Best natives for California gardens

Sunset  – August 7, 2004


Native plants are wise additions to California gardens. The nine beauties pictured here are naturally suited to our rainy-winter, dry-summer climate. And where water is scarce, they’re especially appropriate; most of them can thrive on rainfall alone. Some attract butterflies or hummingbirds. Just give the plants what they need ― the right exposure and well-drained soil. If you start with nursery-raised plants, remember that even drought-tolerant natives need to be watered during the dry season for a year or two until they’re established.

Bush anemone
(Carpenteria californica) Evergreen; 4 to 6 feet tall. Clusters of scented white flowers with yellow centers in late spring and summer; dark green leaves. Shade to sun; little to moderate water. Climate zones 7-9, 14-24.

California fuchsia
(Zauschneria californica) 1 to 2 feet tall. Orange-red flowers in late summer and fall; grayish leaves. Z. c. latifolia ‘Everett’s Choice’ has broad green leaves. Partial shade to sun; little water. Zones 2, 3, 7-9, 11, 14-24.

Many kinds, from groundcovers to small trees. Blue or white flowers in winter or spring. Most prefer sun. Little to no water. Zones 7-9, 14-24 (with some exceptions). C. ‘Blue Jeans’, tolerates summer watering.

Cleveland sage
(Salvia clevelandii) Evergreen; 3 to 5 feet tall. Whorls of 1-inch-long flowers in summer; gray-green leaves. ‘Winnifred Gilman’ has dark blue flowers. Sun; little water. Zones 8, 9, 12-24.

Coral bells
(Heuchera). 1 to 2 feet tall. Small white or pink flowers on 1 1/2- to 3-foot-tall stems in spring. H. micrantha ‘Palace Purple’ has purple leaves; H. maxima makes a good groundcover. Partial to full shade; moderate to regular water. Zones vary.

Matilija poppy
(Romneya coulteri) 6 to 8 feet tall. 9-inch-wide white flowers with yellow centers appear late spring into summer. Spread by underground runners; dig and discard unwanted clumps. Little to no water. Zones 7-9, 14-24; H1.

Scarlet monkey flower
(Mimulus cardinalis) 2 1/2 feet tall. 1 1/2- to 2-inch-long tubular, scarlet flowers in summer; sticky green leaves. Sun or shade; regular water. Zones 2, 3, 7-9, 11, 13-24.

Woolly blue curls
(Trichostema lanatum) Evergreen; 3 to 5 feet tall. Blue flowers on long stalks appear in spring to early fall; narrow green leaves. Little to no water. Zones 14-24.