California Native Plants For the Garden
by David Fross et al.
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.
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 has an unbelievable
diversity, from alpine to desert to coastal climates.
Plant Communities as Garden
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:
ilicifolia as a formal, clipped hedge, Rhus integrifolia),
to climb up
walls as an espalier (Ceanothus impressus var. nipomensis, Ribes
aureum var. gracillimum, Fremontodendron),
through a fence (Ceanothus 'Dark Star', 'Concha")
stepping stones (Yerba Buena),
in a woodland
garden with heavy leaf drop (Ceanothus griseus var. horizontalis
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
"fool-proof" plants work in a variety of applications:
|| 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