Where are You Planted?

Earlier this month, Secrets of a Seed Scatterer had an interesting post "Where Are You Planted." The question originated with Janie, and it immediately resonated with me.

Geographically, I'm located in Mountain View, CA "in Silicon Valley," as it says on the Wikipedia disambiguation page for the entry. Home of Google, as well, and of NASA Ames. You can read about my fair city (or my fair suburb) in various places on the Internet so I won't bore you with details.

But where am I PLANTED? For me, that means, which plants live here, which plants belong here and do well in local gardens. Let me count the ways of discovering that.

1. Sunset zones. For much of the country, how cold it gets determines the hardiness zone you're in (I think we're in Zone 9b) and that, in turn, determines which plants will grow. For much of the West, however, other determining factors are how hot it gets, and possibly how dry or how wet it gets. Because of that, we use the Sunset zones, which give a more fine-grained picture. The best map I can find is here, but a more detailed map in the Sunset Western Gardening Book shows just the SF Bay Area and seems to place us in Zone 16. It's hard to believe how many microclimates we have in the Bay Area. Most of us have driven just 30 miles to find ourselves in unexpectedly cold (or hot) conditions, with the wrong clothes.

Why do I care about my Sunset zone? Because the Western Gardening Book and many other garden resources tell me which plants will do well where I live. (The Western Gardening Book includes many native plants. Unless you're aiming for locally native plants, the information is invaluable).

2. Calflora has a What Grows Here site that allows you to see which plants are found in which part of the state. I've used the site already to figure out what that wildflower was that I found in a State Park or during other hikes. The very rich (and at times slightly confusing) interface allows me to do in-depth research on the plants that grow where I live. My search resulted in 2042 plants, 1602 of them native. I can focus on just trees, or for example, just vines (this search). Very cool, and I love the photos!

3. Las Pilitas is a native plant nursery in Southern California that has a wealth of information about native plants (some of it a bit controversial). I might go to Calflora to see what's planted here, and to Las Pilitas to see what I can plant here. When I look up Mountain View in their Plant Communities database, I find myself in Coastal Sage Scrub, which is characterized by these plants:
  • California Sagebrush (Artemesia californica),
  • Buckwheat (Eriogonum ssp),
  • California Lilac (Ceanothus ssp),
  • Manzanita (Actostaphylos ssp),
  • Monkey flower,
  • Gooseberry and Currant (Ribes ssp),
  • Sage (Savia ssp),
  • Coyote Brush (Baccharis ssp).
Thankfully, those are exactly the plants I have in my garden. Las Pillitas also lists Mixed Evergreen Forest for my zip code, and again I find several plants that I've already added to my garden.

I especially enjoy that Las Pillitas includes information about the critters that live where I'm planted, which include Towhee (yes!), White crowned sparrow, Cottontail, Deer, Coyote, Raccoon (unfortunately true), Quail, Skunk, Gopher (oh please, no!), Hummingbirds (and lots of them!).

4. Native Plant Link Exchange. Now, assume I'm really getting excited about adding some plants to my garden that belong where I am. I might just drive to one of the excellent native plant nurseries nearby (see our side bar), or go to the Native Plant Link Exchange. What I like about that site is that I can select a plant I already have, then find other plants that might be good companion plants, and then find where I can purchase those plants. For example, assume I look up Dryopteris arguta (wood fern). The site shows me 5 nurseries that carry the plant. But I can also click "What plants grow with Dryopteris arguta", and can even filter the results of that search.

To anyone who's followed along this far: Congratulations! I hope you'll enjoy a few happy hours as you plan what to put into your own garden, or you might just enjoy looking at pictures and descriptions of Where I Am Planted (if your eyes glazed over in the middle of it, I promise the next post will have pictures and fewer links).

Jeffrey Caldwell sent me the following information about an additional great resource:

A useful local source not noted in your blog is the Natural Resources DataBase, which lists plants for many local county parks, open space preserves, etc. [227 protected areas] throughout the greater San Francisco Bay region (also birds, mammals, reptiles, amphibians, fish). You can use it to generate plant lists of those preserves that are closest to the location of interest.

To generate a plant list for the preserve of interest

  1. Run your cursor over "Searches" which generates a drop-down menu;
  2. Choose "Checklist" search and click.
  3. Then on the Checklist page,
a. check "Flora" in the species category,
b. check your preferred 'Sort By' and
c. run your cursor over "Select Preserve" for another drop down menu.

You can get to a particular preserve by name or click on County and then again on the particular preserve you wish to generate a checklist for.

This database is a wonderful tool. There are many other ways to use it, too -- it is all pretty simple, I'm no techie and have used it various different ways ...


Chloe m said…
This is a good resource for CA gardeners. How lucky you are to have found these! I am still scouting out good nurseries in this area. Thanks
Anonymous said…
I was just thinking the other day that I wished garden bloggers would post information about their native plant communities. I'm in Marysville, in the Central Oak Woodland/Foothill Woodland plant community.
Thank you Mrs. Mouse! After reading your post, I understand that I know not enough about my zone and native plants. I promise I'll learn more and publish a post.
Gail said…
A great post...I am loving learning about California native gardening. gail
janie said…
A great post, Town Mouse. I appreciate your research, as I do the same thing for our natives. I think I should have been born with the knowledge. It would make things so much easier....
peter said…
if your readers are looking for more information on USDA plant hardiness zones, there is a detailed, interactive USDA plant hardiness zone map at http://www.plantmaps.com/usda_hardiness_zone_map.php
I continue to be amazed by the wealth of information at the Calflora and Las Pilitas sites. I'm adding more of the true local natives to the garden, but I'm still finding it tough to find many of the most interesting local plants in commercial production. To fill in the gap I'm doing more of my own propagation, an act that really gives you a sense of place when you know exactly where the seed comes from.