Your neighbor's lush landscaping has you green with envy. And, unfortunately, none of that green has fallen onto your thumb.
Not to worry, with a little creativity and a bit of knowledge about native plants and flowers, you can have the garden of your dreams that will thrive no matter how botanically inept you might be. Planting a native garden is not only beautiful but it’s environmentally sound and easy to maintain.
To get the dirt on native gardening, we sought out horticulturist and native plant enthusiast Ron Vanderhoff of Roger's Gardens in Corona del Mar. Vanderhoff advocates native plants as a great foundation for a “low-water, low-resource” garden. Such a garden ideally achieves sustainability by requiring little input (water, fertilizer, soil amendments, pesticides, time, money) and also releasing little output (pollutants and waste). By choosing plants that are already adapted to the Southern California landscape, you are building a garden that requires only the raw soil and the natural rain patterns of your environment. While tropical or exotic plants are certainly charming, they’re also environmentally inappropriate, requiring more manipulation — the soil has to be altered, the insects have to be controlled and the plants need different nutrients than the natural environment can provide. On the other hand, plop a native plant into the dirt anytime between October and January and you’re sure to see it take off come spring.
However, because native plants are not compatible with the kind of care required for existing non-native plants in your garden, Vanderhoff cautions against co-mingling between the two and instead recommends creating a designated space for the newcomers. In other words, don’t expect California sagebrush to thrive alongside your hibiscus.
In addition to the luxury of low maintenance provided by a native garden, it’s also encouraging of wildlife in your area. You’re likely to see more birds, butterflies and lizards in your yard by planting the flowers and trees they’re naturally accustomed to.
Besides these cute critters, native gardens offer a unique fragrance specific to the area. According to Vanderhoff, the resin in foliage suited to a Mediterranean climate such as California is a particularly fragrant kind.
“There’s a certain smell to California that is very romantic and it tells you where you’re at,” he says.
Hectic schedules and the congestion of the suburban sprawl can allow us to forget our natural environment and lose our connection with the land on which we live.
“Rather than trying to bring Asia in or trying to trick us into thinking we’re somewhere in South America or in a Victorian garden, why not celebrate where we’re at?" he says. "Those are all great places, but this is a pretty great place, too.”
Get started on your very own botanical sanctuary with this comprehensive list of Southern California native plants:
Colorful Annual Flowers
California Poppy (Eschscholtzia californica)
Chinese Houses (Collinsia heterophylla)
Farewell-to-Spring (Clarkia species)
Lupines (Lupinus species)
Cleveland Sage (Salvia clevelandii)
Coral Bells (Heuchera maxima)
Penstemon (Penstemon "Margarita BOP")
Seaside Daisy (Erigeron glaucus)
Slopes and Groundcovers
California Lilac (several Ceanothus species)
Carmel Sur Manzanita (Arctostaphylos edmundsii)
Coyote Brush (Baccharis pilularis "Pigeon Point")
Evergreen or Island Currant (Ribes viburnifolium)
Sand Strawberry (Fragaria chiloensis)
Catalinia Ironwood (Lyonothamnus floribundus ssp. asplenifolius)
Coast Live Oak (Quercus agrifolia)
Desert Willow (Chilopsis linearis)
Knobcone Pine (Pinus attenuata)
Western Redbud (Cercis occidentalis)
Western Sycamore (Platanus racemosa)
Fragrant Native Plants
Black Sage (Salvia mellifera)
California Sagebrush (Artemisia californica)
Cleveland Sage (Salvia clevelandii)
Coyote Mint (Monardella villosa)
Hummingbird Sage (Salvia spathacea)
Matilija Poppy (Romneya coulteri)
Yerba Buena (Satureja douglasii)
For Birds, Butterflies and Wildlife
Baja Snapdragon Bush (Galvezia speciosa)
California Buckwheat (Eriogonum fasciculatum)
California Fuchsia (Epilobium canum ssp. canum)
California Lilac (Ceanothus species)
Coral bells (Heuchera maxima)
Deerplant (Acmispon scoparius)