Category Archives: native plants

Front-yard wildflower culture

Last fall I scattered annual wildflower seeds here and there, in my first attempt to raise California natives from seed. It’s gone much better than I expected.

The planter box in front of my bedroom window, which used to be dominated by a massive, ungainly old star-jasmine vine, is now dominated by a massive, ungainly new stand of Clarkia unguiculata, a California endemic:

Clarkia unguiculata in bloom, massed in an outdoor planter box

The common name is “elegant” Clarkia, which seems a little odd. Maybe someone had the individual flowers in mind, not the whole plant.

It does seem a bit more true to its name in a vase:

Cut stems of Clarkia unguiculata and Salvia greggii, in bloom, in a cylindrical ceramic vase in a window-sill

(The yellow blooms were cut from an autumn sage in the back: Salvia greggii, which is native to Texas, not California, but oh well.)

At any rate, those Clarkia seeds, elegant or not, came from Theodore Payne’s “Shady Mix”. Four bucks plus nominal shipping for the packet. I cleared the soil, mixed the seeds with a little sterile sand in an old dog-food bowl, and scattered. Then I let my 3-year-old “walk them in” to the soil, which was great fun for him.

Reflections on “Shady Mix”

The next time I plant “Shady Mix” it won’t be in such a confined spot. There were four other species in the packet (including the baby blue-eyes in this blog’s title photo), and in that planter box they’ve all been completely overwhelmed by the elegant Clarkia.

I did scatter a few of the seeds on more open ground; there, the purple Chinese houses (Collinsia heterophylla) are looking great:

Several Collinsia heterophylla specimens in bloom, shot close from ground-level

One or two baby blue-eyes (Nemophila menziesii) are still in bloom there as well. See if you can find them:

Collinsia heterophylla and Nemophila menziesii in bloom, shot from above

The seed packet also featured five-spot (Nemophila maculata), which I saw once or twice for about a week, and Clarkia amoena, which some call farewell-to-spring, and others call herald-of-summer (guess it depends on your point of view). Either way, it hasn’t bloomed yet. I’ll post photos when it does, if it looks any good.

Heart of a champion

Last shot of the post: the lone sky lupine (Lupinus nanus) that’s survived since I planted a packet’s worth in the fall. This tough little specimen, which stands about 2 inches high, has been trampled by a puppy and small children for months, and isn’t exactly sited in a friendly spot. At least three other seeds germinated there but didn’t make it to bloom time. This one’s clearly got the heart of a champion:

Close-up shot, from ground level, of a single specimen of Lupinus nanus.

Technical note: I’m figuring out WordPress as I go, and in this post you can finally click on any image above for a more detailed view.

Wildwood in early spring

Last week I spent an afternoon with the in-laws at Wildwood Park in Thousand Oaks. What a gem: 1800+ acres of fairly pristine California beauty plunked down in the middle of suburbia. On one short hike you can walk through coastal sage scrub, oak woodland, and riparian woodland.

Encelia was in full bloom all over the park and the Salvias were just getting started as well. But the dominant plants in the drier parts of the park were lemonade berry and sugar bush (Rhus integrifolia and R. ovata). These guys are really similar to each other and they hybridize freely, so I couldn’t always tell which one a particular shrub was.

But this bad boy was definitely one or the other:


The Artemisia in the foreground at left is probably 4-5 feet tall, and the ground slopes down from the path to the base of the trunk, so that “shrub” is easily 20 feet tall. I actually thought it was an oak tree at first.

Here’s a close up of the gnarled old trunk:

Close up photo of trunk of previously-pictured Rhus shrub
I’ve been hankering after a Rhus for a while now but this just seals it.

I also have a brand new plant-crush on Dudleya after a day at Wildwood. Here’s chalk Dudleya (D. pulverulenta) growing out of the side of a cliff, and just starting to put up flower stalks:

Photo of Dudleya pulverulenta with two small inflorescences, and Eriogonum crocatum in full flower
Its cliff-side neighbor, at the bottom of the shot, is the rare Conejo buckwheat (Eriogonum crocatum), showing its chartreuse blossoms. Must be a pretty fussy plant; I only saw it on the cliffs surrounding a waterfall, where it gets a continuous misting from the falls and of course has impossibly-good drainage. At any rate I imagine that cliff just glows in the moonlight.

Those were just a couple of the highlights; if you can make it to Wildwood, go. The park is only a few minutes off the 101 freeway; there’s no entrance or parking fee, dogs on leash are permitted, and the trails are easy. Just watch out for poison oak when you get close to water.

I can’t end this post without showing one more shot. This is the kind of composition that all landscape designers should aspire to (click the image for full-size view):

A natural trail border of at least six species of California native shrub, including Artemisa, Encelia, Rhus, and Opuntia species
That’s how Nature plants a border.