Privilege Blog

Faith In The Face Of Newly Planted Native Plants And Their Ratty Selves

Gardeners are a faithful lot. We have to be. Native plants, those most virtuous of garden citizens, test our faith entirely.

I have finished this spring’s new plantings. California natives under the Live Coast Oak, olive and “strawberry” trees along the back fence, and a couple of heuchera and nandina to fill in gaps close to the back patio.

Does everything look fabulous? Not even. Let’s take a look at what I’ve got under the oak. Boy, that’s a ragtag crowd.


I needed the hose to hand-water the natives and settle them in during this drought. In a couple of weeks, if we get just a little rain, I will be able to leave them largely to their own drought-tolerant devices. And I’ve ordered this, tested and and deemed to produce the fewest toxins, for future use. Garden responsibly, right?

So how about a view along the fence. Any better?



Maybe a few plant closeups will do the trick. (BTW, when I got to the nursery we changed the planting plan, in response to availability and the advice of nursery staff.)

Here’s what I mean by gardening faith. On the left, a bush anemone as it looks now, against my fence. On the right, future promise. An aside, all Internet sources say bush anemones grow to 6 feet and I need at least 7, if not 10, to screen the neighbors’ house. But the women at the nursery were sure.


We managed to scrounge up 3 flowering currants, 2 white, 1 pink, for the middle range of the planting. Again, the now and future shrubs.


Close up, the pink currant shows us its ratty ol’ foliage. Let’s face it, plants that can survive clay soil and a summer-dry climate don’t waste their efforts on large glossy leaves. I forgive them. Plant natives only as close to your house as you can tolerate vegetal impolitesse.

For the lowest planting layer, next to my flagstone patio, we decided on groundcover manzanita and grasses. Right now the manzanita looks like a few green specks amongst the brown and gold oak leaves. But it’ll spread. I’ve been promised. I only wish I remembered its name.


The grasses, one of which chose to bloom, offer the most new-planting pleasure. I don’t remember their name either. I kind of like to pretend nothing has names when I garden, as though the world is still pre-verbal.


But on the whole, I’m waiting. As gardeners do.

In a while, the currants’ foliage will smell faintly of sunburned roof tar and lemon. The bush anemones will grow taller, their leathery leaves will rattle a bit. The grasses will mound over the backyard berm, pretending it’s a real hillside. We can imagine California without people, marsh ponds reemerging from under the freeways, the Bay filling with creatures. So maybe the gardener’s wait is its own thing, valuable as much for what we make out of nothing, as for what we see when the plants grow in.



All plants purchased at Native Revival, in Aptos California. Photos of plant futures via Las Pilitas, a nursery a little further south.

Plant List (Next time I’ll remember all the names. I promise.)

Bush anemone AKA Carpenteria Californica
White Flowering Currant AKA Ribes Indecorum
Pink Flowering Currant AKA Ribes Sanguineum (also in Materfamilias’s garden, here)

Amazon link is affiliate and may generate commissions, all nursery links are independent


43 Responses

  1. I love that gardening keeps us dreaming and waiting, giving us pleasures in the moment but also asking for our patience toward the future. . . mine has become a mature (often too-much-so) garden after 20 years, and I look forward to seeing yours develop toward the same (you’ve already achieved that in the other parts of the yard you’ve shared earlier, I know).
    btw, that’s a much more polite description of the Ribes’ foliage fragrance than mine — I’m afraid I always smell cat pee . . . another reason for keeping it a wee distance from the house! (but yes, there’s some citrus-fruity going on as well, which makes it a nice-ish cat pee. . . ;-)

  2. No deer in your neighborhood?

    Anything I put out has to be netted over or those pesky rodents on long legs will gnaw it to the root.

    1. @RoseAG, Not yet. We have small lots, and we’re in the flats. Up higher, where the lots are over an acre, deer are common. And people even report a mountain lion or two. I am pestered only by raccoons and crows.

  3. It is a wonderful feeling to have created a newly planted bed. It will be fun to watch your garden grow and fill in…I know a woman who has written a book on native plants. April Pettinger, native Plants in a Coastal Garden…I don’t know if it would be a good resource for your growing zone but you might enjoy reading it.
    Do you still have your white roses? I know roses are very greedy water guzzlers but they do perform beautifully.
    We have a few grasses in our garden and I am surprised at how fast they grew…perhaps you can show us these plants in the summer time after they have become established?

    1. @Bungalow Hostess, The white roses are out front, in a raised bed, on a drip irrigation that’s separate from other plantings. They do need water, although maybe not as much as often thought? And yes, I’ll do an update, but it’s possible that growth won’t be measurable until fall. We shall see!

      Thanks for the book recommendation, I do find that gardening books are just so dang regional!

  4. It will be beautiful, Lisa! With California weather (and a little added water), the plants are guaranteed to thrive, right?

    We also have to plant with deer in mind. I have only deer-resistant landscaping, except for the Annabelle hydrangeas. I spray them with the awful-smelling stuff and it pretty much works.

    The deer have become such a problem here that there are commissions and town meetings on the subject. Some towns have brought in hunters – strange in suburbia. The herd is huge, roaming our neighborhood of quarter-to-third acre lots; hardly rural. They are so bold that they don’t run away if you approach, just stand there and stare at you.

    They scratched the bark from my year-old yellow magnolia, to my distress. It’s unlikely to survive, according to the arborist. I hadn’t known about this problem.

    1. @Marie, Well, nothing’s guaranteed:) but I’m hopeful which is much of the fun. Thank you for your faith in me. And predatory deer and hunters – wow.

  5. There’s nothing like a Bougainvillea to scramble about and block out a neighbor’s view. Not certain if they are native to California but they are drought tolerant to be sure, and impart a dash of cheery color. Do you have one in your garden? Mine has scrambled beyond the height of our two-story house and is in need of a good chop.

    1. @Chronica Domus, The screen I require is unfortunately right under a large, and protected by law, California Live Oak. Bougainvilleas need more sun than I can give them in my back yard. I did plant one, in a planter, but even out from under the trees there’s just not enough light. So I gave it to my sister, where I hope (fingers crossed) it’s climbing happily up her two-story house too!

  6. I think it’ll look very good when it all grows. I have a very shady backyard (some large and beautiful trees) and bad drainage to make things worse. I should have a rice paddy back there. Instead, we keep trying lawns (as my husband is pretty insistent about it) – and are about to embark on yet another….I’m thinking Astro Turf next.

  7. Looks like it will look lovely, Lisa. I’m not a gardener myself. Too many memories of our vegetable garden at home growing up, when the bean patch alone seemed to be 6 miles long and just as wide. Sigh…the words “the beans are ready to pick” still give me nightmares. haha. But about twice a summer I go on a weeding binge…and sometimes I put down my book and help Stu do it because I feel so guilty. He absolutely loves gardening. So that works out well for us both!

  8. I love the idea of native plants, even though in the past I have been something of a horticultural serial killer. But I am improving. (I’ve kept a lime tree indoors for over a year now, and it is actually beginning to bear fruit!) This year, we are planting the very small backyard with a combination of vegetables and flowers. I hope this is the year I finally stop the senseless killing!

  9. Scraggly or no, I love the look of a freshly planted garden. You are going to love how that manzanita looks. Our gardener planted some of those anemones along the perimeter of our front yard, but we keep trimmed like hedges.

    1. Lisa, he keeps them trimmed to about 2′ high. I’m not fond of his “flattop haircut” style of shaping, but we’re in the process (in conjunction with our next-door neighbor) of trying to find someone who is more than a “mow & blow” gardener.

  10. Beautiful! Once established, vigorous native plants are generally very rewarding. Have you tried bamboo for screaning? This is so vigorous, you have mow around it to keep it from taking over completely. Makes a nice blind for screening out a view. Also, very low maintenance. Easy. My kind of plant.

    1. @Susan Williams, I have a big clump of bamboo a little closer in. It volunteered under the oak but I took it out – somehow the aesthetics of bamboo + oak bugged me. I shouldn’t be so persnickety but there you have it. I agree, it is a wonderful plant and I love my mini-grove to pieces. In fact, I think it deserves its own post!

  11. Bravo for going the native route.

    Vegetal impolitesse? Great turn of phrase. I live in Oregon but on a high dry rural site that’s more like northern California. It took me 15 years to figure out that I can only succeed with native thug-type plants or hardier northern California natives. Now I find the overblown floral displays and emerald, cropped lawns uninteresting and very similar to fussy, trying too hard sartorial style.

    In my experience, it usually takes a good three years before things look good. Anything that grows faster will land you with a mess of overgrown foliage in five years. You may want to contact your local master gardeners at the state extension service for advice.

    Could your manzanita groundcover be “Martha Ewan”?

    1. @Carolyn from Oregon (master gardener), It’s wonderful having a master gardener weigh in – thank you for commenting. Thank you also for the 3-year rule, that will help temper my natural severe impatience.

      I will need to call the nursery to see if they remember what the manzanita was. I was in such a blissed out state when I went down there that I don’t remember much:). #gardeningisintoxicating

  12. yes every year I get out there and garden and every year I fight against horrific clay soil, california drought, and shade by my huge trees!

    Even california natives don’t do wel, so now I say fuck it and I go crazy planting cottage favorites not meant for my yard and enjoy a few months of snapdragons and fox glove bliss. Oh, but true geraniums do wonderful year after year, have you tried those?

    1. @kiki, I do stuff like delphiniums etc. in containers. At least I TRY to do them in containers. Have you tried hellebore under your trees? That’s one more traditional ornamental plant that seems quite happy in our climate.

  13. Might I suggest a little hardscape as well? Cafe table and two chairs, armillary,
    bird bath, sundial, or??? We have found that one or more of these will come to the rescue in areas that defy all our efforts to grow. I believe that the secret in the garden is the same as the secret in ALL real estate: location, location location (This is true even with house plants, as the African Violet that is leggy and lonely on the hearth is lush and lovely in the kitchen window.) I also require that all plants be on the same watering/feeding schedule :)

    1. @Kathy D., It is location! I find that I cannot really understand a location, a micro-climate even in my garden, until I futz with it for a while. Professionals, of course, will have seen similar situations before. But written resources are helpful only to a point.

      And yes, I do have some hardscaping, that flagstone patio. I’ve placed one low black urn. I like to keep the plantings that are farther from my house as wild as possible, since I’m always pretending I live in the deep country, or a land before time.

  14. We should have snow on the ground right now. Instead, it feels like spring. At 9 am it is already 60 degrees. So yesterday I was out trimming back the perennials, mostly lavender, but also gaura, yarrow and sunflowers. Today it’s too windy, the pineapple express is coming. We’ll probably be rainshadowed out, though. If we don’t get some snow in the mountains, I’m afraid we’ll be on water restrictions this summer.

    1. @AK, We have the pineapple rain now – I heard they predicted it wouldn’t make any snow up high – we are in a drought like the like 70s, prolonged and difficult. I like the sound of your garden – I can see all those flowers in my mind’s eye.

  15. “As though the world is still pre-verbal”–nothing like a little garden humor to make my day. Looks great. Can’t wait to watch your garden grow.

  16. I love the waiting and dreaming aspects of gardening, as well as the nurturing. Anything worth while takes time to live up to its promise. Such excitement in the thought of new plantings. It is not spring yet here.

  17. Oh, you must take photos of all of the growth stages. We have to re landscape also. Between bunnies who destroyed our plants and not being able to water… a mess! Of course it doesn’t help that we’re painting and the painter has to step on and move plants around. Let’s say it’s a mess. But we’re going to put in a water dripping system that will not rot the wood so maybe that will help. I’m curious to see how the birch trees that we planted with such optimism will return this spring. It’s now all about water.

  18. We are a faithful lot! And those plants look beautiful in their newness – so much potential. I find that growing native plants is most successful (not that I often do it because I don’t much like the look of the ones we’ve got here). Of course, I love all the things that grow perfectly in North Carolina.

Comments are closed.