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Gardening with California Native Flora
Many gardeners today are turning from a water-thirsty, lawn-based style of gardening towards a style that has a sense of place, uses less water, and supports local wildlife, especially native pollinators. Once you make that switch, new pleasures open up to you. To sit in a native garden is to enjoy a deeper connection with nature. Your sense of beauty also changes because it is informed by values that extend beyond surface aesthetics.
To read more about the values and beauty of gardening with native flora, we recommend these books:
Gardening with a Wild Heart by Judith Larner Lowry
Bringing Nature Home by Douglas Tallamy
One of the best reference books for gardening with natives is California Native Plants for the Garden, by Carol Bornstein, David Fross, and Bart O'Brien
Diffferent chapters focus on design and care of native plants, and then there's a huge alphabetical reference section listing many garden worthy native plants. One of the most useful sections is the Recommended Plant Selections - lists of plants for different situations, such as "under oaks" It has gorgeous photos too.
Once you've got your garden in place, you 'll want to maintain it. Two books are really useful. The most local book is
California Native Gardening: A Month-by-Month Guide by Helen Popper -
Helen is a member of CNPS Santa Clara Valley chapter. Her book is gorgeous and definitely helps you figure out the monthly chores and pleasures.
The other is Care and Maintenance of Southern California Native Plant Gardens by Bart O'Brien, Betsey Landis, Ellen Mackey. Though it's written for SoCal gardeners, it's mostly relevant for us too - and it's bilingual - facing pages are in Spanish and English.
Horticulture is one of California Native Plant Society’s five state-wide programs, and CNPS has a full-time horticulture director to help chapters develop horticulture programs.
The main horticulture page for CNPS is here.
Plant Communities Approach to Gardening
We live on the central coast of California, and each of us gardens in one of its micro-climates and ecological niches, each of which supports a unique plant community. Gardens that reflect their location provide more than the obvious practical benefits of lower maintenance and higher value to wildlife – they reflect your spot on this earth, rather than a picture in a magazine or an idea that came with people from another – usually summer-wet – part of the world.
To read more about the plant community approach to gardening, we recommend this book:
Designing California Native Gardens: The Plant Community Approach to Artful, Ecological Gardens by
Glenn Keator and Alrie Middlebrook
Growing Native Plants
Propagating your own plants is a particular pleasure, especially if you have the opportunity to legally gather seeds or cutting materials to grow plants for your own garden. Our chapter has a propagation group that grows plants for the biannual sales. You learn so much about propagation, and enjoy the company of friendly like minded people. No experience required. Meets usually on the third Sunday of each month at 9am at Suncrest Nursery, east of Watsonville. The group, however, can only work with a certain number of volunteers. If there are no current openings, you can go on the waiting list. Contact Mike Luther at 831-688-3897.
Here is a link to a propagation handbook that is being developed by the Santa Cruz County chapter of CNPS (This is a work in progress):
Propagation Handbook-Santa Cruz County CNPS
Here are some articles about gardening with natives that you might enjoy. They were written by chapter members:
Gardening in the shade,
Gardening with coastal natives,
and Gardening for dry summers.
If you have suggestions or content for this Horticulture page, please email Jackie Pascoe at