By Annie Spiegelman, the Dirt Diva
‘Garden as though you will live forever.’—William Kent
Thinking about how you should have lounged around more in your yard last summer instead of trying so hard to keep your wilting plants alive? If you want more chill time in your garden next year, it’s time you learn to love native plants. Many natives are drought-tolerant and most have minimal needs.They are not divas. No whining and no attention-seeking from them. A silent thumbs-up when you pass by is all they ask. They are far more self-sufficient than other plants in your yard.
Best of all, native plants do not require loads of fertilizer or pesticides, so you’re not leaching more chemicals into our local waterways. And, of course native plants are home to birds, butterflies, other pollinators and many beneficial insects. What’s not to love?
A great place to become acquainted with native plants is CNL Native Plant Nursery in Mill Valley. Owner Dan Dufficy was designing landscapes for many years before opening up this native nursery in 2012. When visiting, I recommend a stop into neighboring Proof Lab even if you don’t surf or skate. You can purchase a cool trucker hat or beanie and at least look the part. (Not that I did that. That is so LAME. OK, I did.) Then, as you check out the California native flora—all landscaped by Dufficy and his team—growing around the buildings, mosey over to Equator Coffees & Teas, one of the first coffee roasters to support sustainable coffee farming communities in Guatemala.
“CNL Native Plant Nursery is an outlet for people to source organic amendments, native plants and most importantly, good advice,” Dufficy says. “I’m committed to nourishing our rich California habitat. These are plants that want to be here. They like our soil, they like our micro-habits. Our insects need them, our birds need them. It’s a critical element for Marin County.”
Some of his suggestions for what to plant now include native shrubs such as Rhamnus californica (coffeeberry) and toyon, which set up roots through the winter so they can be ready to boost flowers and fresh leaves in the early spring.
“It’s really a way of letting plants acclimate naturally to the wet season without supplemental watering,” Dufficy says. For perennials with lots of color and texture, he likes Monardella (coyote mint), Mimulus aurantiacus, (monkey flower), Foothill Penstemon and gum plant.
Kristin Jakob, co-vice president of the Marin County Chapter of the California Native Plant Society, also suggests some native plants that can be planted now: Manzanitas (Arctostaphylos species) and Ceanothus (California Lilac), coast silk tassel (Garrya elliptica), Mountain Mahogany (Cercocarpus betuloides) and Douglas iris (Iris douglasiana).
“Late fall through midwinter is the optimal time to plant drought-tolerant California natives—this is their season of growth, following a sort of summer hibernation if growing under our natural summer-dry conditions,” Jakob says. “Let the winter rains and shorter, cooler days help get the plants established, but don’t become complacent—extra water will be needed during winter dry spells and through at least the first dry season after planting.”
When planning natives, some soil amendment can help ease the transition from potting soil to native soil, and plants needing good drainage might benefit from the addition of pumice or lava rock for permanent aeration. Pumice is lighter-weight than lava rock and releases valuable trace minerals.
Dufficy credits his upbringing with his love of plants. The house where he grew up was near Elliot Nature Preserve in Fairfax. “The sweet smells and the sounds of birds, insects and animals had me falling deep and passionately in love with the outdoors,” he says. “When I got older, I worked and trained with the original pioneer of the sport, Paul O’Donnell, owner of O’Donnell’s Nursery in Fairfax. I started with him 23 years to this day.”
In between meetings, deliveries and managing native landscape projects, you’ll find this vibrant landscape designer/ecologist/surfer hitting the waves nearby. “I feel lucky to have found a passion that keeps me tapped into the special things Marin has to offer,” Dufficy says. “The ocean’s natural rhythms help energize my creativity in landscaping with natives. I’m constantly pumped to go to work. It really is a fun balance to my day, start to finish.”
CNL Native Plant Nursery, 254 Shoreline Highway, Mill Valley; 415/888-8471; cnlnativeplantnursery.com.
Extra credit for you bookworms
California Native Plants for the Garden by Carol Bornstein, David Fross and Bart O’Brien; The California Native Landscape by Greg Rubin and Lucy Warren and Designing California Native Gardens by Glenn Keator and Alrie Middlebrook. For more tips on planting California natives, visit California Native Plant Society: Marin County Chapter; cnpsmarin.org.