Saturday, May 29, 2010

Evolution of a Haphazard Garden: Native Plant Gardening, from Clueless to 'Hey, they're not all dead yet..."

As I've mentioned many times before, I started my little adventure with native plant gardening about 4 years ago when we moved out to our property. In the beginning I felt really overwhelmed. We had moved from a townhouse with a miniscule back yard to a 5-acre lot (Tinkerbell to T-Rex). Although we preserved about 3 acres of the native chaparral, some portions adjacent to the house had been cleared during construction, leaving swathes of exposed decomposed granite ('DG'), which looked about as alluring as the Martian landscape in Total Recall, minus the hellish red hue and general lack of oxygen, of course.

We quickly found out that the cost to have the property professionally landscaped was going to be astronomical, so I had to go Zen and accept the fact that this whole gardening thing was going to have to be a labor of love (crap, there goes instant gratification) and involve a lot of DIY and TLC...

As I survey my experiments in landscaping today, two things come to mind: First, MAN, did I kill a lot of native plants over the years - generally that's what happens to the novice who plants in the wrong season (fall-early winter are the best times in SoCal to install natives) or screws up the watering regimen. Second, the end result after 4 years of sometimes laughable trial and error are actually not so bad. There's not one spot of grass/lawn on the property except in Hana's dog run, and that really, really cuts back on the water bill.

In retrospect, I have the good fortune of having the perfect soil here in the form of DG, which many natives happen to thrive in. Also, I've learned that if you plant in the cooler weather of fall-winter, root systems will become better established, after which drought tolerant varieties may not need any supplemental water during the summer months after the first year. My challenges remain the prolific bunnies (ours will eat EVERYTHING and anything green that's under 3' tall) and a variety of rodents (which love to recklessly pillage and snack on the bulbs of native lilies, alliums, brodiaeas, etc.).

As for garden design, I am at best a "Haphazard" gardener. More often than not, I follow my own twisted logic when it comes to assembling color combos & palettes. My gut instinct, which has worked thus far, is to group plants with similar cultural requirements (recommended by all the native plant experts) and then add a splash of colorful annuals and/or native bulbs in betwixt. So there. Abracadabra & Shazam! Oh, and it's also good to use lots & lots of wood chip mulch.

Here's a sampling of some of the more perky parts of the garden:

5/27/10 'Burgundy' Desert Willow (Chilopsis linearis) on the left; Laguna Manzanita (Arctostaphylos glandulosa ssp. adamsii), Konocti Manzanita (Arctostaphylos manzanita ssp. elegans), Rabbitbrush (Chrysothamnus nauseosus), Showy Penstemon (Penstemon spectabilis), St. Catherine's Lace (Eriogonum giganteum), 'Route 66,' 'Uvas Canyon' & 'Ghostly Red' California Fuchsias (Zauschneria californica),  Woolly Bluecurls (Trichostemma lanatum), Prickly Phlox (Leptodactylon californicum).

5/22/10 Same shot, different angle.

5/27/10 An ersatz allee of Western Redbuds (Cercis occidentalis) along the front entry's super rustic walkway (pea gravel galore). The low shrubs in between are 'Sunset' & 'Harmony' Manzanitas. Good subs for boxwoods for now, but I think they'll get much bigger over time (hopefully they won't morph into the likes of Audrey, a la Little Shop of Horrors).

5/27/10 'Catalina' California Fuchsia (Zauschneria californica), 'Dr. Hurd' Manzanita (Arctostaphylos manzanita), Coastal Gum Plant (Grindelia arenicola) in front of rose bed.



Flower beds with natives such as Island Alumroot (Heuchera maxima), Heuchera 'Blushing Bells,' Bolander's Phacelia (Phacelia bolanderi), Desert & Western Columbine (Aquiligea formosa), Fort William Fairyfan (Clarkia williamsonii), Wine Cup Clarkia (Clarkia purpurea quadrivulnera), 'Pink Ribbons' Clarkia (Clarkia concinna), Elegant Clarkia (Clarkia unguiculata), Pt. Reyes Wallflower (Erysimum concinnum), Frying Pans (Eschscholzia lobbii), Grand Linanthus (Linanthus grandiflorus), Blue Flax (Linum lewisii), Bird's Eye Gilia (Gilia tricolor),  & others. 

5/22/10 Clarkias & Southwest natives, all getting swimmingly along. 

5/22/10 Nascent beginnings (redundant?) of a desert garden.


5/22/10 Pond framed by Manzanitas. Left to right: California Sycamore in the backdrop (Platanus racemosa), Cuyamaca/Julian Manzanita (Arctostaphylos patula var. platyphylla), Pointleaf Manzanita (Arctostaphylos pungens), Laguna Manzanita (Arctostaphylos glandulosa ssp. adamsii). 

5/22/10 Driveway lined with Rock Roses (Cistus spp.), Ceanothus spp., California Buckwheat (Eriogonum fasciculatum), Arizona Sycamores (Platanus racemosa var. wrightii), & native grasses.

5/22/10 And now, a Native/Mediterranean interlude: 'Powis Castle' Artemesia, St. Catherine's Lace (Eriogonum giganteum), Tuscan Blue Rosemary, Spice Islands Rosemary, 'Purple Floorshow' English Legend roses, assorted Scented Geraniums & Lavenders, San Diego Red & Barbara Karst Bougainvillea.


5/28/10 And last but not least, the obligatory Hana cameo.


  1. wow its just amazing - never did I realise how much land you had and what you have done so far is breathtakingly beautiful.

  2. Thanks, Rosie - I'm certainly never bored with the multitude of never-ending garden tasks around the property. But, I have to say that I've been pretty impressed with & inspired by your own amazing gardenscapes!