Native Plants Go Glam

April 1, 2015 | By | Comments (0)

By now you’ve (hopefully) read our April issue, including Native heroes,  a look into the growing acceptance and availability of native plants for our gardens.

Natives and friends in an LA front yard.  Photo by Thomas J. Story

Natives and friends in an LA front yard.
Photo by Thomas J. Story

My favorite quote is from Jason Dewees, horticulturist (and resident palm expert) at Flora Grubb Gardens in San Francisco:

“Not every native garden has to replicate a natural habitat without any design. Give me a hedge of Ceanothus, a lawn of Carex divulsa, and an espalier of Fremontodendron. The bees don’t care if the plants are manicured or billowy masses—they’re still going to come.”

Preach it! I caught up with Jason to talk about the best examples of natives in high-design situations.

Q: First off, remind everybody—why are native plants such a win?

A: Planting natives preserves a larger web of life including bugs, birds, butterflies—even native fungi and microbes—that are part of the ecology around us. For example, I’m talking to you while standing native plant section at Flora Grubb Gardens. This is the section of the nursery that is always the most alive with butterflies and bees.

An Anna hummingbird, a Western native, feeding on a Heuchera bloom.  Image Courtesy of Rick Derevan.

An Anna hummingbird, a Western native, feeding on a Heuchera bloom.
Image Courtesy of Rick Derevan.

Plus many of these plants are as drought tolerant as can be. They’ll tolerate our chilly summers and wind. They tend to require a bit of pruning, but no fertilizing.

Also, they’re gorgeous. They signal seasonal change and the passage of time with nuance. A native landscape is very poetic.

Q: What are your favorite examples of native plants used in well designed scenarios?

A: Bizarrely, something that sticks with me is the one time I was at Heathrow in London, taking a shuttle between terminals. It was a total concrete jungle, and there was this Garrya elliptica, espaliered and in full bloom, tassels dripping down. What a gorgeous plant, and how beautiful to prune it in this way to feature its blooms? Why don’t we see this done in its native California?

Photo courtesy of Flickr.

Garrya elliptica, Image courtesy of B_G on Flickr.

Also, right in the Bayview neighborhood, super close to Flora Grubb Gardens is this really simple hedge of ceanothus. It’s pruned in this totally traditional rectangular hedge that stays green year round and offers up these gorgeous blue flowers each spring. It’s the only one I’ve seen in all of San Francisco.

Ceanothus 'Dark Star' Image courtesy of Native Sons

A looser hedge of Ceanothus ‘Dark Star’ in San Louis Obispo.
Image courtesy of David Fross of Native Sons.

Q: Do you have any examples of native plants used on a larger scale?

A: I’m kind of obsessed with Heron’s Head park in San Francisco’s Hunter’s Point neighborhood. There are actually two examples of native plantings. You can head out onto an old pier and see a more casual planting.

But at the park’s entrance is this super formal planting surrounding a lawn of native gras. It’s been designed to use natives where other, more generic shrubbery would normally be used, and it’s a great introduction to how beautiful natives can be. There are torrey pines, which are not so commonly used because of how huge they are. And I love the Arbutus marina, which aren’t native, but are a nice mimic of a native madrone. That’s the thing: It’s natives and friends—you don’t need to plant an exclusively native garden. They are perfectly suited to be combined with other plants. Let’s treat them as garden plants.

***Author’s note: If you visit to Heron’s Head park in person, be sure to swing by Bay Natives Nursery, located just adjacent to the entrance. This speciality nursery focuses on rare and endemic natives, and the employees are beyond knowledgable. And actually, you should hit Flora Grubb Gardens, a short drive away, while you’re at it. Make a whole day of it. Pack a picnic. Have fun.

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