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California Natives Abroad

Sylvia challenged herself to see how many of my native grow in her garden. This is her report. PB



One of the great things about blogs is that we can ‘travel’ to other countries and see plant communities in the wild, we can see them through the eyes of a like minded gardener.  I have learnt so much from blogs about how to grow plants or why something will not grow for me. This set me thinking
about how little I knew about Pomona’s area of America and the wild plants that grow there.  How many plants do I grow that are wild to Pomona?  I thought it would make an interesting post.

When I went to look for some of Pomona’s natives in my own garden, I found it a bit of a challenge; our climates are so different. In the West of England we rarely have a shortage of rain and drought years are few and far between so this is not something I consider.  I have lost more plants to being too wet rather than too dry.

Plant ‘hunters’ often tell us that we should see plants growing ‘in the wild’ to really understand how they grow, but for most of us that is not possible.  However we do know our own native plants and with a growing realisation that a lot of these make lovely garden plants able to copy with the local conditions and we are cultivating more of them.


The first plant I know comes from California is Californian Lilac, this is a favourite shrub of mine.  One of the few shrubs that I have more than one variety of.  I used to have 3 but lost one – I think because it got too wet!  We had an small underground water leak which also killed a Robinia
tree. Ceanothus is border line hardy in the UK but living in the south they seem to thrive, they are considered a good coastal plant here.  (Pomona do they grow by the sea in California?)  The two I have are both evergreen varieties Ceanothus azureus ‘Concha’ and Ceanothus thyrsiflorus var.
repens,  I hope Pomona is not going to tell me that these species don’t come from California!

My ceanothus have so many flowers because they are selected forms. The one in the back garden is more shaded and I think flowers for 2 weeks at the most.  But the one in sun in the front flowers for longer and is inclined to have a few stray flowers though the summer.  Interesting that it copes with more wind and wet here and doens’t have the hot
temperatures. I am surprised it isn’t grown more, possibly because it can die for no reason, as it is such a useful evergreen plant.  I don’t think that it will survive in some of the colder area of the UK. Which is why it is often recommended for the coastal areas where the winters are milder.  We all talk of plants for the winter hardiness but the summers really do make a difference. I struggle with Morning Glory (annual climber) because of the colder wet summers yet can’t grow blue poppies because of the heat!

I have to prune both these plants every year to keep them to their allocated spaces. Cocha likes to tap our bedroom window if I forget to trim it!  This winter, which was colder than we have had recently, one whole limb died but
it doesn’t seem to have effected the rest of the shrub. Ceanothus thyrsiflorus var. repens is a vigorous plant for me but I wouldn’t be without its blue fragant flowers in May.   The rest of the year both plants are a lovely green and blend into the garden, Californian Lilac is definitely a very beautiful garden plant and one I wish I had room to grow more off.

I have grown Calfornian Poppies (Eschscholzia californica) from seed and bought some seed to grow this year but it is still in the packet!  I will try to get some into the ground hopeing to get some flowers before the end of summer.  The first time I pulled some of these up I was amazed at the long root, good for finding and storing water I assume.  I get some volunteer plants from the original seed I planted and I like their ferny foliage and bright orange flowers.  Do these grow wild around you Pomona?

Now I got a bit stuck, what else is native to Pomona’s area of California, Lupins? I have had trouble with lupins the plants either die on me or are a horrible colour, I have tried seeds without any luck.  This year I have my first blue lupin flowering – I wish I had bought more plants and I have a packet of seed to try again. I know lupins come in lots of colours but I like blue and having seed pictures of blue lupins flowering in the wild I will keep trying to get a few blue ones.


The lupin is different from the wild types that grow in California, as it is a garden hybrid. (Interestingly we don’t use the ‘e’ in the common name)

Considering the very different climate, rain and temperatures that we both have, it is not surprising that I don’t grow many plants for this area.  It is amazing that so many plants will adapt to such different climate conditions.  It is fun to think about the countries our plants come from
especally when you ‘know’ someone that lives there.

Next post: I take up Sylvia’s challenge: how many English natives are in my garden?

{ 8 comments… add one }

  • Karen - An Artist's Garden July 2, 2009, 10:13 am

    Such a thought provoking post Sylvia – before now I had not really “got” that Eschscholzia californica might have actually come from California!
    I look forward to reading Pomona’s response about how many British natives are in her garden.

  • Victoria July 2, 2009, 1:53 pm

    Wow, great post, Sylvia. Your garden looks fabulous.

  • Pomona Belvedere July 2, 2009, 3:54 pm

    Sylvia, I think your garden looks fabulous, too (it’s rare to see such heavy bloom on wild ceanothus). And I also thought this was a thought-provoking post; so interesting to see how our own natives fare in other lands. I think the great bulk of ceanothus is native to California; C. thyrsiflorus and C. ‘Concha’ are certainly on the Las Pilitas natives list (it’s the go-to place for California natives). Since Las Pilitas has 57 kinds of species and cultivars, I can perhaps be forgiven for not knowing offhand? In any case, besides people purposely breeding cultivars, ceanothus also hybridize freely in the wild (Californian in more than one way, perhaps).

    As far as I know, ceanothus is an inland plant, but you don’t see it much in the hotter areas in the valley and it is frost-hardy, so perhaps that’s why it’s adapted so well to your garden, Sylvia? Steve Snedeker has pointed out to me that many low-water natives will flower and fruit abundantly if they are watered; it looks as if yours are doing that!

    E. californica does indeed grow wild here; in my area it grows on the cliffs, so I’m thinking that taproot might be for holding-on purposes as well as water-holding purposes. In the flatlands they can cover huge patches of meadow. People also grow them in their gardens; I was surprised the first time I saw they would re-bloom through the summer with water. There are solid-orange and yellow-with-orange-center variants; I prefer the latter, but saving seed from them doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll get the same thing, at least not the first year.

  • Monica the Garden Faerie July 3, 2009, 6:26 am

    It is fascinating to see what grows where and how the bloom times are different. :)

  • susan morrison (garden-chick) July 3, 2009, 7:39 am

    Great post! Sylvia, I use ceanothus regularly in my garden designs, particularly for erosion control on low water slopes. I think the confusion in understanding ideal cultural conditions comes because there is so much variety within the species. Many ceanothus prefer the milder winters found in coastal conditions and are very tolerant of wind and sea spray. A smaller number will thrive in hot inland gardens – I’ve had good luck with Dark Star and Concha and Ray Hartman seems to do well everywhere. Less luck with Centennial and Carmel Creeper. They also vary in their water tolerance – some are ok with garden water (although it tends to shorten their lifespan) while others want no summer water after the first year or two. And I have no experience with Pomona’s inland but cooler garden situation. Also, some are deer resistant, others not so much.

    Despite owning the book Ceanothus, which gives detailed descriptions of numerous cultivars, I still find it’s difficult to figure out which one to use in different situations (and unfortunately my clients have paid the price of my experimentation!).

  • Pomona Belvedere July 3, 2009, 8:46 am

    Monica, I agree, these variations are one of the fascinations of garden life.

    Susan, thanks for adding your broader knowledge of where ceanothus grows, my experience is only with our local wild ceanothus, which I just incorporate into my garden visually. I’ll point out that, while my inland climate is colder in winter, it’s much hotter in summer. I don’t know if this means different ceanothus do well in different places, or if at least some ceanothus has a very broad spectrum of places where it will grow. The wild types up here are deer-resistant – I think they’d have to be, to still be up here.

    Now I’ll have to go to Susan’s blog and read up on ceanothus!

  • Sylvia (England) July 6, 2009, 1:14 am

    Thank you all for your fascinating comments and especially to Pomona for posting this for me. Associating a plant, like ceanothus, with a place and person really adds an additional dimension to gardening. It is sometimes difficult to pin down the exact species from cultivars but I do look at my plants differently now. As my plant knowledge has grown I have become more interested in where they come from, knowing the conditions they like is a great aid to growing them. I look forward to seeing Pomona’s English offering and I am hoping some more bloggers will take up the challenge.

    Best wishes Sylvia

  • Pomona Belvedere July 6, 2009, 9:50 am

    I’d like to see other bloggers take up the challenge, too. We have unprecedented opportunity to learn about plants by blogging. (And if you’re interested in seeing a California native in Australia, Catmint guest-posted on that and you can find it by entering “mimulus” in the search box.)

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