Natural Perspectives: Time for weeklong celebration of native plants

In September, the California State Legislature designated an annual California Native Plant Week to begin each year on April 17. Sunday marks the first such celebration of our state's abundant natural plant heritage.

A native plant is any species that grew here before the arrival of Europeans. Among these natives are the tallest trees on earth (redwoods), the largest trees (giant sequoias) and the oldest trees (bristlecone pines). Our shrubs and annuals are beautiful, fragrant and wonderfully diverse.

Unfortunately, California's native plants have been under constant assault over the past 200 years from invasion by introduced plant species and loss of habitat due to development.

California is unusual in having more than 6,000 native plant species and subspecies. Of those plants, 2,150 are endemic to California, meaning that they exist nowhere else. California Native Plant Week celebrates this rich horticultural heritage.

One of the goals of this weeklong celebration of native plants is to encourage people to conserve and restore native plants, and to make use of them for landscaping.

Southern California boasts a large number of different plant communities, several of which include species that will do quite nicely in our yards. The primary plant communities that landscapers in our area draw upon are riparian and coastal sage scrub.

Riparian plant communities are those that grow alongside streams. They require a bit more water than coastal sage scrub plants, which get by fine on just our 15 inches of annual rainfall. Riparian plants need about 32 inches of water a year, which is only 17 inches more than they get from rain. In contrast, a grassy turf lawn requires a whopping 52 inches of rain a year.

Water is a scarce commodity, and we can all help by planning our landscaping to conserve water.

Vic and I have a drought-tolerant landscape that is a mix of Southern California native plants and ornamentals from other parts of the world. Our front yard has a swale that I converted to a small pond many years ago. Near the pond, I planted some native Douglas irises that I bought from Friends of Shipley Nature Center. The irises bloom in April in shades of purple and lavender. They remind me of our wonderful nature center and all that the Friends do to help educate the public about native plants.

In a mostly neglected corner of our front yard, I started a butterfly and hummingbird garden a number of years ago. I planted a Cleveland sage and golden yarrow that I got at Shipley, plus a couple of Mexican sages. But mostly, that corner has sat forgotten and forlorn. It became a repository for surplus potted plants that I had grown tired of, mainly succulents.

A few years ago, I started a patio in that area by laying down a few concrete pavers. The pavers were 16 inches square and were stamped to look like used bricks. But with only 10 pavers, it was more of a path than a patio.

Recent events have transpired that have now made that neglected corner far more visible. Our old wooden fence that was covered with creeping fig finally rotted through. The fence was leaning precariously, looking like it would fall at any moment. The time had come to replace it.

Our longtime tree guy, Steve Fifita, is also a masonry contractor. He and his crew dispatched the rotted fence, dug a hole for the foundation and built us a wonderful block wall of tan slump stone. He hauled the excess dirt to the community garden, where I used it in my plot.

Vic decided that we should have a gate on that side of the house instead of a solid fence between the house and wall. While the new wall was under construction, I began using that side of the house to go between the front and back. I could see the wisdom in Vic's choice, so Steve built us a cedar fence and gate.

Now that corner of the house receives more attention from us. It was time to finish the little patio that I started ever so long ago and add to my native plant garden. I went back to Shipley Nature Center. The Friends are getting ready for their annual spring festival and native plant sale from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. April 30, so they had a large selection of plants on hand.

I also made trip after trip to the Home Depot for more pavers. I can carry and set about 10 pavers a day. The project grew slowly. I would think that each set of pavers was my last. But then I'd change the design and need another load of pavers. I left gaps in the paver pattern around the perimeter where I can install the native plants that I bought at Shipley.

As this project has taken shape, the area changed from packed bare dirt with a few forlorn potted plants to a thing of beauty.

As I laid the last 10 pavers the other day, I ticked off the tasks remaining on the project. Paint the fence and gate, add some soil to fill in the gaps between the pavers, plant native sages and columbines and repot the succulents and bromeliads. I put a bistro table and two chairs on the patio and stood back to admire my work. But you know, it would look even better if I added just 10 more pavers.

VIC LEIPZIG and LOU MURRAY are Huntington Beach residents and environmentalists. They can be reached at

Copyright © 2019, Daily Pilot
EDITION: California | U.S. & World