Plants for Small Gardens

Gardener’s Corner | Questions and Answers with Local Experts 

By Dan Songster, 2010 July

This column offers chapter members a chance to briefly share information on many things related to gardening with natives. The question for this issue is: “What diminutive native plant would you happily recommend for use in small gardens or in small spaces?”

Nancy Heuler—My south-facing, partly shaded, small condo strip with clay soil, competing roots and HOA irrigation is suited best to woodland-type plants. I dug in pumice, some organic matter and gypsum to loosen it up some. So far,the Ribes sanguineum, Ribes viburnifolium, Iris douglasiana, Sisyrinchium bellum and Fragaria californica are doing OK, tucked among generic preexisting non-native shrubs.

Sarah Jayne—In full sun or part shade, the lavender flowers of Monardella are stunning in combination with the chartreuse flowers and white leaves of Conejo Buckwheat. Neither takes up much space and the Monardella has a delightful pungent fragrance when brushed lightly.

Joan Hampton—I’ve been successful with Giant Chain Fern (Woodwardia fimbriata) in my Garden of Death, where the sun don’t shine and the soil is only fit for making ashtrays in kindergarten classes.

Laura CampPenstemon ‘Margarita BOP’ – easy to grow, vivid border color. It’s the cat’s meow!

Thea Gavin—In honor of July 4th, I give you my “red, white, and blue” choices:

Red (Sort of): The red fescue clumps (Festuca rubra “Patrick’s point”) I planted last October have grown a bit, but are still nice and small (about 6”) clumps of a native grass that is not at all red, but a wonderful silvery/blue color.

White: Chalk dudleya (Dudleya pulverulenta)—it’s compact and interesting to watch as it goes through the seasons, shrinking into dormancy in the summer, swelling its silvery-white fleshy pads with fall rains, and then in spring sending forth fabulous flower stalks a foot high or more that dangle narrow bells of pink and white striped little flowers.

Blue: Blue flax (Linum lewisii) is a compact perennial (12” or so) with multiple airy stems. The leaves are tiny, but the stems are tipped with heaven-blue flowers with a yellow center.

Dan Songster—“I always think of Dudleya as a great pocket plant. Lots of sizes and leaf colors as well as flower colors. Normally tough and resilient, it usually dies back in late summer but the rains bring it back. Also, must mention Eriogonum crocatum-Conejo Buckwheat. Full grown might be 18 inches tall and 24 inches wide with silvery foliage and those chartreuse flowers!


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