Thursday, September 18, 2014

Buying Native for the SCV

A Stephanomeria native to Santa Clarita blooms in the September heat.

Should you replace your lawn with a landscape of plants native to Santa Clarita—or at least Southern California? For me, the answer is an unqualified yes, but that’s because I’m weird and do things like make ink out of the husks of our native walnut, fantasize about stumbling across the new species of sunflower discovered in the SCV, and rejoice in encounters with small indigenous annuals like claspingleaf wild cabbage. These days, though, it’s not just weirdoes like me who have reason to be thinking about our native flora.

With sustained talk of drought, wavering hopes for a strong El Nino, and water districts offering financial incentives to replace lawn with drought-tolerant plants, more people than usual are thinking about giving our local plants a spot in their yards. It’s not quite as easy as walking into a native plant nursery and picking out the pretty ones. “A plant is not a couch,” remarks California plant champion Judith Larner Lowry, reminding us that they’re living things with particular requirements, not mere elements of outdoor design. But it’s easier than ever to learn how to succeed with native plants. Resources abound online, and many excellent books are widely available

Where do you get started? Try immersing yourself in the world of gardening with California native plants starting this weekend. We are entering a season of native plant sales and festivals that coincides (almost) with the start of the rainy season, a time when many species break out of summer dormancy and start putting out new growth. It’s a good time to learn, browse, talk, buy, and dig in. Here’s a calendar of the events closest to Santa Clarita (most are about a half-hour away) with some advice on how to win at each. It all starts this Saturday, so hurry up at the Santa Clarita River clean-up and then head to Westwood to meet Carol Bornstein, a name you'll soon be knowing.
RSABG Grow Native Nursery in the Veterans Garden
Autumn Garden Party
Saturday, September 20, 10am-4pm, Westwood
The Rancho Santa Ana Botanic Garden is truly an institution--the largest botanic garden focused on California plants--and one of the few good things about Claremont. But who wants to drive all the way out there? Happily, they have a retail space in Westwood that offers beautifully-grown plants. The nursery is quite well organized, easy to navigate, and in a nice little nook a bit north of Wilshire. It's almost a plant boutique--interesting selection but not a ton of any one species--but the prices aren't bad.

Their Autumn Garden Party includes a talk about "Reimagining the California Lawn" by Carol Bornstein (10:30am this Saturday, the 20th), which I suspect just might be based on a recent book of the same name which she co-authored. It will be a timely, trendy talk. If you go, heckle her for not pushing natives only.

Matilija Nursery
Big Fall California Native Flower Arrangement Contest
Saturday, September 27, 10am-4pm, Moorpark

Is there anything more unusual or emasculating than a native flower arranging contest? Oh well, small price to pay for a chance at free plants or discounts from Matilija Nursery. It's out in the boonies and a mostly-one-man-operation that does an interesting side business in non-native irises, but I like it. They have wholesale quantities of many LA and Ventura County native plant staples, the species likely to be the foundation of your native landscape. Plants aren't "over-grown"--they're well rooted but might not have the most luxuriant top-growth--which can be unnerving, but the prices are the best around. It's really economical if you show up for a promotion or buy big sizes, like 5- and 15-gallon plants, which are almost always more pricey elsewhere.

Be sure to browse the inventory online and show up with a list of what you want. This will make Bob Sussman (the man behind Matilija) like you instantly. It really isn't a place where you can show up and browse rows of cute little 4" dudleyas of 18 species like you'd do at Grow Native or Theodore Payne. It's a native plant nursery that, once discovered, will make you feel like you're in the know and a serious buyer more than a dabbler. But I'm sure dabblers are welcome, too. 

Theodore Payne Foundation Nursery
Fall Plant Sale
October 10/11, 17/18, 8:30-4:30, Sun Valley

Theodore Payne is very well known and for good reason. It has a long legacy, a vast selection of plants and seeds, beautiful website, and is far more than just a plant shop. But it's not quite plant-shopping paradise. Parking is scarce, many plants can be gotten cheaper elsewhere ($12 for some chamise?), and it sells plants from a pretty broad swath of California, which can lead the uninitiated to make perilous purchases of things like western azalea (a plant of the Sierras) which are probably doomed to failure in the SCV. The clientele is a curious mix of native plant zealots and people walking around staring blankly before finally buying something simply because it happens to be in flower.
They have a great selection, and the plant tags are pretty informative so you can go to browse, but try to have a sense of what you want before you arrive, lest you be overwhelmed by too many options. And don't miss out on the plants grown from local LA County stock, a great way to support truly local biodiversity.

LA-Santa Monica Mountains CNPS Chapter
California Native Plant Sale
October 25/26, 10am-3pm, Encino
San Gabriel Mountains CNPS Chapter
Into the Garden: Native Plant Sale 2014
November 8, 9am-2pm, Pasadena

The California Native Plant Society's LA chapters have sales in the late fall. These things are really hit-and-miss, and it's best to attend knowing that you buying, at least in part, to benefit "the cause". Plants mostly come from commercial growers of California natives, so you might get things that are fairly common in the trade already. Some hardcore, horticulturally-leaning chapter members may have seeds for sale or have grown their own wonderful, obscure, truly local plants, and that's the real reason you go. The trouble is, you're fighting a highly educated group of buyers, so you must act decisively to get the best stuff.
Alternatively, you can attend to mingle and talk shop with other native plant fans, browse books, and relive your highs and lows from the 2014 season of native plant bargain hunting.

1 comment:

Steven Watanabe said...

I really enjoy your passion for writing bout the SCV. If you ever want to be a contributor, we are looking for active bloggers in the SCV to head up various sections of our new startup. Shoot me a message on Facebook if you would like to talk :)