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English Natives in California

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When Sylvia suggested that I write a sister piece to her post on California natives in Britain, I thought it was an intriguing idea. While researching it, though, I began to see why she wrote me that in the UK gardeners are used to plants being from somewhere else. Maybe it has to do with being an island with a long history of trade and migration? So many of the plants I looked up were “naturalized” in Britain, or even more obvious imports from elsewhere. Britain has been a seafaring nation for a long time, and one of the cargoes those ships brought back was plants.

In any case, as Sylvia points out, our climates are very different. I found only two plants in my garden which could be considered English natives, with another few possibilities if you allow for a little cheating.

The first, most obvious, is foxglove, at least the Digitalis purpurea foxgloves. I knew these were native to Britain as well as northern Europe because I remembered that from researching my foxglove series. I completely adore Digitalis purpurea in all its forms, a truly magical plant. One of the great things about D. purpurea foxgloves in my garden is that they don’t demand a lot of water (though they do need some; they’re not a xeriscape plant). They also like the semi-shade that most of my garden is in. My Shirley foxglove is down to those last few blooms towering over my head:

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My Sutton’s Apricot seem to be sulking for some reason, so I’ll have to use pictures from the past.


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The second plant I grow that’s native to Britain is Viola odorata, the common scented violet. Although, in my opinon, there is really noting common about violets. I grow a few cultivars; one is the highly-scented deep-colored violet that blooms every year in that protected spot by my friend (and uke player extraordinaire) Dan Scanlan’s garage. I’ve had a lot of fun making music in that garage, so that may be part of why I love them so much. But the flowers themselves have incredible charm. And this year – maybe because it was cooler longer? maybe because they just felt like it? – they bloomed for months. Well, at least two.

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I also grow ‘Rosina’, a rose-colored cultivar. I like it, but somehow the deeper color sends me more. I used to have a white Viola odorata, but it disappeared.

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Finally we come to the cheating part. ‘Penelope’, was bred by Joseph Pemberton in 1924 – in England. Does that count?

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Do my David Austin roses, ‘Sharifa Asma’

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and ‘Fair Bianca’

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count? (I have more David Austin roses, but you get the general idea.)You be the judge.

{ 8 comments… add one }

  • Tatyana July 6, 2009, 10:25 pm

    Very interesting! I should come back and look for your foxglove posts. It’s one of my favorites. I posted so much about it , my blog could be called the foxglove blog! Love the colors of your digitalis. Mine are just basic purple and white, but I love them. Digitalis makes such a statement in the garden! Thank you!

  • Sylvia (England) July 7, 2009, 12:46 am

    Pomona, I am glad that I am not the only one that found this more difficult than I thought, mainly due to our different climates. I grow lots more from other parts of America. Your two choices are plants that I grow and now well from the wild, foxgloves appear when woods or forests are cut down and the banks under our hedges often have violets mixed with primroses. It is quite common to see white violets mixed with the ‘violet’ ones. I know you grow lots of different plants so I wouldn’t be surprised if you didn’t have something else as well.

    I am glad you included English Shrub roses from David Austin – I also grow these and the scent reminds me of the roses around our farm house when I was a child. My only disappointment is that because I live in a more rural area than David Austin I get quite a bit of black spot but I am learning to live with it! I have visited D Austin’s gardens, which are lovely.

    Thank you for taking up the challenge, I am hoping someone else will post about their plants from another area. Best wishes Sylvia (England)

  • tina July 7, 2009, 1:08 am

    I read at least one or two of your foxglove posts, but I just bought some mark down foxgloves and these are a different kind. I am going to go back and check your posts so I’ll know about these ones. The leaves are think and the flowers yellow. I need to get the name. That would help. I never would’ve known foxgloves are an English plant.

  • wayne July 7, 2009, 8:06 am

    I am not close to being a fan of what has happened with introduced species, but the evolutionary biologist in me likes to ponder that in this way we are helping along speciation.

  • Pomona Belvedere July 7, 2009, 8:58 am

    Tatyana, I will have to check out your foxglove posts as obviously I am quite a fan, too.

    Sylvia, yes, this was an interesting exercise, like you I found it much harder than I’d imagined. In a way the amazing thing is that we have any plants in common!

    Tina, your new yellow foxglove is very likely a grandiflora, lutea, or if the flowers are more closed and acanthus-like, D. laevigata. Since this is a post about English natives, I feel bound to point out that only D. purpurea is an English native, the others tend to be Mediterranean. Congrats on your interesting foxglove! I do have lots of foxgloves pictured and described in my posts, so I’m hoping you can i.d. yours off them.

    Wayne, since my area is victim to some of those unhappy plant introductions, a part of me agrees with your not-fanness, but I think the speciation thing is also true; JL Hudson suggests that humans, like birds, wind, and water, are being used by plants to increase their tribe. Stranger things have happened.

  • wayne July 7, 2009, 2:15 pm

    Yes, In deed… Wheat has conquered more land than humans ;’)

  • Olga October 24, 2015, 12:02 pm

    Barry:I remember hanvig a wonderful D. grandiflora ‘Alba’ four years ago that was a striking specimen plant, only to disappear and not set seed. I have been looking for a wonderful new one, D. ‘Glory of Roundway’ an apparent cross of D. lutea and D. mertonensis – from the famed ‘Mr. Foxglove – Terry Baker, owner of Botanic Nursery in Wiltshire, home of the National collection of Digitalis.

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