These days, I often read (or hear) that we should all plant California natives. And of course I'm delighted, but I'm also worried that the "should" springs from the wrong reasons.
Myth #1: Get California natives because they are drought tolerant. Well, actually, the natives that come from chaparral, oak woodland, or desert regions are drought tolerant. Natives from the coastal redwood forest need quite a bit of water. So, read the label before you plant that native in a dry sunny spot. Maybe it's a fit, maybe not.
And many plants that are natives of mediterranean climate regions (South Africa, Australia, Chile, the Mediterranean, and California) are drought tolerant. Beautiful bulbs and protea from South Africa, tea tree and correa from Australia, lavender and rosemary from the Mediterranean are drought tolerant, often fragrant, and gardenworthy plants.
Myth #2: Natives generate less garden waste. I just read that and don't quite get it. If you plant a bush that grows to 6 feet in a 4-foot space, you're going to prune and generate waste.
Myth #3: Natives belong here so they won't need any care. Actually, some natives really are easy. Epilobum (California fuchsia) and Eschscholzia (California poppy) come to mind. Others can be a bit fussy. Many natives grow along the steep hills along the coast and need good or perfect drainage. Books about natives are usually quite explicit about that, but I always hope that in my garden a flat spot in the clay will work out. Sometimes, amazingly, it does. Sometimes...So, again, read before you dig.
Now, dear reader, you might say: Why do Town Mouse and Country Mouse plant natives at all?
Let me count the ways...
1. Biodiversity. Research shows conclusively that growing natives helps the beneficial insects and the birds and other critters all around us. We do ourselves and generations to come a favor if we plant natives. I'm also convinced that I see more birds, lizards, and butterflies in my (mostly) native garden than I did before I switched.
2. Year-round beauty. It's actually quite easy to have a garden with natives that looks attractive year round. And I personally love the colors, structures, and fragrance of California plants.
3. Drought tolerance and low maintenance. While I do think it's a myth to believe all natives are drought tolerant and low-maintenance, many are.
4. Meeting friends. In an earlier post, I described how I'm touched by seeing a Redbud or Manzanita when out on my bike. It cuts both ways. Looking in my garden, I remember the wonderful hikes I've taken, the songs of the birds in the meadows, and my heart sings.
5. Learning and sharing. When I moved to California, I decided to memorize one plant name a year. There was so much to learn! Now I know the more common natives, but with 8000 plants to learn about, the natives will keep me entertained for a while to come (and I can spend the money I save on brain games on plants).