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Thursday, December 13 , 2018, 1:03 am | Fog/Mist 46º


Joan Bolton: Nine Great California Natives to Plant Now

This is perfect time to add natives to the garden so they'll flourish next spring

[Noozhawk's note: Click here for a related article.]

Just in time for fall planting, I've returned with a treasure trove of California native plants from Rancho Santa Ana Botanic Garden's Grow Native Nursery in Los Angeles.

With the evenings getting nippy and the ground still warm, now is a delightful time to plant natives. They'll (presumably) get watered in with winter rains and be poised to take off next spring all on their own, and with only an occasional dose of irrigation from there on out.

I also have my fingers crossed that what I've chosen will be at least a wee bit unappetizing to the pesky deer that have made our semi-rural landscape their personal "garden of eatin."

Pink-flowering sumac (Rhus lentii)

Pretty in pink, pink-flowering sumac (Rhus lentii) is one of my new favorite California native plants. (Joan S. Bolton photo)

I fell in love with this plant a year ago last spring, during a Santa Barbara Botanic Garden tour of local native plant gardens, and had been searching for it ever since. What I found especially captivating were its dramatic pink clusters of flowers atop a big mound of clean, grayish-green foliage.

We grew a cousin, lemonade berry (Rhus integrifolia), at our old house as a robust hedge and haven for foraging birds.

This particular sumac has a reputation for being temperamental, and I've been told that it can suffer sudden, unforeseen collapse.

Apparently frost is a problem, too, so mine will be going in the front yard, which has always been sheltered from the most severe winter cold.

Despite the warnings, I'm determined to give my four new, one-gallon specimens a try.

Pacific Mist manzanita (Arctostaphylos 'Pacific Mist')

Still in its pot, and this Pacific Mist manzanita (Arctostaphylos ‘Pacific Mist’) is already revealing its beautiful, gnarled red bark. (Joan S. Bolton photo)

Pacific Mist is distinctive for its rough, grayish-green leaves and white flowers, rather than the more typical medium-green leaves and blush pink flowers of most manzanitas. The mahogany-red stems are a beautiful contrast.

It's one of the ground cover manzanitas, growing only 2 feet tall, but sprawling outward some 10 feet. It's said to be a little leggy at first, then fill in over time.

It should provide excellent coverage on my back hill, beneath the filtered shade of our statuesque California sycamore where the deer have annihilated the Yankee Point ceanothus.

Pacific Mist also grows faster than most manzanitas, which is a plus. I planted Emerald Carpet years ago and it grew at an excruciatingly slow pace.

I’m counting on this spring-blooming Hearst Ranch buckthorn (Ceanothus hearstiorum) to be unappealing to our woefully up close and personal deer. (Joan S. Bolton photo)
I’m counting on this spring-blooming Hearst Ranch buckthorn (Ceanothus hearstiorum) to be unappealing to our woefully up close and personal deer. (Joan S. Bolton photo)

Hearst Ranch buckbrush (Ceanothus hearstiorum)

Am I asking for trouble, swapping one ceanothus for another, and expecting that the deer won't gobble it up?

Despite the obliteration of our Yankee Point, I'm basing this choice on the experience of clients who live on Mission Ridge. While their resident deer have devastated their broad-leaved ceanothus, the voracious creatures have ignored their small-textured, rough-leaved varieties.

And Hearst Ranch has a tiny, tiny, rippled leaf.

Also, I have a whisper of a hope that since Hearst Ranch grows only 6 to 12 inches tall — while spreading 6 to 8 feet wide — maybe it will a little low for the deer to comfortably reach, since they seem to prefer grazing from 18 inches up.

Island bush poppy (Dendromecon harfordii)

Island bush poppy (Dendromedon harfordii) flourishes on our sunny, local hillsides. (Joan S. Bolton photo)

I've admired this large native for years in the local back country and really don't know why I haven't grown it until now.

It bears stunning gray-blue-green foliage year-round, and flattish yellow flowers in spring and summer, and grows 6 to 10 feet tall and easily as wide.

As for the timing — perhaps I was inspired by the number of times I've called for it in my clients' gardens.

Or more to the point, by the enormous swath of bare dirt on my hill that resulted from last weekend's efforts to fill a dumpster with the tattered, dead and dying remains of Yankee Point ceanothus, velvet centaurea (Centaurea gymnocarpa) and, yes, even California fuchsia (Epilobium canum), that the deer left in their wake.

By all accounts, deer are said to walk right on by these drought-resistant plants.

I can only hope that proves to be the case in our yard as well.

Island snapdragon (Galvezia speciosa, aka Gambelia speciosa)

Perhaps the plumper-than-usual leaves on this island snapdragon (Galvezia speciosa) mean that the springtime flowers will be super-sized, too. (Joan S. Bolton photo)

My previous experience with this plant has been in the dry shade beneath coast live oaks, which is where my new trio of one-gallon specimens will go, too.

However, the leaves on these particular plants are more than double the size of what I've grown in the past, and are more rounded than oval. Yet the label is simply "Galvezia speciosa," with no special variety name.

If will be great if the scarlet, tubular, hummingbird-attracting flowers will be double the size of those that I've grown before, too. But I'm not sure about the spacing. Ordinarily, I'd expect the plants to spread 5 to 6 feet, but I'll probably give these ones extra room.

What I won't do is plant them in the back yard where the deer roam with impunity. Nope, these three potential pieces of deer candy are going beneath the coast live oaks in the front, where the deer don't (at least yet — cross our fingers!) tend to saunter through.

Elk Blue California gray rush (Juncus patens ‘Elk Blue’) bears beautiful blue-gray foliage and tiny clusters of dried, rustling seed heads. (Joan S. Bolton photo)
Elk Blue California gray rush (Juncus patens ‘Elk Blue’) bears beautiful blue-gray foliage and tiny clusters of dried, rustling seed heads. (Joan S. Bolton photo)

Elk Blue California gray rush (Juncus patens 'Elk Blue')

This stiffly upright native looks fabulous tucked in between Santa Barbara sandstone boulders or along dry stream beds.

In my garden, it's about to go in at the base of a tall urn fountain that we just installed. The fountain is covered in small, sandstone-toned marble tiles and ringed in matching river rock. I'll be writing a separate blog post about the fountain once we replant the bed that it's in.

As for this little jewel — it's amazingly tolerant of different conditions, content with everything from its feet being submerged in water at a pond's edge to lounging in dry soil in the shade. It generally grows about 2 feet tall and can spread wider. It's rhizomatous, so may run a bit. But in the confined space where it's going, that should not be a problem.

Santa Cruz Island ironwood (Lyonothamnus floribundus ssp aspleniifolius)

This Santa Cruz Island ironwood (Lyonothamnus floribundus ssp aspleniifolius) is just a tad further along than the little, one-gallon guy I just planted. (Joan S. Bolton photo)

I've admired these towering trees for years, what with their dramatic, dark red bark and delicate leaves.

What finally spurred my decision was looking in on a new one planted next door to a garden that I designed and am now overseeing the installation.

A strong case of plant envy simply could not be tolerated any longer.

I've already planted mine in an area that we tend to let go wild, just past the acre of land that we cultivate right around the house. The ironwood will take on a graceful silhouette over time, forming a slender column about 30 feet tall and 15 wide, with beautiful red, exfoliating bark gathering at its base.

But at the moment, it's only about 2 feet tall. That's because I specifically chose a one-gallon tree, as I've found that natives planted from smaller containers acclimate more easily to our native soil.

I also dug a broad hole and lined it with two layers of chicken wire to keep out the gophers.

I finished with a wide basin and a thorough hand-watering. I'll give it a few more soaks, then leave the rest to the winter rains.

Fremont bush mallow (Malacothamnus fremontii)

While there’s nary a bloom in sight now, this Fremont bush mallow (Malacothamnus fremontii) should be covered in globe-shaped lavender flowers next spring. (Joan S. Bolton photo)

Here's a plant that I know nothing about, other than a 5-gallon version at the Grow Native Nursery was enveloped in an enchanting haze of lavender flowers, and I suddenly had to have it.

According to the tag, it's an upright, evergreen shrub (or velvety gray, actually) for naturalizing, which means it probably seeds out like crazy. It flowers in spring and summer, needs well-drained soil, is drought tolerant, likes full sun and is hardy to 15 degrees.

All that sounds good to me. My one-gallon guy is going on the back hill where it will have plenty of room and should look quite pretty backlit by the afternoon sun.

And I'm counting on those fuzzy, gray leaves to dissuade the deer.

There’s not much to look at yet, but I expect this Santa Rosa Island sage (Salvia brandegei) to take off, once its roots touch the ground. (Joan S. Bolton photo)
There’s not much to look at yet, but I expect this Santa Rosa Island sage (Salvia brandegei) to take off, once its roots touch the ground. (Joan S. Bolton photo)

Santa Rosa Island sage (Salvia brandegei)

How could I walk away without at least one native sage? Besides, the deer have yet to nibble on a single one of the many sages that we already grow.

The one that snared me this time was Santa Rosa Island sage, a fast-growing, medium-sized shrub that grows 4 to 5 feet tall and wide with tall whorls of dainty, pale bluish-lavender flowers. The leaves are dark green, hairy on their undersides and lightly scalloped along the edges.

As for deer resistance — even the venerable Betsy Clebsch writes in her A Book of Salvias: Sages for Every Garden, "evidently deer never browse on it."

Sold! I probably should have bought more.

— Joan S. Bolton is a local garden writer, garden coach and garden designer who specializes in colorful, water-conserving gardens. You may contact her through her website, www.santabarbaragardens.com, or email her at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Click here for previous columns. The opinions expressed are her own.

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