California Native Plant Society

CNPS eNewsletter

June 2010

Experimenting with Native Plants for Containers

Pete Veilleux

People often ask ‘what native plants will do well in containers?’ This is also a hot topic for native plant listserves and newsletters.  Many of us don’t have a yard of our own and yet we also want to participate in this ‘gardening with natives’ movement which is sweeping the country – even if it means taking our gardens with us as we move from one place to the next. There are also plenty of folks who enjoy an arrangement of beautiful potted plants as a focalpoint in their native plant gardens.

Sometimes I respond to the question by saying ‘see what’s looking great at the nursery – where all the plants are in containers – some for a very long time.’  Although true to a certain extent, some of those will look great for a year or so, and then quickly decline unless they are put in the ground, while others just refuse to flower or even mature until they have more room for their roots.
I’ve been experimenting with many different kinds of native plants in containers of all kinds for the past decade, and I’ve definitely grown attached to some more than others.  Your chance of success with potted natives will increase greatly if you educate yourself about which plants to use and how to care for them. 

Summer Colors in the Native Garden

Tanya Kucak

Halfway between San Francisco and San Jose, turn west off Highway 280 at Woodside Road, and in a mile or two you'll reach one of the most understated and relaxing public gardens around. The Woodside Library Native Plant Garden was established in 1970, when the library was built, so it has mature manzanitas as well as preexisting native oaks (Quercus lobata). A major garden renovation several years ago added a thousand new plants.

In mid-July a couple years ago, I wandered through the half-acre garden on a scorchingly hot afternoon. From the sunny terrace at the back of the library, the garden goes gently uphill, with wide gravel paths curving around island beds, ending in a shady bench-lined terrace in the redwood grove. A fairly new planting of gray-white dudleyas (Dudleya cymosa and D. 'Frank Reinert'), just starting to bloom, and feathery-leafed yarrows (Achillea californicum 'Island Pink') in pinks and reds catches the eye at terrace level.

Manzanitas (Arctostaphylos densiflora 'Howard McMinn'), with their rich, deep mahogany bark and leaves turned perpendicular to the sun, share a bed with lower-growing, textured, lighter green coyote brush (Baccharis pilularis). A short distance away, the shiny, deeply veined dark-green leaves of a ground-hugging ceanothus (Ceanothus 'Yankee Point') provide counterpoint.

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Hot Sunny Slopes and the Plants That Hold ‘Em:
Five Groundcovers That are Deep-rooted and Firewise 

Orchid Black

Slopes and hillsides can be difficult spaces to garden, so much so that seedswoman and author Judith Larner Lowry, in her book, Gardening with A Wild Heart, says that one of the most common calls her business receives starts with, “I have this slope behind my house…”  Plants for slopes must perform many functions: control erosion, hold the slope, be drought-tolerant, and, since slopes are often in fire-risk areas, be firewise. Happily, there are many plants in the native palette which meet these needs.

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Fragrant Natives for the Garden

Arvind Kumar

One of the nicest comments my garden has received in the eight years of being shown on the Going Native Garden Tour came this year in the form of a question. I was giving a guided tour of the garden to a group of visitors. We were standing on the flagstone path in the sunny front yard when a visitor asked, “Does your garden always smell this good?” 

It was a question and a statement. The answer to the question is: yes, many native plants are fragrant year-round, but the quality of fragrance depends on the season, and sometimes on the time of day.  Some summer nights when I come home late from work, the garden greets me with an enchanting aroma that says, “Stay. Linger. Inhale.”

As an owner, one tends to take things for granted, but that spring morning, the first-time visitor’s remark made me aware of it once again. What she was experiencing was not a particular flower or plant, but a heady brew of fragrances from several different plants. Here is a short list of native plants to stimulate your olfactory senses and soothe your mind.

The large leaves of hummingbird sage (Salvia spathacea) have a pleasing minty fragrance that is accentuated when the plant is massed in a bed. The plant appreciates some shade and water to keep looking its best through summer. If happy, it slowly expands via rhizomes and colonizes a bed. Flower spikes attract hummingbirds. Blooms in spring.

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ACR 173: California Native Plant Week

Joshua Stark

On June 3rd, Assemblywoman Noreen Evans (D – Napa) introduced ACR 173, a resolution designating the third week of April each year as California Native Plant Week. ACR 173 recognizes the vital historical, artistic, and economic contributions California’s native plants have made to our State.  Typically, resolutions declaring specific times of recognition, celebration, or remembrance often point out general, important reasons, supporting these with specific facts, and ACR 173 is no different. Among the specific reasons for declaring a week to celebrate our native plants, the resolution points out the positive impacts that native plant horticulture plays in California’s future.

ACR 173 points out that California native plant gardening and landscaping have tremendous positive impacts to our watersheds, to habitat recovery, and to curbing catastrophic wildfires. In particular, the resolution recognizes that home landscaping and gardening with native plants can cut residential water use from 60 to 90% over conventional gardening. And the resolution goes further, pointing out a specific experiment conducted by the City of Santa Monica, which showed that planting California native plants resulted in a net conservation of 220,000 gallons of water for an average-sized home, a 77% decrease in water use.  

If you are interested in supporting ACR 173, please call or email your local assemblyperson and ask that they vote for the bill. You may even go one step further and suggest that your representative become a co-author to the bill, an even stronger show of support for native plant horticulture. If you are a native plant horticulturalist, it may even be helpful to offer up some important information for your representative, such as the value of native plants to the local economy and ecology. Also, please stay up-to-date on the status of ACR 173 as it wends its way through the legislative process – and you can do this by visiting the CNPS website and clicking on the Legislation Tracker in the Conservation Program.

Chapter Events

A Sampling from Around the State

Bristlecone Chapter
Mammoth Region Native Plant Sale, July 17, 9-11 am
Location: 107 Sugar Pine Drive, Mammoth, CA. All plants are $4 (20 and 32 oz containers). Bring a box to transport your new plants!
Plants for sale include: Common Monkeyflower, Five-finger Cinquefoil, Great Basin Wildrye, Mountain Pennyroyal, Scarlet Gilia, Sierra Wallflower, and Whorled Penstemon. Call Sherry Taylor (760)-934-2338 or visit for details.
San Diego Chapter
Program Meeting: "Watershed Avengers: Engaging urban and diverse communities in habitat restoration through youth leadership." July 20, 7:30 pm
Watershed Avengers is a program of Ocean Discovery Institute and is lead by a team of eight students from Hoover High School. These students engage, educate and inspire the community of City Heights to steward and restore their local canyons, watersheds, and habitats. Over the last two years, this program has connected over 2,000 volunteers in the restoration of Swan Canyon. The community has transformed what was once a canyon degraded by invasive plants, trash, and illegal activity, to a community resource where people can reconnect with nature and learn about native plants and animals. Come learn about our recent success, our exciting next steps in the project, and how you can get involved. Room 101 or 104, Casa del Prado, Balboa Park- visit for details.
Redbud Chapter
Azalea and Flora Lakes Wildflower Walk, July 9, 9 am
With names like these, there MUST be wildflowers there! And it is only a couple of miles each way! Since we will be close to the summit, be prepared for thunderstorms, wind, cold, sun, and mosquitoes. We will start from the Pacific Crest trailhead parking area between Boreal Ridge and the rest areas. From I-80 take the off-ramp for Boreal Ridge and following the signs to the Pacific Crest trailhead parking. (It is on the South side of I-80.) We should be back to our cars by 3:00 PM. Visit for more details.
El Dorado Chapter
Schneider Cow Camp Field Trip, July 31, 8am
Schneider Cow Camp is located just north of Caples Lake on Highway 88 and west of Carson Pass and the Pacific Crest Trail. We will explore the meadow at Schneider Cow Camp and may stop to see subalpine fireweed along the way. Expect a colorful outing with elephant’s head, swamp onion, mule’s ear, lupine, sulfur buckwheat, paintbrush, meadow penstemon, and many more Sierran jewels. There will be time to meander and photograph the flowers and landscape. For those who are interested, we will hike up to the ridge and Pacific Crest Trail to find different plants (e.g., whitebark pine) and great views. Carpooling will be organized accordingly. Contact Susan Durham, (530) 626-673, for more details or visit
North Coast Chapter
Poker Flat and Kelly Lake day hikes and campout, July 9-11
In the heart of the Siskiyous at 4-5,000 ft. elevation in Klamath National Forest between Happy Camp and O'Brien, these sites of distant past CNPS trips offer great exploration of mountain forest and meadow, including serpentine and possibly the "most beautiful meadow in northwest California." We will camp in a primitive Forest Service campground at Poker Flat. Non-campers could look for accommodation in Happy Camp, Patrick Creek, or Cave Junction area. Call Carol 707-822-2015 or see for additional details.
For Chapter Events in your area, please visit the CNPS Website at


Photo Credits
  • Pete Vellieux, Mimulus hybrid "Trish" and Penstemon Heterophyllos
  • Stacey Flowerdew, Manzanita berries in summer
  • Orchid Black, 'Dana Point' buckwheat with 'Pigeon Point' Coyote Brush
  • Arvind Kumar, Hummingbird Sage
  • Joshua Stark, Tara Hansen and Assemblywoman Evans

  • Pete Veilleux, Tanya Kucak, Arvind Kumar, Orchid Black, Laura Camp, Joshua Stark, Tara Hansen, Stacey Flowerdew, and Mark Naftzger
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