When we first bought a house here in sunny (and dry!) Southern California, we knew we wanted a nice garden, but we were scared to death of the watering bills. We visited a native wildflower show shortly after moving in, and asked the volunteers there “What plants can take our summer heat and lack of rain, thrive in our heavy clay soil, and will also be attractive to local birds and wildlife?” The answer that came back changed our lives: "What about plants that have already been living here for hundreds of years?"
Los Angeles has what is known as a Mediterranean climate, which is found in only a few select places in the world. Mild wet winters and hot dry summers mean that plants have adapted to a growing season that's the opposite of the typical East Coast or English garden. A survey (by Rancho Santa Ana Botanic Garden) of California nurseries showed roughly 3 out of 4 plants sold in Southern California are utterly unsuited to this climate, which means they are either destined to die, or will require an unnatural life support system of excessive water and chemicals to be kept alive.
Meanwhile, despite what some may tell you (we had one well-known commercial nursery tell us that “when people talk about natives, they're only referring to the oak tree”!), California is already home to over 6,000 species of plants. Many of these beautiful plants are found nowhere else in the world, provide food for wildlife, and most importantly, they don't just “survive” in our climate, they thrive! What could be more appropriate to use in your own California garden?
We feel we've now become part of a sort of "native plant underground" where like-minded people strive to uncover information about this approach that up to now has been mostly ignored by the mainstream gardening press and industry. Fortunately, this movement is growing, and there are a growing number of botanic gardens, nurseries, books, and web sites on this subject. Visit our Resources section for links to some of these.
// We'll be adding to this section soon with more plant profiles and tips.