Save water, make an amazing landscape with native plants
The middle of April has played host to celebrations of nature for thousands of years. The ancient Roman festival of Cerealia, in honor of Ceres, the goddess of agriculture and grains, begins this week with a series uniquely Roman parties and special events (yes, wine and goats are involved).
Arbor Day, first celebrated back in the 1500’s is usually observed around this time as is its modern day successor, Earth Day.
Less well known, but equally important IMHO, is that it’s also California Native Plant Week. (Keep in mind, neighbors in Oregon, Idaho, Nevada, Utah, Arizona, Northern and New Mexico, we have a lot of native plants in common.)
Bound by the Sierra Nevada mountains and Mojave desert to the east and the Pacific ocean to the west, the geography of the state gives it unique weather and the largest number of plant species of anywhere in the U.S., a third of which are found nowhere else.
It also gives California nearly 40 million residents (the entire population of Canada), which means a lot of our native plants are being squeezed out; cleared for housing and infrastructure and often replaced with non-natives that are poorly adapted for the climate and often outright invasive.
This is unfortunate and unnecessary be we have plenty of native plants and trees here in California — and throughout the west — that look great in a garden or landscape setting, provide food and shelter for critters, and, best of all, are water wise and dead simple to care for.
Sadly, “native plants” and “native landscaping” are still considered niches (like the local stuff is “weird” compared to plants from China and the Mediterranean), so big box stores and larger commercial nurseries don’t usually carry California natives or provide any education on their many advantages. There are, however, many native plant enthusiasts, organizations and nurseries dedicated to raising raising awareness and availability of native plants, making it easier than ever to learn about and create your own California native garden.
Which brings us to California Native Plant Week, a seven day event the California Native Plant Society describes like this:
Each day of California Native Plant Week, CNPS will unveil 360° virtual tours. From home gardens to apartments, city parks to wildlands, these 360° tours will share the different ways Californians care for and enjoy native plants. The tours also reflect a diversity of gardeners, from urbanites to suburban homeowners, Indigenous culture keepers to high school teachers. The tours are accessed entirely online and offer an immersive experience with clickable interpretation, plant identification tags, navigation features and hyperlinked plant lists.
That’s pretty awesome on it’s own (also envy causing when you see some of the gardens), but even better is that the CNPS website will help you identify and locate a nursery source for pretty much any California native you’re looking for.
And if you can’t find it there, forums like those on Facebook and Reddit can connect you with others who also have insight into how/where to source native plants. It also doesn’t hurt to make friends with your friendly, neighborhood nursery employee who might have the inside track on native plant sources.
For my part, while I’m not out there actively pressing for people to rip out their current landscape and switch to California natives, I am leading by example, swapping in local flora as I remake portions of The Acre.
What was once a slope of English Ivy is now (mostly) native sages.
The front garden along our road is now a mix of native chaparral and sages rather than the row of Canary Island palms (I sold the palms, so they’re out lining the parking lot of an outlet center somewhere in Arizona).
And the live oak dry creek first used as a dump 50 years ago, and later a goat pen, is now being
restored to a shady oak woodland.
Not many plants can live under these oaks, but a few natives — California lilacs, holly, sages, and gooseberry — do just fine.
One of the other big upsides to going native with the landscape beyond not watering anything is my poultry (chickens and ducks with free range of the yard) don’t eat the landscaping. They do, however, shelter under it and eat the weeds, grasses and various insect pests that hide out there. Kind of a triple bonus when you think about it.
Check out California Native Plant Week on the California Native Plant Society website