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Native-plant pros identify "go-to" natives

Tanya Kucak/Special to the Town Crier
Manzanita deserves a spot in every garden that has room for a small shrub. Its flowers attract hummingbirds in winter, and the evergreen leaves and reddish bark offer year-round beauty.

In an attempt to find which natives the professionals rely on, I asked several local landscape architects and designers to list their “favorite three to five natives to plant in someone else’s yard.” These plants wouldn’t all be appropriate everywhere, but most suburban native landscapes include quite a few of them.

Following is Part 1 of their answers. Part 2 will appear in next month’s “Native Plants” column.

Not surprisingly, everyone’s list included a manzanita.

Dr. Hurd Manzanita (or his hybrid baby brother, Austin Griffiths) is landscape designer Deva Luna’s choice. It’s “the quintessential California specimen” shrub or small tree, she said, known for its beautiful “peeling red bark contrasting with gray-green leaves and winter flowers.”

Landscape designer Agi Kehoe said her favorite is Sentinel Manzanita, because it’s “one of the earliest-blooming and most garden-tolerant manzanitas, with year-round interest.” She likes to prune its lower branches “to accentuate the gorgeous mahogany branch structure and underplant it with summer-blooming groundcovers such as Point St. George Coast Aster and blue-green bunch grasses.”

Howard McMinn Manzanita “puts on a show when not much else is blooming with an attractive display of bell-shaped flowers in late winter,” said landscape architect Stephanie Morris. It “looks great in all seasons” and “makes a great foundation plant,” she added. As it gets older, it can be trimmed to show the reddish bark.

Landscape architect Sherri Osaka also chose Howard McMinn Manzanita for its “beautiful blooms in the winter when the hummingbirds really need them.” In addition, once established, it’s “tolerant of garden watering or no watering,” she said.

Coffeeberries are “nice evergreen shrubs that fit into every landscape and are especially good for screening neighbors’ yards, yet they produce beautiful berries for the birds” and tolerate a range of watering and sun/shade conditions, Osaka said. She recommended all the popular cultivars: Eve Case, Mound San Bruno and Leatherleaf.

Yankee Point Ceanothus offers “lush, dark-green foliage that is attractive year-round, with pale-blue spring flowers. It spreads 6 to 8 feet or more and makes a great mass planting for a large space,” Morris said.

Kehoe nominated Pink-Flowering Currant, “a fast-growing deciduous shrub for dry shade (such as under oaks or along a shady fence)” that offers year-round interest with “pleasing, light-green fragrant foliage and showy flowers in early spring for the hummingbirds and native bees, edible fruit to share with the birds in summer” and “attractive reddish or golden fall foliage.” She plants it as a specimen or between shade-tolerant evergreen shrubs such as Coffeeberry, Toyon or Hollyleaf Cherry.

California Goldenrod is invaluable for its “showy summer color” and provides habitat “for butterflies and beneficial insects,” Kehoe said. It “spreads easily by underground rhizomes to create a large swath but won’t grow too fast if not overwatered,” she noted.

To contact these landscape professionals and see examples of their work, visit their webpages: Luna at; Kehoe at; Morris at; and Osaka at

Tanya Kucak gardens organically. For more information, email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

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