California Natives

I have seen native gardens flourish in the
unlikeliest of places: on condominium
patios, in a postage stamp-size front yard in one of those brand new
subdivisions that are springing up all over the Bay Area, and around a corn and
soybean farmer’s ranch house. Sure,
California natives are drought-tolerant, disease and pest resistant, and good
for wildlife. But the fact is, they’re
also beautiful. Whether you love
flowering bulbs, climbing vines, or showy perennial hedges, you’ll find plenty
of native plant options to suit you.

 For small
flower gardens that offer seed, nectar, and attract butterflies and other
insects, try the purple and white Pacific Coast iris, the orange Humboldt lily,
or the orange and white spotted leopard lily. The orange-red and yellow western columbine does well in sun or part
shade, and blue-eyed grass, an iris relative, produces cheerful blue or purple
flowers. Add the California poppy, and
you’ll have a vivid display of flowers in a range of contrasting purple and
blue, orange and yellow. 


If you’d
like a low-maintenance front yard or perennial border, start with smaller
flowers in the front and add some medium-sized flowering shrubs that will offer
cover for birds foraging for insects and plenty of interesting berries. Cleveland sage, beard tongue penstemon,
and California lilac offer showy purple
flowers, monkey flower blooms in shades of yellow, orange, and red, and
California fuchsia entices hummingbirds with its red, trumpet-shaped flowers. Don’t forget berry-producing shrubs for a
fall food source: the red huckleberry,
common snowberry, coffeeberry, and elderberry are all excellent choices.

 Why stop
with medium-sized shrubs? If you’ve got
space for a tree or large bush, you can provide shelter, food, and nesting
sites. Consider flannel bush for its
showy yellow flowers, Pacific dogwood with its spring flowers and red fall
fruit, and, if you’re looking for an attractive climbing or rambling vine, the
native clematis ligusticifolia will grow to 20 feet or more.

is a diverse state; a plant that thrives around the shores of Mt. Shasta might
whither away in a San Diego backyard. Check with a local native plant nursery to find just the right plant for
your microclimate. The California
Native Plant Society ( or 916 447-2677) can refer you to a nursery
or local expert.