YBN Logo

YBN Logo
Plant Collection
Plants By Color
Availability List
Plant Search
Plant Delivery
Gardening Help
Design Service
Contact Us

Friends of YBN
Press Articles
Native Bees
Rebate Programs
YBN Logo

"California Classics: Durable & Useful Plants for Bay Area Gardens"

David Fross, Lecture and Slide Show, May 13, 2006

Garden Guides | At Your Home Garden Design Service | In House Bed Design | Garden Tune-Up Service


California Native Plants For the Garden
by David Fross et al.
David Fross, author, instructor, and nurseryman, got his start right here at Yerba Buena Nursery in the 1970's.  His new book, "California Native Plants For the Garden," which he co-authored with another Yerba Buena alum, Bart O’Brien, Director of Horticulture at the Rancho Santa Ana Botanic Garden, and Carol Bornstein, Direcor of the Santa Barbara Botanic Garden, is an instant classic. This book is a highly recommended addition to any native gardener's bookshelf. Available in our garden shop.

What is Native?

David Fross began his lecture by asking the question "What is a native garden?" Is it 25%, 50%, or 100% CA native? Where do the plants come from in CA? As the state of CA is a political boundary, do the plants come from the CA floristic province, or are they local -- native to the Bay Area?

California's Remarkable Diversity

California has an unbelievable diversity, from alpine to desert to coastal climates.

Plant Communities as Garden Metaphor

It is important to think about where a plant is from to make sense of its use in the garden. Seeing how plants grow together in their natural settings can inform garden design. One can create a woodland effect in a shaded garden, or a mixed border of chaparral species in a dry, sunny one. Some things to think about are the effect of time in the garden. The process of change is natural in native gardens as plants find their place, some may thrive, some may take over. Another way to embrace this natural change is to use summer dormancy as part of the design. (Example: a fully dormant Artemisia californica, with its golden-brown hues next to the silver-blue of an Agave.)

Serving Function in the Urban and Suburban Garden

There are many uses of native gardens in the urban/suburban landscape.

Examples range from a simple garden of grasses and California fuchsia, meadows of Muhlenbergia, gardens in naturalistic or formal styles. A wildflower and bunchgrass meadow is a native garden. (Seed can be grown in flats and then lifted out whole and placed on top of the soil, secured with irrigation staples.)

Natives can be used as:

*   mixed borders,

*   screens (Heteromeles, Ceanothus thyrsiflorus),

*   hedges (Prunus ilicifolia as a formal, clipped hedge, Rhus integrifolia),

*   to climb up walls as an espalier (Ceanothus impressus var. nipomensis, Ribes aureum var. gracillimum, Fremontodendron),

*   growing through a fence (Ceanothus 'Dark Star', 'Concha")

*   in between stepping stones (Yerba Buena),

*   in a woodland garden with heavy leaf drop (Ceanothus griseus var. horizontalis 'Diamond Heights')

*   as lawns (Carex praegracilis can be planted as plugs, or divided 4" containers, on 2 inch centers, mowed twice a month, and irrigated every six weeks. Deschampsia caespitosa also works as a lawn.),

*   for fall color (Vitis californica 'Rogers Red', 'Russian River', 'Walker Ridge', Cercis occidentalis).


California Classics

Fross's favorite "fool-proof" plants work in a variety of applications:

California Classics
*   Achillea millefolium 'Island Pink', and 'Sonoma Coast' -- with its tight flower heads and dark green foliage.
*   Aescules californica -- Fross's #1 favorite tree, especially loved in its dormancy.
*   Arctostaphylos bakeri 'Louis Edmunds' -- the number one manzanita -- has the greatest garden tolerance.
*   A. edmundsii 'Carmel Sur' -- for coastal applications.
*   A. edmundsii 'Burt Johnson' -- for summer-dry interior locations.
*   Artemisia californica -- allow it to go summer dormant, looks good paired with Phormium -- (New Zealand Flax).
*   A. pycnocephala 'David's Choice' -- soft grey groundcover.
*   Berberis aquifolium 'Compacta' -- "rock-solid groundcover". Grows in heavy clay, its spiny leaves make it a good barrier.
*   Calamagrostis foliosa -- favorite native grass from the north coast, likes moist situations, use near lawns, in drainage basins.
*   Carex praegracilis -- a sedge that can be used as a lawn, mowed or unmowed (or a combination), as a dog run, under a swing set, in drainage basins. Will out-compete everything. Likes shade/sun/water/no water -- an "unbelievable plant".
*   Ceanothus -- has versatile applications:
*   C. impressus -- trained on an eastern facing wall.
*   C. 'Dark Star' -- as an informal hedge (though it is not the most reliable Ceanothus).
*   C. 'Ray Hartman' -- can be pruned as a tree.
*   C. 'Centennial' -- is a favorite groundcover that will take some shade.
*   Dudleya hassei, D. pulverulenta -- the easiest plants, requiring no water. A good gift for a "black-thumbed" friend.
*   Erigeron glaucus 'Cape Sebastian' -- very colorful addition to the garden.
*   Eriogonum arborescens, E. giganteum, E. grande var. rubescens -- good for hillsides and poor soils. Faded flowers are a nice bronze color.
*   Festuca californica -- grass for a woodland setting, 'Horse Mountain" is a nice green one.
*   Fremontodendron 'California Glory' -- can be trained on a wall.
*   Heuchera maxima -- for a woodland.
*   H. 'Canyon Belle' -- a small plant for the front of a border.
*   Fragaria vesca -- a vigorous groundcover that can take leaf fall, grow between stepping stones.
*   Muhlenbergia rigens -- large grass for a drainage swale.
*   Polypodium californica 'Sara Lyman' -- is a summer dormant fern, returning lushly each year.
*   Rhamnus californica 'Leatherleaf' -- a reliable shrub that will anchor a garden, its dark black-green leaves providing rich contrast.
*   Sidalcea malviflora -- is a walkable groundcover or lawn substitute that can be weed-whacked. Use with Fragaria for a long season of flowers.


In closing, Fross spoke of the tenacity of native plants, such as Eriogonum strictum var. greenei, in the Marble Mountains, which keeps coming back year after year. Native plants are primal things which connect us to our place -- "This is home".

Question and Answer

A question was raised about the longevity of Ceanothus.

In response, Fross asked "What do we expect from plants?" and suggested if a plant dies, just to accept and replant. Gardening, he said, is about loss, change.


Notes compiled by Aviva Rochester

Garden Guides | At Your Home Garden Design Service | In House Bed Design | Garden Tune-Up Service

Return to Home Page

Yerba Buena Nursery
(650) 851-1668

Visit Us:
@ Pastorino Farms
12511 San Mateo Road (Highway 92)
Half Moon Bay, CA

Mailing Address:
P.O. Box 3188
Half Moon Bay, CA 94019

Open Tuesday - Friday 9 am-4:30 pm, Saturday 9am - 5 pm    CLOSED Sundays & Mondays
We are open in our new Half Moon Bay Location!