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Natives in the Garden

The following are some of my favorite and/or unusual California natives suitable for landscapes. This is not a complete list – we are adding photos all the time.


We use perennials as the color spots in the garden. We like to locate them right up front, along borders and next to paths, where we can see all the color, and more importantly, dead head the spent flowers. We also mix up perennials that bloom at different times of the year so as to have color throughout the seasons.

Seaside Daisy
Erigeron glauca, or Seaside daisy is one of the best color spots because it is has a very long bloom cycle and is nearly evergreen. It can double as a small-scale groundcover, ultimately growing 2-4 feet across. It tolerates clay nicely.
Pumkin Monkey Flower Ramona Monkeyflower and Margarita BOP
Mimulus aurantiacus ‘Pumpkin’ is one of my favorite monkeyflowers because of its bright color – orange on the inside, red on the outside. So cheery! Hummers love it. This is a nice combination photo of two grand color perennials together – Penstemon heterophyllus ‘Margarita BOP’ and Mimulus aurantiacus ‘Ramona’. The foothill penstemon and monkeyflower are dependable with fairly long bloom cycles. They are also hummer favorites.

Palmers Penstemon

Desert Sage
Penstemon palmeri, or Palmers penstemon, is a desert perennial with fragrant pink flowers. Small in size (about 2 to 3 feet), Salvia pachyphylla, or Desert Sage, is extremely drought resistant with fragrant purple flowers and pink bracts.
Island Buckwheat Fairy Duster
Eriogonum arborescens, or Santa Cruz Island Buckwheat, is a 3 foot evergreen ornamental buckwheat. It is drought tolerant with blue/green leaves and pink flowers. Calliandra eriophylla, or Pink Fairy Duster, is a desert native with delicate pink flowers.
Clarkia Monkeyflower
Who needs pansies when you have wildflowers like this? Clarkia amoena, Farewell-to-Spring, or Godetia, blooms in late spring through early summer. It is literally a bouquet on a stick. This coastal/inland perennial, Mimulus rutilus, or Velvet Red Monkeyflower, has rich red flowers. It makes a good color spot in the native landscape.
Golden Current Twinberry
Ribes aureum gracillimum, or Golden Current, is the best eating and prettiest of our native currants. The orange berries, nearly black when ripe, are preceded by yellow tubular flowers, a favorite for hummers. Lonicera involucrata, or Twinberry, is a beautiful and unusual shrubby member of the honeysuckle family, with twinning flowers followed by berries in front of reddish bracts. Eye-catching!
Humboldt Lily Apricot Mallow
The king of lillies, Lillium humboldtii, or Humboldt Lily, reaches 8 feet in height and contains more than 100 flowers on a mature plant. This species can also be found on Mount Palomar. This desert native, Sphaeralcea ambigua, or Apricot Mallow, is widely adaptable and blooms with vermillion blossoms for months.
Red Columbine Wooley Blue Curls
This is Aquilegia formosa or Red Columbine. It looks like it has crossed with Aquilegia pubescens, or Yellow Columbine, judging from the bright yellow center. Trichostemma lanatum, or Wooly Blue Curls is a long-blooming, fragrant 3 foot shrub known for its showy blue-purple flowers. It is finnicky, but worth a try.
John Dourley Carmel Sur Manzanita
Arctostaphylos ‘John Dourley’ is a colorful, lower mounding Manzanita with brilliant tips, brilliant pink flowers, and clusters of red berries. It is fairly dependable in gardens and yields color all year long. A truly magnificent groundcover, Arctostaphylos edmunsii ‘Carmel Sur’ is a gorgeous, flat (3-6” high) Manzanita that is evergreen and just luscious on slopes. It tolerates nearby garden water if on a slope.
San Miguel Savory Munz sage

Satureja chandleri, or San Miguel Savory, is a real treat. It’s minty flavor is great for tea or food flavoring (use just like mint) and it is a beautiful plant to boot. It took us seven years of looking to finally find a stand of these plants growing north of Fallbrook.

Salvia munzii, or Munz’s sage, is a San Diego native sage that is mounding with brilliant purple flowers. It is extremely drought tolerant, but a little bit of supplemental irrigation will keep it looking good for most of the year.

Screen Shrubs

Toyon Pink Flowering Current
Heteromeles arbutifolia, Toyon, or California Christmas Holly, is covered in bright red berries in winter and is the most important winter food source for migratory birds. I call it an aviary on a stick! This is a photo of one Ribes sanguineum glutinosum, or Pink flowering currant. It is magnificent under oaks or in the shade, is very adaptable, and puts on a memorable show in late winter. The berries are edible too.
Mexican Flannel Bush Ken Taylor
The Mexican Flannel Bush, Fremontodendron mexicanum, was once found in many areas of San Diego county, but is now almost extinct. It is a real tragedy, as this magnificent plant is known the world over. There is nothing that compares with the bright lemon yellow flowers that cover this shrub in spring – the English love it! Here is a low mounding version of the same plant, known as Ken Taylor. This has been a rock solid performer for us, and its low habit makes it well suited for many gardens.
Flannel Bush Fremontodendron Californicum Napense

Here is a close up of the flowers on the flannel bush. It’s a real show stopper – just don’t get the hairs on the leaves in your eyes!

Obviously, I really have a thing for flannel bushes! I like the variety napense because of its relatively small size and ability to tolerate clay.  This one has effortlessly bloomed brilliantly in my garden for years.
Ceanothus ‘Sierra Blue’ Santa Lucia Mallow
This is an example of a narrow privacy screen planting. It is only 5-6 feet wide, and is filled with tall Ceanothus ‘Sierra Blue’ and Island Mountain Mahogany, Cercocarpos alnifolius. The Santa Lucia mallow, Malacothamnus involucrata, is beautiful and beloved by all things winged. Its white flowers just glow, night or day.
Snow Flurry Ceanothus Verrucosus
The hills around Lake Hodges bloom bright white in late winter as the Ceanothus verrucosus comes into flower. This is a gorgeous white wild lilac that requires no water once established.

I have a couple favorites in this courtyard planting. The low groundcover is Arctostaphylos edmundsii ‘Danville’, and the taller white flowering shrub is Ceanothus ‘Snow Flurry’ – good for screening.



California has many trees and tree-like shrubs to offer. For those desiring something that is scaled to a patio, consider large manzanitas, redbud, Flowering ash, Desert Willow, Desert Museum Palo Verde, and even Catalina ironwood. Use the giants like Sycamore, Cottonwood, Redwood, Box Elder, and White Alder where they have room to grow and can shade the entire house in Summer. Desert Willow
I love the Desert Willow, Chilopsis linearis, for its adaptability and flowers. It can grow to become a large shrub or 20 foot tree. This variety, ‘Burgundy’, has flowers the color of wine.
Austin Griffith Redbud
Here are some ‘Austin Griffith’ manzanitas that have been pruned up into small trees. They are very effective around patios. Cercis occidentalis, or Redbud, is an adaptable, magenta flowering beauty that is native right here in the Laguna mountains. In addition to the bright flowers, it is covered in heart shaped leaves and maroon seed pods for a good portion of the year. It’s a very nice patio tree.

Grasses and Grass-Like Plants

Leymus Canyon Prince Deer Grass
Leymus ‘Canyon Prince’ is one of my very favorite grasses. It is a three-way hybrid discovered growing on Santa Cruz island. It tends to stay in a tidy blue clump, and it leaf color is electric. One of my other favorite grasses is Deer Grass, or Muhlenbergia rigens. Its six foot tall spikes are dramatic and beautiful, especially when backlit by the sun or waving in a breeze. This is one of the most important basketry plants to California Indians.
Clustered Field Sedge Blue Gramma

Carex praegricilis, or Clustered field sedge, is a great lawn substitute and one tough plant. I’ve seen it coming up in parking lots. Takes a third as much mowing and watering as a conventional lawn. You can divide it and plug it in every 6 inches or so to get a lawn in about 6 – 9 months.

Carolyn’s dog Hazel just loves the Blue Gramma lawn featured at the Santa Barbara Botanic Garden.  Bouteloua gracilis is a beautiful, lower growing, drought-tolerant grass with pretty little seed heads.
Sporobolus Airoides Purple Three Awn

This picture really doesn’t do justice to this amazing gorgeous native bunch grass, Sporobolus airoides, or Alkali Sacaton. It has airy, shimmering flowers that look very delicate on a really tough plant.

This is a classic example of a native that replicates and in some way exceeds the virtues of an often used exotic. Who needs the invasive Mexican Hair Grass when we have this native beauty that isn’t quite as aggressive and has nice purple coloration to boot? Please use Aristida purpurea or Purple Three Awn instead.
  Mexican Spike Rush
The Spike Rushes in the genus Juncus are extremely useful for their architectural forms and colors. This is Juncus acutus, or Mexican Spike Rush, which is bright green and very dramatic. There are many other species that are very useful. I love to use the straight, six foot tall Juncus textilis instead of invasive horsetails for a contemporary effect. These were also important basketry plant to the Indians.
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