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California Native Plant PR

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

November Los Feliz Ledger Column - "Particulars of a Plant Palette"

(photo of Toyon berries at right taken by blogger)

Drum roll please! Plants for our backyard makeover have been selected at long last—after three months of planning and construction. The palette we’ve chosen will please birds, bees, butterflies and me while working well with our garden’s conditions: eastern exposure with three mature trees, relatively well-draining soil and some sloping areas. All plants are native to California and survive with minimal water in the dry months once established, after about one to three years of regular watering.

One of the helpful rules of landscape design is to start with larger plants and work down from there. Since we already have enough trees, I moved directly to evergreen shrubs that will form the backbone of our garden’s greenery.

First up is Toyon (Heteromeles arbutifolia), beloved for gorgeous red berries that bejewel its branches right around Christmastime and provide food for birds. Flowers that precede the holiday display are a joy for pollinators. Toyon, which grows up to 24 feet tall, can also be used as a hedge or a small tree, by trimming the lower branches as it matures.

Malva Rosa (Lavatera assurgentifolia) is the sensible California substitute for whitefly-infested, non-native Hibiscus—
exactly what it is replacing in our garden. It reaches about 6 to 10 feet high and 3 to 12 feet wide, has 3-inch striped purplish pink flowers almost year-round and granny-smith-green, maple-shaped leaves.

California Wild Lilac (Ceanothus) comes in many forms and will suit an array of our garden’s needs. The ‘Ray Hartman’ cultivar grows to about 20 feet tall and wide. It has dainty, clustered spires of fragrant, blue flowers. Deer devour Ceanothus, so steer clear of it if Bambi is a frequent visitor.

On the opposite end of the spectrum in the Ceanothus genus is ‘Carmel Creeper’ (C. griseus horizontalis). A ground cover with 2-inch glossy green leaves, it is excellent for slope stabilization and a stellar stand-in for invasive ivy. Flowers are powder blue.

Coffeeberry, (Rhamnus californica), no relation to your morning java, is a delicate shrub that offers birds dark, shiny, perfectly round fruit. Leaves are narrow, matte green and slightly wispy. I’ve chosen the ‘Bonita Linda’ cultivar. It matures at about 8 feet tall and 10 feet wide.

Rounding out the shrub shortlist is Bush Anemone (Carpenteria californica). It is a slow grower that reaches 4 to 6 feet tall and wide. I covet its waxy, pointed green leaves and large clusters of white, fragrant flowers with bright yellow centers. The ‘Elizabeth’ cultivar is great for a cutting garden—bring the blooms inside.

Up next are perennials and grasses. They’re shorter than shrubs and fill in spaces between them and the trees.

Pitcher Sage (Lepechinia fragrans) is deliciously aromatic and flowers draw in nectar-seeking friends. Blue-eyed Grass (Sisyrinchium bellum) looks just as it sounds—and is even cuter than you can imagine. Western Columbine (Aquilegia formosa) produces rich, red, arachnid-looking flowers in spring that—after setting seed—offer a valuable food source for several different species of birds. Island Alum Root (Heuchera maxima) comes in many different colors and sizes. The long, tall, strappy leaves of Giant Wild Rye (Leymus condensatus) and its relative, ‘Canyon Prince,’ will lend shape and color variation (gray-green and blue) to our garden. Douglas Iris (Iris douglasiana) and its cultivars bring back memories of East Coast style Irises that I grew up with, but are even better in my view.

Finally, we arrive at the slope savers and terrace wall decorators—groundcovers. I’ve already mentioned my favorite, ‘Carmel Creeper.’ It will be accompanied by these beauties: California Strawberry (Fragaria vesca) with pretty white flowers and small, red, edible fruit; Evergreen Currant/Catalina Perfume (Ribes viburnifolium); California Fuchsia (Zauschneria californica), technically not a groundcover but low-growing enough to do the trick; and Coyote Mint (Mondardella villosa), also a little taller, makes the cut for a divine minty fragrance and flowers frequented by butterflies.

More plants will be added over time as I discover what works best. Building a dream garden is an ever-evolving process and that’s the magic of it. This palette is a great place to start. I’ll take it with me as I shop the plentiful plant sales of the season, including Rancho Santa Ana Botanic Garden’s on Nov. 5th and 6th (rsabg.org) and the one I am organizing at Eaton Canyon Nature Center in Pasadena on Nov. 19th from 9 a.m. until 2 p.m. (cnps-sgm.org). I hope to see you there!

Saturday, October 08, 2005

Catch Plant Sale Fever!!!

Hello Southern California Gardeners,

We are entering the season of sublime synchronicity for installing native plants. In conjunction with the oncoming winter rains and cooler temps, fall is better than any other time of the year to create a consummately California garden.

Check out the California Native Plant Society's website (www.cnps.org) for a fall plant sale near you. Or, visit your local nursery with Sunset Western Garden Book in hand. Tell them you're looking for native plants that will grow best in your garden's conditions. Sometimes it's helpful to bring with you a list of them, such as sun exposure, soil type, slopes, size, etc. Most nurseries will order plants they don't have in stock. El Nativo supplies natives to retail nurseries.

If you're looking for a little more fun than the nursery and want to meet like-minded gardeners, don't miss these upcoming plant sales.

A mere fifteen minutes away from Los Feliz is the CNPS San Gabriel Valley's chapter sale, "Under the Oaks," on November 19th from 9 am to 2 pm at Eaton Canyon Nature Center in Pasadena. For more info, see: http://www.cnps-sgm.org/.

A little further from home but well worth the trip is Rancho Santa Ana Botanic Garden's fall sale on November 5th and 6th. Visit the link to Rancho on the right side of this blog for more details.

It's time to shop and plant your heart out!

October Los Feliz Ledger Column - Blog Version*

Story of a Backyard Makeover – Part Two

[*Note: The version that was published in the October Ledger was incomplete and had a type-o in the paragraph about garden intruders.]

Plant selection for a new garden can be a little daunting, especially when you’re starting with a blank slate, as my husband and I are. We’ve cleared out the invasive plants, started work on the “hardscape” (everything in the garden other than plants) and now look out at bare dirt every day.

At this point, there are so many color, size and shape possibilities that I am a bit overwhelmed—like a kid in a candy store.
Comfort comes in reminding myself that the palette will ultimately be revealed as I plod through the process in a logical, methodical fashion I call “conscious gardening.” Those of you who have read this blog before might remember the concept.

“Conscious gardening” draws on basic landscape design principles but tosses in some ecological correctness for good measure. It achieves optimum results by working backwards from immediately identifiable factors. These include— direction the garden faces; potentially problematic vertical obstructions; slopes that need stabilization; soil type and drainage; garden intruders like dogs, cats, coyotes and other critters; existing plants that will affect new ones; dimensions of your planting areas and your ultimate goals for the garden.

An additional, equally important aspect of conscious gardening is the inclusion of plants from the local plant community (group of plants that grow naturally in the area).

The first things I look at are sun exposure and existing plants. Our yard faces east, so it gets morning sun and afternoon shade. There are three medium-sized trees that will partially block sunlight from new plants in the summer. Two of the trees are deciduous, allowing more sun through their bare branches in winter. The plants that make it onto my short list will have to be comfortable with a daily dose of part sun and part shade.

Next, I look to the soil. Upon close inspection, I discovered it is a mixture of sand, clay and maybe a little loam (a mixture of clay, sand and silt). To determine drainage, I dug a hole (the Sunset Western Garden Book recommends that it be two feet deep and two feet wide for an accurate read), filled it with water and waited to see how fast it drained. I did this two times and discovered it took less than an hour the second time. That tells me I’ll need to select native plants that grow naturally in well-drained soil.

As for garden intruders, our three bounding hounds claim the yard during the day and uninvited guests arrive at night - stray cats and wandering coyotes capable of leaping over our six-foot fences. Sturdier plants will be selected to increase survival rates in case of trampling, and we’ll likely construct a few enclosures to protect more vulnerable plants for the same reason.

We have no vertical obstructions, save for a few unsightly overhead power lines that won’t hinder the growth of new plants.

Our hillside was long ago stabilized with terracing (dividing the hill into multiple levels or tiers). To make the terrace walls more aesthetically pleasing, I’ll select plants that will trail down for a waterfall effect. Remaining slopes will be kept intact by native groundcovers with deep root systems and foliage that isn’t too heavy (never use shallow rooted succulent ground cover such as iceplant – not only is it invasive, but it pulls down hillsides and advances erosion - this is a problem on beaches throughout California, where iceplant is destroying dune systems). I’ll also include some native shrubs with multiple-branching habits. This is great for stabilization.

Dimensions of our planting areas still have to be determined. Knowing their exact sizes and mature width of the plants I’m considering will narrow down my list even more and dictate the amount I’ll order.

Throughout my conscious gardening process, I’ll stay mindful that I want to create a backyard wildlife habitat and check the requirements for certification (at: www.nwf.org).

And finally, the majority of the plants I will select are local to Los Feliz, part of the Coastal Sage Scrub plant community.

After all of the above information is compiled, I can begin my search for appropriate plants. Some favorite resources are the Sunset Western Garden Book, Native Landscaping from El Paso to LA by Sally Wasowski with Andy Wasowski and the Las Pilitas Nursery website (www.laspilitas.com). I’ll also attend lectures and peruse nurseries and plant sales.

Shopping and researching is the fun part but it’s also when I have to be flexible because the places I go to buy plants may not have everything on my list. A few backup ideas will come in handy.