Natives in the Non-Residential Landscape

I ride my bike to one of my clients most morning, and I'm always looking around at the landscaping the cities, government agencies, and companies choose. Above is the lawn of the Palo Alto Veteran's Hospital. It's very well maintained, the size of several football fields, and totally inappropriate in these times of drought. You tax dollars at work. Wouldn't the veterans in rehabilitation prefer to have vegetable gardens instead?
As I ride on through a high-tech park, things become more interesting. Here's a fescue lawn, with an oak right next to the parking lot. Much less water, and enough irrigation-free space around the oak to let it breathe. Still a little boring.

When I get to VMware, one of my current clients, things become more interesting. VMware moved into a new campus just last year, and made a conscious effort to conserve. There is almost no lawn and a lot of tall grasses planted apart, looking particularly attractive in the wind. But truly spectacular in spring are the natives found everywhere throughout the campus.
There are five or six California redbuds (Cercis occidentalis), below is one right next to a current that's a little hard to see in the photo (they say "don't wear red for a photo for a reason).

Across from the redbud is a seating area with some Douglas Iris, in bloom right now. Those are easy chairs out of some plastic that are surprisingly comfortable.

Walking along a water feature on the right, we see a native sage (front), some Juncus patens, a native rush (left), a non-native lavatera (far left) and some Heuchera in the distance. All run-off from the roofs is channeled into dry stream beds that are planted with Juncus. In my garden, the Junus either doubles in size in a year or shrivels to an unsightly brown weedy-looking thing, but these plants look pretty good. Wonder how they do it.

More Heuchera (Coral bells) along the path, here shown with a native oak in the background. The oak is unfortunately a replacement of a previous oak that was planted and did not make it. And even this replacement isn't looking so great. A cautionary tale for those who want to plant a 50+ foot tree.

But onward to more Heuchera, looking spectacular this time of year, and especially attractive with some Douglas Iris (maybe it's OK to wear red if you don't go in the sun).

There are more natives, including Rhamnus californica (California coffeeberry), Carpenteria (California bush anemone), and some artostaphylos (manzanita) but also some drought-tolerant non-natives. But after crawling around in the dirt with my camera and having fun, I had to return to my computer to meet a deadline that was fast approaching.


Gardeness said…
The oak is fantastic. Such a powerfully present tree. I love the colors on the coral bells. Thanks for sharing your ride.
Michelle said…
That really is a nice example of a mostly native landscape. So pretty in the spring when things are in bloom. How does it look later in the year?
What a waste turf usually is. The heucheras are gorgeous.
Anonymous said…
I was also wondering how it looks in the summer. You'll have to take new photos for us.

The first time I saw carpenteria it was planted to make a hedge on the UC Berkeley campus. The hedge was full, lush and covered with white blossoms. Just about every specimen I've seen since has been thin and rangy, so I hesitate to specify it. Have you had experience with it?

P.S. Surprised you have time to blog with the Going Native garden tour coming up. I saw one of my fellow designers at the Native Plant symposium in Lafayette Saturday - her garden is on the Bring Back the Natives tour which isn't until May, but she says all her spare time has gone into prepping her garden.
Town Mouse said…
In the summer, the tall grasses take over in the landscape. There are also lavender, and the lavatera blooms for a long time. I was there all last year, and it's pretty good all around.
As for the Carpenteria, I have one in my own garden in part-shade with some water, and it's big (7ft) but looking good.
I'm not doing that much for the tour, really. Maybe I'll sweep some leaves, and prune some dead stuff. If you do a half hour here or there, you don't need a heroic effort when someone comes.
Ryan said…
Can't beat the iris! Very nice planting schemes there!

Country Mouse said…
A post that speaks for itself, truly - the long long flat lawn that nobody ever uses, and the interesting textures of the native landscape at VMWare.
A wonderful example to so many companies in the Stanford Industrial Park! I read the link about VMware and am impressed with the company. Of course we knew they were good--they hired Town Mouse.
lostlandscape said…
I like how all the colors of the natives look so good together, the pinks, reds, blues...
Susan Tomlinson said…
I think that native landscape looks just grand--and so much better than a boring fescue lawn.
donna said…
I enjoyed going along on the bike/walk tour....beautiful!