|The centerpiece of this front yard is a young Valley Oak (Quercus lobata). It is surrounded by plantings of Silver Bush Lupine, Western Redbud, Deer Grass and more, all interlaced with inviting pathways and scattered with annual California Poppies.|
According to their website,
"The purpose of the Gardens Gone Native Tour is to support the mission of the Sacramento Valley Chapter of the California Native Plant Society by raising awareness of the beauty and environmental functions of California's diverse native plants. Our goal is to provide members of our community with the opportunity to view outstanding examples of native plant gardens, promote the benefits and use of California natives in home and public gardens, and provide information on how to plant and successfully grow native plants."
Gardens were located from Woodland and Davis in the west, to various neighborhoods in Sacramento proper, east to Rancho Cordova, Fair Oaks and Citrus Heights, and provided excellent examples of how to incorporate native plants into landscapes in our region. Gardens ranged in size from a one acre rural garden, to a 0.7 acre suburban yard bordering the Sacramento River, to the small courtyard of a condo. And every garden was alive with native butterflies and birds!
|The vertical elements of Deer Grass are balanced by soft mounds of Silver Bush Lupine behind, and California Fuchsia in front. The California Fuchsia will be covered in red blooms from summer through fall - a hummingbird magnet!|
Gardens of native plants provide valuable, even critical, habitat for wildlife in an increasingly paved world. Some birds and butterflies will visit non-native ornamental plants as well as natives, but they are really adapted to live in harmony with our native plants. Native plants provide the most benefits for native birds and pollinators, and some species feed exclusively or nearly so on only one or two native plants. Some species of butterfly are very host-specific, laying their eggs on just one type of plant. For example, several gardens we visited on the tour were alive with Pipevine Swallowtail Butterflies (Battus philenor hirsute), simply because homeowners planted this butterfly's host plant, California Pipevine (Aristolochia californica).
|California Pipevine and its pitcher-shaped flower (also a couple of California Poppies)|
Native plant gardens are an absolute treat for the senses. They are a delight to look at, of course, as light plays through the heart-shaped foliage of Western Redbud and glints off of the silver leaves of Bush Lupine, flowers bloom in profusion and Deer Grass sways in the breeze. But as winding paths beckon visitors to meander slowly through the plants, the garden truly comes alive: Feel the textures, drink in the scents, admire the colors, listen as the wind plays through the leaves and birdsong fills the air.
|Western Redbuds, nearing the end of their prolific bloom cycle, are the eye-catching centerpieces of this front yard.|
Not only are native plants a delightful sensory experience, they are also beneficial from a practical standpoint as well. They require less maintenance than a traditional landscape - certainly less work than mowing, edging and hedging once a week during the summer! Native plants are adapted to local conditions, so once they are established, they require very little supplemental water.
Though planting one yard with native plants may not seem like enough to counteract the millions of acres of lost habitat in California, it can really begin to add up. And to a winged creature - bees, butterflies, hummingbirds, songbirds, and even larger birds - little patches of habitat where they are able to rest and refuel during migration can mean the difference between success or failure for an animal. The birds and butterflies will find your habitat patch, no matter how small it is!
But dream with me for a moment... about what it would be like to live in neighborhoods that were nestled into local plant communities, integrated into the surrounding landscape!
I would be delighted to see all of our non-native landscape plants replaced with California natives! I dream of a California where...
|Silver Bush Lupine|
Elderberry replaces Oleander...
Oregon Grape replaces Nandina...
Bush Lupines replace Raphiolepsis...
Manzanitas replace boxwoods...
Coffeeberry replaces Pitosporums...
Redbud replaces Butterfly Bush...
Ceanothus replaces Bottlebrush...
Salvias replace Eyonymus...
Pipevine replaces ivy...
Chaparral Clematis and native honeysuckles replace Chinese Wisteria and other ramblers...
Lippia and fescue blends replace lawns...
And on and on!
There are a number of flowering natives to choose from if you want to grow a cottage garden that is a riot of color nearly year-round. Try a few of the following perennials:
|Pacific Coast Iris|
Sierra tiger lily
Snowy and narrowleaf milkweed
Red and Sulfur Buckwheat
Salvias, like Hummingbird Sage and 'Bee's Bliss'
|California Poppy & Baby Blue Eyes|
... And annuals:
Baby blue eyes
And of course California poppy!
If you're tired of mowing and fertilizing and watering and weeding that boring patch of grass, I strongly encourage you to consider replacing it with a vibrant and living assemblage of native plants. The initial investment will greatly pay off in the long run!
If you missed the garden tour this year, mark your calendar for next April and visit the website for updates, as well as photos from previous years.
And here is my list of favorite online resources for gardening with native plants:
The website of Las Pilitas Native Plant Nursery is a phenomenal, one-stop-shop resource with a wealth of information. I have spent countless hours on this site...
Las Pilitas has a tool that lets you discover the natural or historic native plant community of your area based on your zip code: Plant Community Tool. This is an excellent way to find out what should be growing where you live and helps narrow down your selection to local choices. Not all California natives are suitable for all regions in California! (For example, though Coast Redwoods are native to the state of California, they are NOT appropriate for planting in the Central Valley, which is way outside of their natural range and has a climate that is vastly different from the cool, moist, foggy belt where they occur naturally.)
For a more in depth search, use the online "survey" (also designed by Las Pilitas) to answer questions, like how often do you water, what is your soil type and how much sun your plants will receive. This returns a tailored list of plants suitable to your location as well as your garden's specific conditions. Access the tool here:
My Native Plants
The California Native Plant Society also has an excellent website dedicated to gardening with native plants. Here you can find design inspiration and how-to information as well as their own tool for selecting plants based on your location. Access the website here:
California Native Plant Society
Both the National Wildlife Federation and the National Audubon Society have online tools that have users type in a zip code (anywhere in the U.S.), and returns a list of plants appropriate for that region. The NWF focuses on plants for butterflies, while Audubon focuses on plants for birds. Follow the links for both here:
NWF Native Plant Finder
Audubon Native Plants Database
To find a native plant nursery near you, the California Native Plant Society has put together this excellent mapping tool: Native Plant Nurseries in California
However, if you follow the link above, the unfortunate truth is the map shows a large empty spot in the Valley between Sacramento and Fresno, where there are no native plant nurseries. I live within that empty spot! So I've done a little sleuthing on my own to discover a few additional places that sell native plants...
UC Davis periodically holds plants sales at their arboretum teaching nursery. Not all of the plants are native, but many are!
Check with your local chapter of the California Native Plant Society for annual or biannual plant sales. For example, the North San Joaquin Chapter and Sierra Foothills Chapter are both near me!
Some nurseries may be too small to earn a spot on the map, but worth looking into. In the Sonora region, The Garden Company and Solomon's Gardens both sell California natives.
Blossom Hill nursery out of Oakdale sells California natives at periodic plant sales - the next one is this Saturday (April 21st, 9am-2pm)!
Even large nurseries like Frantz Garden Center in Hickman and Westurf in Modesto stock a few native plants in amongst the typical characters. It's always worth a look.