by Charlene Burgi
Winter in the garden can seem drab and bleak. But with thoughtful planning and planting, you can enjoy glorious color with native plants brightening up gray days. Food to sustain our feathered friends during the cold wet winters is an added bonus of many native plants. And the other benefit is native plants require minimal water during the summer months!
Consider the following:
Ribes sanguineum glutinosum, otherwise known as pink winter currant, will supply you with a showy cluster of flowers that will thrive under the summer shade of your oak trees. The bonus is that December blooms precede the production of berries in March.
California Christmas berry, or Heteromeles arbutifolia, is another natural in Marin. The bright red berries are like candy to the birds. The berries are also great to bring into the house in lieu of holly. You can use this plant in the rugged part of your yard to act as a screen, and while the deer may nip at it, it isn’t one of their dining favorites.
While driving through Petaluma yesterday, I noticed the Fremontodendrons (flannel bush) that grew along side the highway were missing. The construction project mowed down the promising yellow flowers that come in early spring. This is a great plant to mix with the blue blooms of Ceanothus (California lilac). Both shrubs thrive without water and will perk up any corner of your garden. And both provide a haven for birds, which nest and find protection within the crowns of these shrubs.
In addition to adding height and texture to your garden, think about short plants that will add winter interest. Two native bulbs that need planting right now are Dichelostemma capitatum and Sisyrinchium bellum. Both produce various shades of violet to blue flowers that flourish in poor, summer-baked soil. Place these bulbs in with other perennials such as Helianthemum scoparium (sunrose) for cover when they are not in bloom.
If shade is an issue, plant hummingbird sage, Salvia spathacea. This perennial has fuzzy gray-green leaves and looks incredible with Ribes under oak trees. The crimson flowers are a magnet to hummingbirds.
And lastly, if you really want the “total” look, sow some baby blue eyes seeds (Nemophila menziesii) as an annual for shade. This groundcover will require more water so keep it away from the oaks and other xeric plants growing under the oaks.
One bit of trivia: 4,839 species of natives are found in California. I bet you can come up with your own plant palette. Are you willing to share?
“Cover Your Grass” Workshop this Sunday
Tired of your water-guzzling, labor-intensive lawn? This is the perfect time of year to replace your lawn using the simple and inexpensive technique of sheet mulching. Join us for a hands-on “Cover Your Grass” and rain garden installation workshop this Sunday in Fairfax.