California Classics: Durable & Useful Plants for Bay Area Gardens
David Fross, Lecture and Slide Show, May 13, 2006
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, Director 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:
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).
Fross's favorite "fool-proof" plants work in a variety of applications:
has versatile applications
the easiest plants, requiring no water. A good gift for a "black-thumbed" friend.
good for hillsides and poor soils. Faded flowers are a nice bronze color.
Question and Answer
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".
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.