Going Native, Pollinators Welcome

B: My plants are finally in the ground. It seemed like such a long process. And the truth is it kind of was. Per my usual habit, I had to research EVERYTHING; partly because I just need to know and partly because I HATE making mistakes. And that’s ridiculous, of course. I mean really, what’s the worst that can happen? A plant will fail to thrive or die? Frustrating and sad, but not a tragedy.

I did a crazy amount of cross referencing among California native, drought-tolerant, pollinator-friendly plant lists (with special attention to honeybees) to see what would thrive in a difficult, part-shade location that’s under a canopy of eucalyptus trees, in heavy clay soil, and in a bed that tends to be dry in the back and wet in the front. “List mania” took a lot of time, but I learned a lot about backyard restoration, native plants, my micro-climate and my soil. In a way all of these limitations made the final selections easier because I ended up with a list of only 25 plants, mostly natives, which might work. I hope. I hope. I hope!

Tree of Life Nursery
Tree of Life Nursery

My list was shortened a little more by what was available at the Tree of Life Nursery in San Juan Capistrano. TOL grows California native plants and they have many mature specimens on the property that helped me visualize what my plants would look like a few years down the road.

Salvia greggii Autumn Sage
Salvia greggii Autumn Sage

The bonus is that this place is a true oasis. When I feel like I need to get away from it all, I’m always tempted to call and ask if they’d let me move into the office. I go there just to soak up its wild beauty. Which ends up being a dangerous thing to do with all those beautiful plants begging to be taken home.

Can I live here? Please?
Can I live here? Please?

After much poking around and many questions answered by the knowledgeable staff, I came home with 14 little beauties. And little they are, too. These natives are a bit fragile in that they have brittle roots and so it’s much better to start out with 1-gallon sized plants, rather than the larger 5-gallon size. I’m told they’ll survive transplanting much better at the smaller size.

Selecting my plants.
Selecting my plants.

Here’s the list of my babies:
These are the plants that will get pretty big. Most of them will grow to be from 6 to 10 feet tall.

I’m in love with the Arctostaphylos bakeri/Manzanita ‘Howard McMinn’. With some careful pruning this shrub will mature into a beautiful “tree” with twisting branches covered in mahogany-colored bark. It will provide nectar for hummingbirds and bumblebees in the spring.

Carpenteria californica/Bush Anemone — A big shrub with large, fragrant white flowers with bright yellow stamens and ivory and tan peeling bark. I think it will look lovely against the brick wall. Provides spring and summer pollen for bees.
Ceanothus/Wild Lilac ‘Sierra Blue’ — A pretty blue-flowered shrub that grows to 10 feet. It likes dry, poor soil. (No problem there.) Pollen and nectar in spring for butterflies, honeybees and bumblebees.
Philadelphus lewisii/Western Mock Orange — It has white, highly fragrant blossoms on arching branches. Supposed to be easy to grow. This wasn’t on the pollinator list; for the life of me I can’t remember what possessed me to buy this. Oops!
Rhamnus californica/Coffeeberry ‘Eve Case’ — At TOL this shrub was literally covered with all kinds of bees and other insects gathering pollen and nectar from tiny lime-green flowers. The berries color up through the spring and summer going from lime-green to rose to red and then to burgundy-black in the fall at which point they become food for the birds. Butterflies like it too. The nurserywoman said, “I can’t say enough good things about this plant.” Sold!
Ribes malvaceum/Chaparral Currant ‘Dancing Tassels’ — This one worries me a little. In the spring it has beautiful light-green leaves and dancing light-pink flower tassels, but it’s deciduous. Will I be happy with it when it drops its leaves in the summer? Not on the bee-friendly list, but hummingbirds love it’s nectar and birds like the berries. Those lovely dancing tassels seduced me.

On the smaller side:
Ribes viburnifolium/Evergreen Currant ‘Catalina Perfume’ — A fragrant groundcover. Supposed to eventually do well under mature trees. Note eventually — we’ll see. Not on the pollinator’s list. Why did I get this? Can’t remember.
Salvia greggii/Autumn Sage ‘Annie’ — A delicious orangey-pink. Not a California native, but it is drought tolerant and my options were limited. Besides the specimen at TOL was gorgeous and I couldn’t resist. Butterflies, hummingbirds and honeybees love the nectar. My Anna’s Hummingbird came to visit everyday as I was planting. Soon he’ll be sipping nectar.
Salvia greggii/Autumn Sage ‘Lavender Rose’ — Another one for the hummingbirds, etc. in a lovely lavender-tinged pink.

Heuchera Coral Bells "Canyon Chimes"
Heuchera Coral Bells "Canyon Chimes"

Heuchera/Coral Bells ‘Canyon Chimes’ — I can’t overstate how excited I was to discover that this plant was a California native. A favorite of mine from my East Coast gardening days, this was a gift, something familiar. A favorite of hummingbirds.

Mimulus aurantiacus Monkeyflower
Mimulus aurantiacus Monkeyflower

Mimulus aurantiacus/Bush Monkeyflower — With a sweet apricot-colored flower, this was the first CA native that I was able to recognize in the wild. Provides spring pollen and nectar for bees, hummingbirds and butterflies.
Monardella villosa/Coyote Mint — Love the name, it sounds so outlaw. The fragrance of the leaves is delightful – mint with an edgy twist. Soon bees, butterflies and hummingbirds will be sipping nectar and gathering pollen from its purple blossoms.
Iris douglasiana/California Iris — another familiar plant! I love this old-fashioned beauty. This one has a lovely pale-blue flower that really pops in the shade. Not on the pollinator list, but too pretty to pass up.
At TOL I spotted a gorgeous dark-blue variety under a massive 200 year-old sycamore. When I asked where I could find a pot of it, they told me that this plant just appeared and they are waiting for it to get big enough so they can propagate it. Put me on the list. This is a spectacular flower.

Sisyrinchium bellum Blue-eyed Grass. This poor blossom is a little beat up, but you get the idea.
Sisyrinchium bellum Blue-eyed Grass. This poor blossom is a little beat up, but you get the idea.

Sisyrinchium bellum/Blue-eyed Grass — What can I say? Another plant that stole my heart. It has the most delicate little blue flowers with bright yellow centers. This dainty plant sways in the slightest breeze.

Once I got my babies in the ground, I spent the next two days checking them every hour or so to see how they were doing. When my husband started worrying about my mental state, I limited myself to checking every few hours. I’m happy to report that they have responded to my constant attention and, except for the sulking Chaparral Currant, all have new growth.

I tried as much as possible to get plants that would provide food for insects and birds. Those that don’t will provide cover and nesting places. Soon I’ll need to fill in with some that bloom later in the season. And I have lots of containers that I want to convert to what Mary Beth calls “bee pots” — container plants for bees. These might be CA natives, but I also want to plant bee favorites like rosemary and borage.

Now that this first bed is enlarged and planted, I love taking my morning tea out to the garden to admire my handiwork. Soon I’ll be making my plan for replacing the rest of the lawn with pathways and new beds. I can hardly wait to see the transformation of a wasteful lawn-covered space into a wildlife habitat. This really is turning out to be quite the adventure.

9 thoughts on “Going Native, Pollinators Welcome

Add yours

  1. Awesome!

    You know, I recognize one of those plants because I use it as medicine.

    Botanical Name: Ceanothus americanus
    Family: Rhamnaceae
    Common Name: Red root; New Jersey tea; California lilac
    Don’t confuse with blood root – Sanguinaria

    Part used:
    Root; root bark

    Key Constituents:
    Ceanothic acid, Succinic acid, and others, tannins

    Taste/Odor/Energetics:
    Slightly warming, spicy, slightly bitter

    1. I hadn’t come across this info in my books. I wonder how many other native plants have medicinal uses. Can you recommend a book that folks might want to read as an introduction?

    1. Anise: We started our hive because we were concerned about the plight of the honeybees and wanted to do whatever we could to help ensure their survival. As newbies we relied on the help of some well-meaning mentors who generously gave us their time, advice and recommendations on equipment and beekeeping methods. We are very grateful for their help and know that they have the bees best interests at heart.

      We have been researching and learning more about bees over the last few months and see the benefit of other methods of beekeeping. We are going in the direction of a Top Bar Hive which is foundationless and healthier for the bees.

      As to your comment about raising bees like they are prisoners, our bees come and go as they please and seem to be doing very well. We are doing our best to provide them with copious amounts of nectar and pollen in a large organic garden. Our goal is to help the bees, learning as we go and sharing our experiences in a positive and fun manner. We appreciate your concern and positive recommendations are always welcome.

      Namaste.

  2. I think it’s worth mentioning that honeybees are not native, they’re European, so raising them “in accordance with nature” is kind of pointless in California. Why don’t we concentrate on providing habitat for our native California bees instead?
    -Plant california natives in big patches
    -Put up bee boxes
    -Leave areas of the garden mulch-free and undisturbed to allow our ground-nesting bees to build nesting tunnels.

    1. Kristen: You do have a point about the honeybees. And I absolutely agree with you on creating a habitat to support native bees. In my eagerness to get some plants in the ground I missed the part about planting in big patches. I’ve since read that bees will concentrate on only one flower each time they come out to gather pollen, so single plants aren’t much help to them. I need to go back and redo my beds when the weather cools and create larger patches of the plants I selected. Thanks for the tips!

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