Whether you’re an aspiring native gardener or an old hand, knowing more about what you grow can add to your enthusiasm, as well as your knowledge.
Browsing a good reference is an underappreciated pleasure. The most useful overall printed reference, “California Native Plants for the Garden” by Carol Bornstein et al. is out of print, though Larner Seeds (larnerseeds.com) has it in stock as of this writing. It may also be available from Native Sons Nursery (nativeson.com) or local chapters of the California Native Plant Society (cnps.org).
Another basic reference is “Growing California Native Plants” by Marjorie G. Schmidt and Katherine S. Greenberg.
For inspiration, the following books can be as absorbing as a good novel.
• “Hardy Californians” by Lester Rowntree. A hundred years ago, Rowntree began traveling around California on her own to find native plants, collect seeds and try to grow them in the garden.
• “Nature’s Best Hope” by Douglas R. Tallamy. This book chronicles how home gardens with keystone natives can spark ecological renewal.
• “Secrets of the Oak Woodlands” by Kate Marianchild. Highlights include engaging chapters on plants and animals associated with California oaks.
Devoted gardeners also will enjoy books focused on ceanothus, manzanitas, oaks, conifers, grasses or bulbs, as well as the following.
• “California Native Gardening: A Month-by-Month Guide” by Helen Popper. Read practical advice about what to do each month, poetically written.
• “California Bees and Blooms” by Gordon W. Frankie et al. Learn about native bees, and which flowers attract them.
• “Native Treasures” by M. Nevin Smith. A veteran horticulturalist writes about his many favorite plants, and how to propagate them.
An unexpected benefit of sheltering in place is that talks, workshops and garden tours from around the state are available. Many CNPS chapters are continuing to host talks online, and some of them are archived. Browse the local chapter’s resources online at cnps-scv.org/education/youtube.
For answers to questions, active forums such as the CNPS Facebook page or the Growing California Natives email list are invaluable. Subscribe by emailing [email protected]
However, the best way to learn about plants is to grow and observe them. February is not too late to sow some wildflowers or add a perennial or two to your garden. Any seasonal rain can reduce your water bill and help natives get established. If you’re planning a new garden, keep an eye out for natives blooming in your neighborhood, and take notes on what you like through the year.
Calflora (calflora.org) and Calscape (calscape.org) are established sites that can tell you bloom times, what’s native to your area, which plants attract the most butterflies and moths – which help birds by providing caterpillars for nestlings – and which nurseries might have specific plants. For more photos and growing information, visit nursery websites such as the aforementioned Native Sons, Las Pilitas (laspilitas.com), Monrovia (monrovia.com) or San Marcos Growers (smgrowers.com).
At less than $5 per packet, seeds can be an inexpensive way to try something new. Besides many interesting and uncommon varieties, Seedhunt (seedhunt.com) has six native buckwheats, eight clovers, 15 lupines and 13 clarkias. Both Seedhunt and Larner offer seeds of native perennials, shrubs, trees and even bulbs, as well as annual wildflowers.
Even quicker is a native plant that’s already growing. A native from Annie’s Annuals (anniesannuals.com), along with her enticing description highlighting its beauty and uses, can inspire aspiring and seasoned gardeners alike. Local garden centers carry some plants, or you can mail-order directly from the website.
Tanya Kucak gardens organically. Email her at [email protected]