The case for planting California natives has never had a stronger voice than that of the three authors of a new book on that topic. Carol Bornstein, director of the Living Collections and Nursery at the Santa Barbara Botanic Garden; David Fross, founder and president of Native Sons Nursery in Arroyo Grande; and Bart O’Brien, director of horticulture and curator of the Living Collections at Rancho Santa Ana Botanic Garden, collectively have decades of experience growing and propagating California native plants. (See review on page 41.) Here is some of their advice for using these adaptable and interesting plants in your garden.
It seems only logical that planting California native plants in gardens in California would make for successful landscapes. Yet, 200 years or so after the first settlers came to this area, it is still a somewhat new idea. Even British and European gardeners know some of our natives better than most people here, since they were avidly collected by early botanists and shipped back home. It is true, though, that many native plants can be grown easily and well in garden situations both here and abroad. They have evolved, under the climatic regime we call Mediterranean, to thrive in the cool, wet winters and warm, dry summers that the state has to offer.
California native plants have also evolved with a whole set of other parameters that make up the ecology of the area. From beneficial organisms such as mycorrhizae and insect pollinators to soil pathogens and insect pests, they have taken advantage of the best and devised methods of fending off or surviving the worst. By including them in our designed gardens, we can encourage and strengthen the local wildlife community that has lost habitat through increasing agricultural and housing development.
Besides these practical reasons, there are the handsome or even beautiful forms that many native plants offer. From the stunning flowers of such bulbs as the Humboldt lily (Lilium humboldtii) and shrubs like California fuchsias (Zauschneria species and cultivars) to the imposing stature of trees such as California live oak (Quercus agrifolia) and coast redwood (Sequoia sempervirens), there are plants for almost any situation. Annual lupines (Lupinus species) and poppies (Eschscholzia californica), desert cacti like the beavertail cactus (Opuntia basilaris), and perennial grasses such as deergrass (Muhlenbergia rigens) are a few of the better known species, but there are many more to choose from.
Other gardeners may find that bringing California natives into their garden spaces serves to connect them to the larger natural world. In places such as Santa Barbara, where most gardens are within view of the ocean or coastal mountains, native plants may blend better with those borrowed scenes, adding to a sense of place what exotic foliage cannot. Silver carpet California aster (Lessingia filaginifolia ‘Silver Carpet’) and seaside buckwheat (Eriogonum latifolium) echo the silver foliage of other plants in the coastal sage scrub. The ubiquitous chaparral species such as Ceanothus and manzanita pull your eye right up to their sisters that clothe surrounding hills.
Whatever your reasons for planting California natives, this book will be invaluable in making wise plant selections and learning to live with and love the native flora in your own garden. Your garden can then be truly “made in Santa Barbara.”