Recently, I read an article in Fine Gardening Magazine by Susan Morrison that I thought was really clever. The title was “Plant This, Not That“, the idea being that we over-use certain plants just because we’re familiar with them, and that it can be more fun to broaden our horticultural horizons and try something new. (EDIT: Susan recently wrote a new version of her article on her blog, which features a few natives! Yeah!)
Well, I immediately wanted to do a “Plant This, Not That” for California natives! It kills me when I see someone choose some everyday, normal old plant when they could be adding wildlife value and getting a similar color or textural effect in the garden. Not to mention the nod to regional sensibilities inherent in using a native plant!
While this could easily turn into a series, I’m going to just get us started with a few plants, and I hope my fellow bloggers will pick up the torch and do a “Plant This, Not That” for their own regions.
Native buckwheat (left), not non-native yarrow (right):
While there are many yarrows native to North America, most of the ones available at the garden center aren’t California natives, which means they haven’t developed the relationships with native insects and wildlife that our own native plants have.
And, I actually find our California native buckwheats MORE attractive than the non-native yarrows. Buckwheats come in multiple colors, have a lovely evergreen mat of foliage, and don’t need or want any summer water once established, so they save you some money on your water bill.
California poppy (left), not calendula (right):
While calendula’s not a bad plant by any means – it actually feeds a wide range of pollinators as well – our California native poppy adds a delicious glow and a loose, rambunctious habit that is gorgeous in any garden. And, it’s evolved here, so it’s well-suited to our climate and our native insects and wildlife.
For extra bonus points, plant some monkey flowers for a variety of hot colors that will bring all kinds of peaceful native pollinators into your garden.
Spice bush (left), not camellia (right):
Camellias are like a dead zone for wildlife. I have never seen any happy bugs in them, or birds nesting among their branches. I mean, they’re pretty in their way, but most of them kind of lack character.
Contrast that with the interesting water lily-like blooms of California’s spice bush, and the interesting scent it gives off (similar to a wine barrel), and I know which one’s winning out for best plant. That’s not even getting around to the benefits it has for wildlife, both as food and as a habitat plant!
Commenters and bloggers – I hope you’ll share your own “Plant This, Not That” ideas, and show off some of your favorite native plants for your region! After all, native plants are only as beneficial as they are local, so my selections may not work for you.
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