Native Plant Gardening: A ‘Growing’ Trend

Updated: Apr 5, 2019

California Poppy (Eschscholzia californica)

By Jason Tilley

As the poet Alfred, Lord Tennyson, so famously noted, “In the spring a young man’s fancy lightly turns to thoughts of love.”

Unfortunately, the years bring a decline in hormone levels (all the commercials say so!), forcing middle-aged folks to pursue other springtime diversions. For many of us, that means gardening. Not only does spring bring more pleasant weather, the days get longer, and you arrive home from work while it’s still light outside and warm enough to go dig some weeds. Though you may know this magical pull of the soil, you might not be familiar with special virtues of native plant gardening.

It’s ironic that landscaping with California natives is something one needs to discuss. I mean, these plants were already here when our ancestors arrived, right? But we see few of them in Bay Area gardens. It’s not that there aren’t natives well-suited for landscaping; the reasons are more historic and economic.

California is a place that’s been colonized - more than once. First came the Spanish, then the forty-niners, then a series of twentieth century influxes, such as the flood of African-Americans from the south who came to work in the wartime ship-building industry. Each group brought their own plants and style of landscaping with them (those shipworkers carried with them the wonderful purple tree collard, now the official vegetable of the city of Richmond). Whenever there’s a drought, water officials urge residents to remove their thirsty lawns, but why do we have lawns at all? It’s because lawns were a sensible type of landscaping in parts of the country where it rains in the summer. George Washington, for instance, had a big lawn on his Mount Vernon estate. People were used to having lawns, and expected to see them when they moved out west, even if