindi Robertson, ACC Administrative Assistant
619.445.7330 ext. 10

Alpine Community Center Extends it’s Welcome with New Landscaping By CHIRP

Alpine Community Center_CHIRP Landscaping_3-2014

Alpine Community Center_CHIRP Landscaping_3-2014_2

Alpine Community Center extends its “welcome”

*By Maureen Austin on March 11, 2014 – Executive Director, CHIRP for Garden Wildlife, Inc.

Alpine Community Center has always had its “Welcome” mat out — whether hosting community meetings, serving meals to the hungry or assisting victims of fire and other disasters. Now, that mat has been extended outwards to welcome our area winged wildlife–hummingbirds, songbirds and butterflies.

A new garden was planted along the Alpine Boulevard strip of the Center’s parking lot, the latest of a series of gardens being installed in Alpine by volunteers of CHIRP for Garden Wildlife, Inc.

The CHIRP project, known as “Gardens on the Boulevard,” is completely funded by private donations.

Vanessa Rusczyk, project garden designer, said she is pleased that CHIRP was able to put the garden in for the Community Center. “It’s at the entry to our town.” she said.  “We’re glad to make it beautiful!” The new garden is a continuation of the plant palette and design of the garden planted by CHIRP at the Goodwill Store several months ago, she said.

Volunteers who worked to install the Community Center garden were Vanessa Rusczyk, Lisa Lomax, Wally Austin, Maureen Austin, Sue Roff, Kyle Leach, Dave Kebert, and Joan Cunningham.  Special thanks go to Alpine Equipment Rentals for digging equipment and Alpine Landscape Materials for their support of the project.

CHIRP for Garden Wildlife, Inc. is an Alpine-based non-profit organization, dedicated to the preservation and enjoyment of birds, butterflies and other ‘creatures of habitat’ through hands-on and interactive programs and gardens.

*Learn more about “Gardens on the Boulevard” here:

Visit our website at


CHIRP Garden Club Meeting: Growing an Abundance of Veggies the Easy Way – March 5, 2014


Growing an Abundance of Veggies the Easy Way

CHIRP GARDEN CLUB MEETING: March 5th at 6:30 pm, March 5 at Alpine Community Center.  The public is invited to attend!

Now’s the time to plant our summer veggie gardens, and the next meeting of CHIRP Garden Club has all the information you need to do just that!“Easy Abundance” will be presented by Barbra Rosenberg at our next meeting!

Rosenberg, who has been gardening naturally for over 40 years, will present the basics of successful vegetable gardening, from how to prepare a garden area to the final stage of letting your crop go to seed to begin next year’s garden.

Also included will be information on using raised beds,  preparation of soil, easy composting of veggie waste, and companion planting do’s and don’ts.

“I love growing my own food because I know what went into growing it and when it was picked,” she said. Rosenberg grows more than 30 different kinds of fruit and an equal number of different veggies year-round in her Alpine garden. “This amounts to at least 80% of what we eat!” she said.  “There is always more than we can use so I give a lot away.”  She dehydrates, cans and freezes the rest.

The best part of all…she says it’s EASY.  “I don’t spend a lot of time working in my garden because I have many other interests,” she said.  “Once the soil and watering is correct, there is not a lot to do.”

CHIRP Garden Club Logo HeaderThe meeting is free and open to the public.  Bring a friend!

For additional information, please contact CHIRP at 619-445-8352 or email Maureen Austin at



The Real “Dirt” on Gardens on the Blvd – By Maureen Austin

Gardens on the blvd logo

The real “dirt” on Gardens on the Boulevard
By Maureen Austin, Executive Director of CHIRP for Garden Wildlife, Inc.

About 17 years ago I had a vision of downtown Alpine… there were paths meandering parallel with Alpine Boulevard, alongside lush gardens which attracted abundant winged wildlife–hummingbirds, songbirds and butterflies.

Visitors came to town to find relaxation while strolling our streets, shopping and dining at local establishments.  Locals also found endless enjoyment in our downtown district.  Community pride was bountiful.  Businesses prospered.

Fast forward to 2014… “Paths” are sidewalks and “lush” gardens are xeriscapes in keeping with our area’s drought.  But the vision for a beautiful Boulevard is still alive–and it is gradually taking form.  It’s called “Gardens on the Boulevard.”

In fall of 2012, a small group of Alpine residents joined forces to raise money to launch the Boulevard gardens, and to create beautiful spaces where plots of dirt had been left after the Sunrise Powerlink construction was over.

A fundraiser was held at the Lomax family vineyard in Alpine, and just over $10,000 was raised, with a matching funds donation of $10,000, netting just over $20,000.  (The names of every person who contributed to this cause is listed at the end of this article.)

I would like to be very clear on this… Not one cent of money for “Gardens on the Boulevard” was donated or contributed by SDGE, or by the County of San Diego, or by major land owners/developers in Alpine.   

It was everyday citizens, small businesses and a few local organizations who pitched in to make the beautification vision a reality.

To date, 7 gardens have been created, and about half of the money raised has been spent.  The balance is earmarked for sites which will be transformed over the next several months.

“Gardens on the Boulevard” is a project of CHIRP for Garden Wildlife, Inc., a local non-profit organization focused on creating garden spaces for winged wildlife.  CHIRP is best known for presenting the annual “Sage & Songbirds Festival & Garden Tour” each May.

It is CHIRP volunteers who have designed and installed each of the gardens thus far, using the money raised in 2012.  Garden maintenance is primarily done by the property owners and/or their agents–along with a “garden angel” who will be named at the end of this article.

Again, to be clear, CHIRP has not allocated one cent of administrative costs for this project, and NO CHIRP person has received any compensation whatsoever for their participation.  All plants have been purchased at wholesale prices, and materials have been donated or purchased at the best price possible in order to stretch the available funds.  It is CHIRP’s intent to get the absolute MOST out of every dollar contributed, and apply it towards actual beautification of the Boulevard.

These facts are mentioned because over the months there have been many inaccurate and erroneous comments and assumptions made about “Gardens on the Boulevard,” especially in regards to its funding sources and expenditures.  (Our books are open to the public.)


Gardens on the Boulevard (GOB) sites completed to date

The first official GOB garden installed was near the center of town, at what was most recently The Biker Shack but still known to Alpine old-timers as “the old bakery”, owned by Susan and Jim Hobbs.

Across the street, at Alpine Rentals, Scott Thomas and his crew put some of their heavy equipment to work to dig holes for CHIRP volunteers who planted there.

GOB_Goodwill10The new Goodwill store was given a “green” welcome to town with a GOB garden timed for their grand opening.

And when The Biker Shack moved across the street last month, it too was given a “housewarming” garden by CHIRP.

Alpine Creek Shopping Center, host of the weekly Alpine Certified Farmer’s Market and CHIRP’s Monarch Mania Festival in September, had its back entrance spruced-up with some GOB plants.

The planter box under the sign at the Marketplace at Alpine (the old nursery) was filled with favorite GOB plants.

Towards the east end of town, the Art of Problem Solving’s long parkway strip was given a new look with GOB design and plants.

Although not actually “on” the Boulevard, when a community-wide call for plants was made by an Eagle Scout for his project at Joan MacQueen Middle School, CHIRP’s GOB volunteers pitched in with design ideas and provided over 70 plants so the Scouts were able to have the garden in for opening day of school in 2013.


Future Gardens

Installation of gardens will continue until funds are depleted.  Next will be a garden along the frontage strip of Alpine Community Center.

Plants for a new garden at Alpine Woman’s Club will also be donated by GOB, once their contracted hardscape is in place.  (Hardscape is outside of CHIRP’s purview, but GOB plans and plants are being provided.)

Keep watching…a few more garden spots are also forthcoming!


To follow are the names of those to thank for helping beautify Alpine:

Matt & Jane Duggan
Provincial Wines
Patrick & Pam Price
Jack Nichols, PH.D and Judy Nichols
Dr. Clinton & Marti Friday
Diane Haworth
Patricia Cannon & Brent Wolf
Back Country Land Trust
Neville & Christine Connell
Fred & Pat Cimins
Scott Field, Farmers Insurance
Rod & Guille Tuttle
Harry & Lydia Houghton
Chuck & Joann Sinclair
Jim & Susan Hobbs
Ooh La La Salon & Day Spa
Rich & Teri Morgan
Scott Dawson
Cathy Barber
Linda Dean
Alpine Church of Spiritual Living 

and especially Richard & Vanesssa Rusczyk, who generously “matched” the $10,000 raised!

Kippy Thomas

Lisa Lomax,  Vanessa Rusczyk, Rod Tuttle, Guille Tuttle, Diana Anderson, Marilyn Fox, and Michael Varbaek, with special thanks to Ed Morrison, the “gardening angel” who regularly walks the Boulevard, doing cleanup, pulling weeds and keeps the gardens looking good!

Alpine Brewery, Alpine Equipment, Alpine Inn Wine & Spirits, Alpine Jewelers, Alpine Waterfeatures, Biker Shack, Roger Brown, Keli Cadenhead, Design for Serenity, Dive Shack, Jim Earp, El Cajon Harley Davidson, Henderson Sculptural Arts, In-N-Out Burger, Janet’s Cafe, Jennifer’s Feed, Nancy Kennedy, Lucy’s Landscaping, Ooh LaLa Salon & Day Spa, Pet Smart, Rachelle Pool Cullum, Provincial Wines, Bob Rhoads, Rock Canyon Vineyard, San Diego Chargers, Sky Hunters, Starbucks, Studio Soledad, Two Sisters’ Cottage, Rod and Guille Tuttle, Viejas Outlets.

For questions or additional information, please contact CHIRP at 619-445-8352 or email

Maureen Austin, Executive Director

CHIRP for Garden Wildlife, Inc.

“…helping to plant spaces which support winged wildlife.”


CHIRP Garden Club Meeting – February 5, 2014 (Open to the Public)

CHIRP Garden Club Logo Header

Please JOIN US  for the upcoming meeting of CHIRP Garden Club!

Wednesday, February 5, 2014, 6:30 pm at the ALPINE COMMUNITY CENTER (PLEASE NOTE THE NEW LOCATION!!)

~ The meeting is free, and open to the public ~


Program: “A Plant Diva Divulges Native Plant Secrets”
Presenter: Connie Beck

Connie, an organic gardening instructor and native plant enthusiast, will share some of her personal favorite native plants in this hands-on presentation.

Using actual sprigs of plants, she will discuss each one’s growth habit, watering needs and tell why we might want to consider growing it in our own gardens. Special focus will be placed on the easiest natives to grow.

Connie has been an organic gardening instructor and landscape designer for the past 22 years, including ten years teaching vocational horticulture at the county women’s jail.

She has served as Canyoneer, and a nature interpreter for the Audubon Society, and worked with the National Wildlife Federation to help people create habitats in schools, churches, businesses and backyards.

Currently she leads the California Native Plant Society’s propagation workgroup “to promote the use of our own beautiful plants which are so well-adapted to this area.”

“My belief is that one person at a time can make a difference by giving up toxic chemicals and providing the basic necessities for wildlife: food, water, cover and a place to raise their young,” she says.

Connie likes to hike, teach, read, garden and travel–and visits gardens where ever she goes!


Program Chair:  Karen Ames

For more info please contact Maureen Austin

CHIRP Garden Club Meeting – January 8, 2014 (Open to the Public)

CHIRP Garden Club Logo Header

Please JOIN US for the upcoming meeting of CHIRP Garden Club

Wednesday, January 8, 2014, 6:30 pm




Program: “FROST–How it affects succulents & other plants”

Presenter: Marian Happ, California Certified Nursery Professional  

Marian has been a California Certified Nursery Professional for over 34 years and has engaged in many aspects of horticulture including propagation, fertilization and pest control (including organic).

She will speak about succulents and frost-resistance in general…even how and where frost affects plants’ physiology, in an easy-to-understand explanation.

Larry, her husband, has been a hobby plantsman for many years and is accomplished in propagating and growing succulents for their home-based business, Kalura Garden, in El Cajon.

Their quality-grown succulent plants are for sale regularly at Alpine Farmer’s Market, and will also be available for purchase at the meeting.

Marian is an advocate of the establishment and protection of habitats for birds, animals and plants.

The CHIRP Garden Club meeting is open to the public and is free of charge.  Please join us–and bring a friend! 

Maureen Austin