Cultivating ephemeral beauty in the California native plant garden. Like larkspur, fairy bells, harebell, columbine, houndstongue and...

Ephemerals blooming in my garden today. Aquilegia formosa, western columbine above
and probably Heuchera maxima, island alum root below.
(I've no idea how it got into my garden! but it is pretty - a Channel island's plant.)

Ephemeral plants are not what you want as the backbone of your garden. But they do make delightful adornments. And planting local ephemerals enriches the restoration garden tremendously, thickens the texture of what it offers the fauna that go along with a plant community.

Ephemeral plants are perennials that appear for a little while each year, giving us lovely surprises (and sometimes disappointments). Many disappear completely above ground and it's important to remember where they aren't -- till they come back -- so you don't plant something else there!

In the past three years or so, I've had great success with western columbine, wood mint, and Heuchera (and sedges) on my north-facing slope. You can see some pretty May-time pictures here. And today's picture is at the top.

I've been working on bringing more delicate local wild species into my north-facing garden slope, here on a ridge in Central coastal California. I gathered seed on local walks (within walking distance of my home) and sowed them in pots first. Some are available as seed from specialty seed nurseries - you can find them on-line.

In this post I'll show you these:
I was ecstatic to enjoy a little success with them all. Carefully I planted out the strongest seedlings, while they were still very tiny... And you can see more about their propagation here and here.

I'm happy to say they are still mostly all thriving - albeit at a slow rate - and not in great numbers as yet (blow on that tiny flame!) But I am still ecstatic at this small success. Here's how they are looking today (and in the wild when flowering).

Delphinium nudicaule, canyon larkspur

Delphinium nudicaule, canyon larkspur, growing locally - photo 2017
Growing on a slope that's a little dryer and brighter than the other two plants I'm writing about in this post. I gathered no more than 10% of the seeds growing in this patch, which is the recommended maximum so as not to impact the wild plants. And I gather with permission from neighbors on whose land these grow.

Backup D. nudicaule plant still in a pot!

I have several D. nudicaule plants growing well, so far, on a north slope. About half a dozen plants in the ground, all marked with many flags!

Prosartes hookeri, Hooker's fairy bells (aka drops of gold)

P. hookeri flower - so pretty but you have to bend down to see it!

P hookeri - really dark red fruits - usually they are more orangy, leading to alternative common name, drops of gold. The plant has a pleasing growth habit - low and branching out..

This is the most advanced grower in the garden - others have two leaves still. I have about half a dozen plants - all marked by flags!

Asyneuma prenanthoides, California harebell

Caught in a sun-spot. A. prenanthoides are messy growers as individual plants but a clump springing out from a slope is pretty. Photo from 2017.
All three plants in this post were growing on a road-cut above a river bank (in a valley).

I think this is the one I planted - I can't find a plant in my shadehouse currently. Harebell have been more difficult to grow - more tender and liable to fail unless conditions are good. But I hope that once roots are established, they have more staying power.

In the garden - rather mingled with other plants here - but looking healthy!

I'll do some posts about the other ephemerals I'm growing - violets, hound's tongue, and the slow propagation set - trillium and western columbine. And in due course - I hope I can post flower photos too!


I garden in Indiana and I am slowly incorporating more native plants into the garden. It is exciting to see them grow and people ask about them wondering where I have found such exotic flowers. I chuckle.
Country Mouse said…
Lisa, good to hear from a gardener in Indiana! One thing I realized after gardening with natives for a while is that even though the specifics are different anywhere you go - the general ideas are the same: supporting plants that evolved where your garden grows supports a great upwelling of life related to those plants! Though also your comment makes me a little sad -- that people are so cut off from what has evolved where they are living that they see those plants as "exotic." I hope things are shifting though! Thanks maybe in part to gardeners like us? :-)