Friday, May 4, 2012

San Diego Native Gardens Tour: A Walk On The Wild Side

Native plants. 
Wild? Weedy? Suited for canyons but not good enough 
for home gardens?

Well, meet my new favorite plant (above), commonly known as the California lilac and officially known as ceanothus, of which there are dozens of varieties ranging from ground covers to tall shrubs. This California native is stunning with a captivating blue flower not often found in blooming plants.  
It's now at the top of my must have list.

Why haven't I paid attention to this celestial beauty before? I was vaguely aware of the 'California lilac' over the years but I never made an effort to get to know it.  After all, I come from the Midwest where lilac flowers are purple, large and smell heavenly--surely this was not a lilac! As a budding gardener I knew about annual flowers and vegetables, maybe some shrubs and eventually perennials, but natives? 
What exactly are natives anyway?

Eschsholzia californica, California poppy
I wasn't even sure I knew.  So, naturally, I googled it.

Salvia leucantha, Mexican sage

According to Ask Mr. Smarty Plants website, "Native plants are those that evolved naturally in North America. More specifically, native plants in a particular area are those that were growing naturally in the area before humans introduced plants from distant places."  

Heuchera, coral  bells

You know, before the Europeans came and brought their stuff over.

The first San Diego Native Garden Tour on April 28th and 29th, included dozens of gardens featuring home landscapes with a focus on native plants. I went on the tour, organized by the California Native Plant Society, and saw gardens in La Jolla, Pacific Beach and Bonita. It was eye opening. I learned a lot after seeing only five gardens and talking to homeowners, tour staffers and a designer. 

 Mostly I learned that I wish I had this information 25 years ago when I bought a new home without landscaping.  Native landscaping wasn't on my radar then, but I would certainly use natives now. In addition to plants, lawn, ground cover for a small slope and in ground sprinklers, I even trucked dirt in because the "dirt" on my property was the color of sand, not black like dirt in the Midwest.

The homeowners of some of the properties I saw
boast--as well they should--that they almost never have to water their natives.
That is significant in California where drought is common.
They also don't have to fertilize or mow lawn.

They have more time to sit on a bench and actual enjoy the garden.
Like the trend to eat local, it seems only natural to plant local.

Some homeowners embrace native landscaping almost exclusively, while others choose either the front or back yards of their homes to go native, while still indulging in a bit of water-loving, labor-intensive lawn or (gasp!) rose bushes.

Native plants, like this iris, can have beautiful blooms that rival any in my typical suburban garden plot.
I adore iris and this native is now on my can't live without it list.

I have seen the lovely native Cleveland sage (salvia clevelandii) on dry, 
sunny median strips on roads around town

but if you can provide a backdrop of the Pacific ocean--even better.

One of the most surprising plants I saw was a native grape, or vitis californica, (above) growing like crazy on a home in Pacific Beach. And edible fruit, though I understand it is seedier than most grapes, 
is starting to form on the plant.

So next time I plant a home garden I wouldn't hesitate to go wild and plant some natives.  
After all, Mother Nature knows best.

This is GardenEnvy.

Copyright 2012 by jayro.