California lilacs are understandably one of our more popular natives. They come in all shapes and sizes, ranging from groundcovers to mounding shrubs up through trees. In bloom, their colors can range from white through deep blue. An evergreen plant, their leaves can range from under 1/2" (usually dark and stiff) to over 2–3" long (larger leaves are often lighter and softer; there is even a variegated selection (‘Diamond Heights’). But if you have deer, beware: the larger and softer the leaves, the tastier they are! We had to keep our Felt Leaf Ceanothus (Ceanothus arboreus) protected in a cage until it reached a height of over 4'.
A ceanothus in bloom is one of the sure signs that spring is on its way. Indeed, they are an important source of nectar and pollen for early bees. Once our Felt Leaf Ceanothus outgrew the local deer (it has reached 7' in 3 years; we're told it can reach 15' high and over 20' wide), it rewarded us with a stunning display of light-blue flowers from January through March.
Ceanothus are flexible plants: They can deal with sun and drought, but are also happy with a bit of shade and water. Most of ours are treated to the later (in clay soil), but Ceanothus arboreus is thriving in one of the sunniest, driest spots in our garden.