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California Native Plants: Easy on the Eye, Easy on the Water

Take a walk on the wild side.

We’re in for a long hot summer, which should come as no surprise as we are always in for a long hot summer. But why not embrace the light and the heat and take a walk on the wild side.

Let the English cottage-style hedges and flowers grow where they belong. As we speak, you could be filling your garden with Baby Blue Eyes, Blazing Stars and Monkeyflowers.

California native plants have some pretty dour, boring publicists. Their booster literature is either sanctimonious or scolding. Arguments for natives rarely mention their beauty; mostly it’s all about our personal responsibility and environmental ethics.

Water-wise, ecological duty, and yada, yada, yada. As if a California native garden were an austerity measure rather than a pleasure; something only undertaken by those versed in self-denial – ultra marathon runners, for example, and drinkers of wheat grass.

Another reason some may be slow to go native is that many Cal native gardens aren’t particularly well designed. Given the rangy, unstructured look of most of the plants, the garden requires not only disciplined layout and design, but enough hardscape to give the eye direction, and resting places -- fences, river rock, walkways -- a frame and context to their wild ways.

The Holy Grail for California native plant enthusiasts is the Theodore Payne Foundation for Wildflowers and Native Plants. Payne moved from England to California at the turn of the last century, and became a vocal, almost evangelical advocate for preserving and landscaping in California native fauna. Imagine that, a Brit who found more beauty in the golden poppy than the rose.

According to the Payne Foundation, our state has a greater diversity in native fauna than all the other states combined. Surely there’s a handful within the 6,000 species and sub species to catch anyone’s interest.

But their colors are really the trump card. You know, brilliant colors suit the lush verdant greens of the tropical rainforest, but they look a little garish, even harsh, over here. We’re better suited to the soft pastels -- both logically and aesthetically.

So this summer, as you remove victims of past hopes and environmental denial, leave room for some original inhabitants. Plants with beauty and brains. And great personalities.

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