California native plants are often overlooked as landscaping plants in the garden, but are so ideally suited for our distinctive mountain climate, and so attractive and colorful, that any gardener will be glad to have tried them. After the first couple years they will be established enough to need little additional summer water which is certainly a concern once our summer heat arrives.
Here are some of the best of the bunch from shrubs to wildflowers for our Central Foothill area:
California Wild Lilac, Ceanothus. A dependable spring bloomer, Ceanothus fills the air with wonderful fragrance in May and June. Mostly blue or white flowered, this evergreen shrub comes in many varieties and forms, from substantial 8-12 feet tall to low growing groundcovers. Try Ceanothus 'Dark Star' for stunning dark blue flowers on a 3 foot tall spreading plant. Ceanothus ‘Ray Hartman’ is ideal for an informal hedge or background planting. Ceanothus griseus horizontalis "Carmel Creeper' is a commonly available low grower and all three cover themselves in blooms in April and May.
Mountain Coffeeberry, Rhamnus californica tomentella, This attractive evergreen shrub is 3 feet tall and wide and the round,red berries will add a bit of color to your garden in the fall. They may remind you of a holly in appearance, but the leaves have finer sheen and a lush look and feel. Plant in groups of three as a background to smaller plants in a garden border or bed. Coffeeberries are perfect for planting on either side of your front door.
Salvia Bee’s Bliss Sage, is a cross between the common Salvia clevelandii and the low creeping variety, Salvia sonomensis. growing six to eight feet wide. Beginning in spring, lavender-blue flowers bloom on spikes rising above low gray-green leaves. This drought tolerant evergreen Sage can be planted in full or part sun and covers a lot of ground on dry slopes. Bee’s Bliss sage has a wonderful spicy scent and if you are concerned about the scarcity of California’s bee population, you’ll certainly be doing your part to help when planting this sage. Bees love it.
Black-Eyed-Susan, Rudbeckia hirta, This colorful ‘introduced’ native is a perennial, coming up from seeds every year once planted in your garden. It blooms in sunbursts of golden yellow color all summer if you trim off the spent flowers regularly. Seeds are easily saved from Rudbeckia but when doing so, wear gloves to protect your fingers from the bristly fine hairs that cover the stems. Plant the seeds in fall or merely toss the seed heads in the general area where you want more.
California Poppy, Eschscholzia californica, Who can resist our annual state flower, the poppy? Available now in a variety of colors from golden yellow to cream and red, poppies are simple to grow. The trick is keeping a weed-free area until the seeds sprout. Clear a swath of bare ground and on the first rainy day of fall, sprinkle and press the seeds into the soil as you walk along. Kids can help you do this. Blooming in early spring, poppies will give you loads of color when you need it after a long winter.
When you try these native plants, you will be rewarded with seasonal color in a carefree garden. These five can be combined in one garden bed for a delightful variety of color, texture and bloom time. Another bonus...they are all deer resistant!
Sue Langley has a website, Sierra Foothill Garden, dedicated to gardening in our mountain community and can be emailed at firstname.lastname@example.org.