What is the Easiest Good Looking Plant?

Gardener’s Corner | Questions and Answers with Local Experts

By Dan Songster, 2009 November

This regular newsletter feature offers chapter members and local experts a chance to briefly share information on many things related to gardening with natives. Here are excerpts from November/December 2009: “Which native plant do you find to be the most successfully grown in a wide variety of landscape situations and “looks good” for much of the year?”

Sarah JayneRhus integrifoliaLemonadeberry. It’s trainable and tractable, produces flowers in late winter and red berries most the summer. Can be ungainly in shape, but can be pruned to fit any situation. Seeds sprout all over, but they are easily removed (when young) To me, it is one of the great, reliable, locally appropriate garden backbone plants.

Celia Kutcher: Heteromeles arbutifolia—Toyon. A very versatile performer; ranging from informal hedge, to large shrub, or trained as a small multitrunk tree. It looks good year-round, important in a closeup setting. Its flowers attract native insects and its fruits attract native birds as well as providing  native “holly” at Christmastime. It doesn’t mind some summer water, and can take conditions near turf if drainage is reasonable.

Laura CampArctostaphylos ‘Howard McMinn’ – Lovely glossy leaves, absolutely gorgeous flowers, hummingbird plant, with terrific bark. It can be pruned every which way, works in clay soil, can take full sun (to quite a bit of shade), and although it can take some peripheral water, it is of course drought tolerant.  Manzanitas are great, great plants, and this hybrid/cultivar is a best seller and sometimes can be found at Home Depot for good reason.

Ron VanderhoffHeucheras. At the garden center, when we’re trying to encourage use of native plants this is usually a good place to start. Heucheras(Coral Bells) look good year-round, have charming flowers, tolerate nearly full sun or moderate shade, attract hummingbirds, can be drought tolerant or handle some summer water, and are perfect for incorporating into existing “exotic” landscapes. Our favorites are those from Rancho Santa Ana Botanic Garden and Santa Barbara Botanic Gardens, such as ‘Wendy’ (amazing), ‘Santa Ana Cardinal’, ‘Opal’, ‘Genevieve’ and the ‘Canyon Series’. Don’t bother with most of the fancy, coloredleaved exotics, which poop out within a few months—get the real thing.

Greg Rubin‘Sunset’ Manzanita—Adaptable, colorful, evergreen, good foundation or mounding groundcover. Erigeron ‘WR’ (sometimes known as “Wayne Roderick”) Neat, nearly year round bloom (with deadheading), nearly evergreen, can be used as a groundcover. Salvia ‘Pozo Blue’—Fragrant, adaptable, clay tolerant, fast growing, long bloom. Ceanothus ‘Remote Blue’—leaves like Mirror Plant, great medium blue, frothy flowers, clean and sparkly, evergreen. Rhamnus ‘Mound San Bruno’—I use this one in Japanese Gardens for its elegance and colorful berries, evergreen, likes watering with good drainage, clay tolerant. Toyon – Can’t miss

Alan LindseyBladder Pod (Isomeris arborea). The specimen I’m most familiar with is in my garden. It’s a full sunplant with inflorescences and pods that catch visitors’ attention, and it blooms all year. The yellow flowers attract hummingbirds and insects and although the dried pods can be messy, leaf litter is not a problem on this evergreen. Its crushed leaves do have an unusual scent; some may find it offensive. Bladder pod does need some room; it can grow as tall as 6 feet with the same spread. I planted mine 2 feet from a brick walk and have to prune it back occasionally; it doesn’t mind the pruning.

Thea GavinCeanothus thyrsiflorus var. griseus ‘Yankee Point’. I have two of these in my garden, in slightly different “microclimates,” and each is flourishing on minimal (once or twice a month) summer water after three years. As Fross and Wilken recommend in their comprehensive book Ceanothus, it’s a good idea to prune the stems that want to grow straight up—this keeps ‘Yankee Point’ the beautiful low groundcover it was horticulturally selected to be. While I haven’t seen too many flowers yet, the year-round deep green glossy leaves alone make it a favorite.


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