California is now at 50% of normal rainfall, and the water district is contemplating how to encourage home owners to use less water. So it's understandable that some people I talk to are considering going native -- and by that, they mean stop watering their lawn and waiting what the wind will blow in. After all, if the wind blows it in, and the wind blows in California, it must be a California Native, and should look pretty all spring and summer until the start of the next rainy season.
Unfortunately, there are some problems with that reasoning. First, almost everything that the wind blows in is not a native but an exotic. Privets, oxalis, non-native grasses, and other seeds blow into my garden at a very regular basis. California poppies don't even make it from the back yard to the front (though they reseed readily in the back). Secondly, pretty much nothing that blows in (except for Yellow Star Thistle, maybe) looks green without water. The photo up left shows my back yard in its first year, after we decided to stop watering the previous owners' lawn in our back yard (we'd wanted to start from scratch and it seemed pointless to water). A good friend of mine calls this approach of no-water-no-attention zeroscaping, and is bad for your soul and your reputation in the neighborhood.
An alternative is using drought resistant plants. I already discussed the East Bay MUD book as a good starting point in an earlier post, but for most home owners, starting with a garden designer or at least a class it probably best. I had a beautiful design for my Garden done by Chris Todd, who is listed, together with many other other local designers, on the goingnativegardentour Web site. Or, if you live in the city, consider Garden Chick. If you live in the East Bay, the Bringing Back the Natives Tour has a list of designers. Many designers are willing to do a few hours of consultation to get you started.
Here's a view of the same area in the second spring, with Euphorphia (not native, but drought tolerant), Festuca californica, and, on the left, California poppies soon ready to bloom. Ahhh, that's better...