If you live in a mild winter areas, especially along the west coast, this is the perfect season to plant natives; the air has cooled, the soil is still warm, and the rains are about to start.

Some people have the mistaken idea that native plants are not “real” garden plants.  It’s a foolish idea of course as every plant is native somewhere.

Every garden should include at least some native plants.  Natives provide food and shelter to native animals.   Natives are low, or even no, maintenance  – after all, there are no gardeners in native habitats.

Native plants create a sense of place.  If your garden is filled with plants from China or Hawaii, then your garden will look like China or Hawaii.  But if you live in San Jose, your garden should look like San Jose.

And sometimes, growing native plants is the way to save them from extinction.  Recently, I had dinner with Gary Lyons, curator of the famous desert garden at the Huntington Library and Gardens in San Marino, not far from Los Angeles.  We were discussing the fabulous specimens in Lyon’s garden, many of which were collected from the wilds of Baja California, just over the border in Mexico. “You can’t go out and collect those plants today,” Lyons told me, “they don’t allow it anymore.”  The plants were overcollected to the point that few still exist in their native habitats.  Today, they are protected.

At the same time, Lyons said, gardeners play a role in conserving threatened plants.  By including nursery grown descendants of the wild collected plants, we can help prevent them from going extinct.  This concept applies to native plants as much as to exotics.  (read more….)

California lilac (Ceanothus) is not a true lilac but rather a native that blooms blue in the spring

California lilac (Ceanothus) is not a true lilac but rather a native that blooms blue in the spring

The lovely indian mallow (Abutilon palmeri)

The lovely indian mallow (Abutilon palmeri)

A simple urn is the perfect complement for this majestic native oak

A simple urn is the perfect complement for this majestic native oak

Cleveland sage (Salvia clevelandii) blooms in spring

Cleveland sage (Salvia clevelandii) blooms in spring

1 Comment

  1. Susan Krzywicki on December 15, 2010 at 11:31 am

    Nan, there is another aspect to this that I am increasingly fascinated by: the flip side of the conservation issue is the beefing up of hybridized plants. If we were to take a look at the original species of most of the exotics that we garden with, we would find much plainer cousins than what we buy in the nursery today, because we’ve bred these plants for generation after generation.

    When we conserve plants, our goal is to keep them in their “pure” state, yet when we garden, we want them to be super-sized. Funny contradiction, no?