4-Season Color for Your California Native Garden
Too many people think that growing a native-plant garden means putting up with a drab, boring, brown yard. How wrong they are. There are thousands of California native plants to choose from to make any local garden a stunning head-turner. The flowers and foliage are not only beautiful, but they attract birds and butterflies as well, making a lively, colorful garden. And, of course, they make you feel good about helping the environment and saving lots of money on irrigation and maintenance. Make sure you take into account the plants' natural growing conditions before choosing color or foliage type. A flower that grows wild in full sun in the Mojave desert can't survive in San Fransisco, no matter how pretty it may look there. Here are some plants that will make sure your garden looks beautiful all year.
Spring: California Penstemon
Penstemons are small perennials with tubular flowers. They are found throughout much of California in a multitude of climates and soil conditions. Penstemons start flowering in spring and usually keep flowering into summer. Colors vary from pink to blue and everything in between. These lovely flowers can tolerate some of the hottest, driest conditions in California. Native Penstemons are great hummingbird plants, too. Try Penstemon 'Margarita Bop' (shown in picture) or Showy Penstemon (Penstemon spectabalis) for a show-stopper.
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Summer: California Sage
California sages can be an eye-popping addition to a garden and they are so easy to grow. Just plant them in your natural soil and water a few times, and you are good to go. Sage flowers are mostly blue and purple. Hummingbirds as well as butterflies are attracted to Sages. Try Celestial Blue Sage (shown in picture), or Pozo Blue Sage (Salvia 'Pozo Blue') for colorful easy-to-grow choices.
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Fall: California Fuschia
California fuchsias (Zauschneria sp.) are spreading perennials that flower very late in the season, providing a valuable nectar source for over-wintering hummingbirds. California fuchsias vary from red to pink to white but generally are low and spreading. Plant in a sunny location with some occasional water for fall color. Try Catalina California Fuchsia (Zauschneria califonica 'Catalina') or Mattole River California Fuchsia (Zauschneria septentrionalis 'Mattole River').
Winter: California Currants and Gooseberries
Currants and Gooseberries are some of the earliest flowering plants in California. These flowering plants are dual-purpose, providing flowers in the spring and berries in the summer. Many currants have fragrant foliage and are deer-resistant as well. Try Red Flowered Currant (Ribes sanguineum), for large flower clusters, and Pink Chaparral Currant (Ribes malvaceum, shown in picture), for drought tolerance.
Maintaining Your California Native Garden
As with most natives, if you enjoy garden maintenance, you can water occasionally and remove dead flowers to encourage multiple flowerings, but the plants will usually do fine if left on their own. Just choose from the pallet of plants that live naturally in your conditions and you will produce a beautiful, easy-care masterpiece.
Photos courtesy of Penny Wilson. Article by Penny Wilson. Penny is a gardening writer who specializes in California native plants.