California Native Beauties

manzanita (Arctostaphylos sp.) with smooth, cinnamon bark

manzanita (Arctostaphylos sp.) with smooth, cinnamon bark

Landscaping with natives means growing naturally shapely plants that never need pruning. Landscaping with natives means growing not only exotic, colorful and fragrant flowers, but woods and barks that demand to be touched. Landscaping with natives means extending a permanent invitation to hummingbirds, who will make themselves at home in your garden virtually all year long. And, of course, landscaping with natives means never having to say you’re sorry, never feeling regret that you forgot to prune, to fertilize or to water, since natives, once established, can basically take care of themselves.
Consider the manzanita, for instance. Most manzanitas (Arctostaphylos species) grow into symmetrical domes or spheres without human assistance. Their bark is burgundy red and silky smooth to the touch. Manzanita foliage is either emerald or, as in the case of Arctostaphylos “John Dourley,” bluish green. The foliage has a fresh, clean cut and highly polished look, a fitting adornment to the bark it complements.
Now is the time to fully appreciate manzanita, which you can do at the Theodore Payne Foundation, since manzanita’s peak bloom period occurs in late winter and early spring. A wonderful variety to view, at present, is Arctostaphylos Hookeri “Wayside.” It is covered with those charming, upside-down urns that are its flowers, officially described as white but unmistakably flushed and blushed with pink. “Wayside” forms an elongated mound 3 feet tall and 12 feet wide.
‘Howard McMinn’ is the most garden-worthy manzanita, since it can take regular watering without adverse effects. Most other manzanitas, like California natives in general, may die if given more than a modicum of water, especially if that water is distributed through overhead sprinklers. ‘Howard McMinn’ may even be pruned in bonsai fashion.
In recent weeks, you may have noticed glorious wands of purple flowers blooming around freeway entry and exit ramps. These flowers, sagaciously planted by Caltrans, are annual native lupines. You can purchase lupine seeds at Theodore Payne, but you might also consider acquisition of perennial lupines. Silver lupine is a perennial with silver-gray leaves. Tree lupines, which grow to 6 feet tall, are available with either blue or yellow flowers. They require protection from midday sun.

Can you imagine a delphinium with a yellow flower that looks like a cross between a miniature rose and a daisy?
It would be hard to match those glorious, stately classical delphinium inflorescences in every shade of blue. Yet the California buttercup (Ranunculus californica “Buttercup”) is every bit the equal of the delphinium, to which it is related.
What the California buttercup lacks in flower size it more than makes up for with serpentine flower stems topped with clear yellow blooms – the same strong yellow you see in pansies and leaves that are large and finely cut in the manner of Delphinium foliage, only more so.
The California buttercup is one of many unusual plants that you will find at the Theodore Payne Foundation, devoted exclusively to California native plants, in Sun Valley. Every time I visit the foundation, I discover plants I may have looked at before but never actually seen. There is a subtlety about California natives that demands a second, a third and even a fourth look. I wonder why more gardens and landscapes are not filled with California natives, the dissemination of which was the single-minded pursuit of the Englishman, Theodore Payne.

A delightful California columbine (Aquilegia Formosa) is highly worth the consideration of color-loving gardeners. Columbines are typically and fascinatingly bicolored, but the colors themselves are flat. The California columbine, on the other hand, has brightly glowing blooms in scarlet and yellow.
If you are a lover of succulents, there are several natives you can add to your collection. There are the famous Dudleyas, available both as chalky blue gray and sea green rosettes. For a small-leafed succulent ground cover, you would want to try Oregon stonecrop (Sedum oreganum), which comes from northern California.
If you have a trellis that is in search of a vine, plant a native sweet pea, Lathyrus splendens “Pride of California,” at the base of the trellis. This sweet pea has deep red flowers and is available in one-gallon containers at the Theodore Payne Foundation.
Tip of the week: Poppy Day, which is the annual open house and plant sale extravaganza of the foundation, will be held Saturday, April 7, from 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. There will be tours and demonstrations. Admission is free.
The nonprofit foundation is regularly open from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Wednesday through Sunday. The foundation is at 10459 Tuxford St., Sun Valley. Call (818) 768-1802 or visit the Web site at Theodore Payne has a wildflower hot line at (818) 768-3533.

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