If you’re just getting started with discovering how wonderful, rewarding and easy-to-care-for (most of the time) our own State’s native plants are, you’re probably just falling in love with Cleveland Sage (Salvia clevelandii), Deer Grass (Muhlenbergia rigens), Toyon (Hetermeles arbutifolia), Howard McMinn Manzanita (Arctostaphyllos desiflora ‘Howard McMinn’) and Concha Ceanonus (Ceanothus ‘Concha’). In fact, these five (and maybe California Fescue or Margarita BOP Penstemon) can easily make any boring yard suddenly look more like a living, vibrant, interesting garden, and even those of us who have been planting natives for decades are still in love with most, if not all, of the above.
But what’s next? Eventually, you want to delve into the mysteries of getting Flannelbush, Matilija Poppy, Sulfur flower and any of the Monkeyflowers to find your yard to their liking. California has so many diverse eco-systems, it’s inevitable we will try to ‘make grow ‘species that are not naturally found in the Southern Sierra or Central Valley. Sometimes, the “making” seems more like “letting,” for some plants, despite their faraway (relative, still within the State) origins, just thrive here. Others, like those mentioned above, take some know-how, some experience, or a “joie d’experimentation.”
I’m always trying new plant species, both to keep things interesting for me and for my clients. Every year I discover new native species that work well here but aren’t usually found in nurseries (except mine, of course). Not everything I try works. My method is simple: (1) “discover” or learn about a “new” plant; (2) find a good nursery-grown specimen or responsibly propagate from the wild; (3) plant in my garden (or in my dad’s next door) and observe for a year; (4) plant in a selection of long-time client gardens as a trial (different soils, different elevations, different care methods, make sure it’s not invasive); (5) offer for sale. This usually takes 3-4 years. It’s not as scientific as the big growers, but it’s more local-testing than the average garden plant offered for sale goes through. Some examples of these “local tested” plants are Lilac Bush Verbena, California Hibiscus, Cobwebby Hedge Nettle (actually a quite-local native, just not well-known in garden use), Wayside Manzanita, John Dourley Manzanita, Point Reyes Manzanita, Purple Three-Awn Grass, Baja Fairy Duster (low elevation only), Island Pink Morning Glory, Scarlet Bugler, Hummingbird Sage and Pitcher Sage.
For the past five years, I’ve also been working on growing and making available our own native bulbs, from local stock. This spring I was able to offer Soap Root to a few gardens. Next spring (2013) look for potted Pretty Face and Ithuriel’s Spear. I’m still working on our local Iris. I’ve got a few local tree/shrub Manzanitas growing in the nursery. Look for the first of my successful efforts to be planted Nov. 17 or 18 at River Ridge Ranch in Springville, in “Peyton’s Garden” in the Pavillion area.
Next up: Propagation of more mid and high-elevation local species. Stay tuned!