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Moving to Santa Barbara after having worked as a landscape designer in the Phoenix area for 10 years, I began my study of plants available in the landscape trade here by taking every class on California natives offered by the Santa Barbara Botanic Garden. Most were taught by Carol Bornstein and Dr. Robert Haller and many of Dr. Haller's classes involved trips into the field to observe plants in their natural habitats.
Understanding where and how plants grow in the wild has become a passion that extends beyond the scope of my job. I am forever collecting new information through travels both in the physical and virtual worlds and have created file upon file of palettes based on specific uses of plants. In addition, I monitor plants used on my jobs in order to observe how they perform in various garden situations.
With drought conditions facing much of the country, this is a good time to consider including or converting to natives. Below, I have presented a few of the ways that I like to design with native plants.
As they might be found in the wild:
Here Redwoods are planted at the bottom of a slope peppered with mature Oaks to create privacy and screening for the area above. Two plant palettes that included trees, shrubs, vines, perennials and bulbs were used - one compatible with the Oaks and a riparian palette that blends with existing native vegetation along the creek that runs just outside of the property border. A wide variety of of plant species from the Tree of Life catalog were used on this job.
I have observed a situation very similar to this at Big Sur.
In this instance, a once unused portion of the Montecito property now affords opportunity for a walk through the woods.
Plants adapted to a specific location used in a garden design:
Below, a front yard in a beachside neighborhood includes trees, shrubs, perennials and grasses found in coastal and Channel Island plant communities. California
Poppies were added to provide additional color.
Mixture of native plants from different plant communities to provide maximum interest and blooms throughout the year:
This back yard in Thousand Oaks, that borders on a natural preserve, is designed using a palette of natives in a naturalistic
Species-specific flowering natives with low water use perennials to attract pollinators (hummingbirds, butterflies and bees):
Customers like flowers, I like flowers and pollinators like flowers. In most instances, my mind is trained to think flowers and season of bloom. Here, plants are more carefully chosen to provide bloom throughout the year to attract pollinators and benefical insects.
In the example below, Lobelia laxiflora is used as a colorful slope cover. On a winter day I discovered hundreds, possibly even thousands, of ladybugs basking in the sun atop the red flower buds and red tubular flowers are a given when it comes to the preferences of hummingbirds. One thing I have discovered about flowering landscapes is that you never know who will show up or when.
Natives used in traditional garden design:
Many natives make perfect choices as hedges and for screening, In addition, traditional-style gardens can be designed using natives exclusively. In the example below, Pacific Wax Myrtle is used for screening (on the upper level).
California natives combined with other Mediterranean climate plants:
Below, native Carex is seen in the foreground.
Here, Carpenteria californica (Bush Anemone) is used in a container planting with Myrtle Euphorbia and white Cyclamen for winter color.