The Dry Garden: Pacific coast irises

Pacific coast iris and blue-eyed grass. Photo: Rancho Santa Ana Botanic Garden

One of the most common questions during California’s wildflower season is: “Is it too late to plant?” If you’re working from seed, yes. The lupines, clarkia, poppies and sunflowers coming into bloom now germinated last fall. It is only by the capturing of residual autumn warmth and early winter rain that they put down roots needed for a vigorous spring bloom.

However, the window to plant spring wildflowers does remain open in April for our native Pacific coast irises. This window is kept jammed open partly by the nursery trade, which often doesn’t release the plants until March — not ideal, but possible because irises are perennials. Although they do produce seeds, they grow from rhizomes, or tubers, that produce annual sets of roots.

If we want newly bought irises to go in the ground this year,

The Dry Garden: “Reimagining the California Lawn”

Maybe you want to remove your lawn. Maybe you want to reduce it to make way for flowers, food or a shade tree. Maybe you don’t know what you want. A new book, written by three of California’s most knowledgeable horticulturists, lays out options.

It would be disingenuous to treat Reimagining the California Lawn (Cachuma Press, 2011) like any other garden book. It’s not. The authors have close to rock star status in the Golden State, something they possessed even before the 2005 publication of their first book, California Native Plants for the Garden.

Carol Bornstein, now a Central California garden designer, was for many years director of horticulture of the Santa Barbara Botanic Garden. The heart-stoppingly beautiful meadow there is her work. In 1976, David Fross co-founded Native Sons Nursery in Arroyo Grande and has since been the Johnny Appleseed of dry gardening. For many years

The Dry Garden: Fremont’s flower

Some years ago, the website of Native Sons Nursery had a photograph of a California flannel bush that had been trained to grow along a garden wall. Each bloom in a spangle of flowers was the size of a tea cup. Their yellow could outshine a daffodil, or sunflower. This wasn’t a garden, it was a garden that Matisse dreamed. On seeing that photo, so began years of looking in Los Angeles area gardens for espaliered examples of the glorious genus of natives whose botanical name is Fremontodendron.

And never finding one.

It turns out that the photograph was taken in Guernsey by Native Sons co-founder David Fross, who had just left a place that serves alcohol when he saw the glorious display by one of the signature plants of California chaparral growing in one of the Channel Islands between Britain and France. “I’d had two martinis and half

The Dry Garden: Best dressed list

If the view from your front window is a hedge so maimed by years of buzzing that the only option is to buzz it some more, and if you have better things to do with your money than pay yard crews to torture shrubbery, it may be time to dig out that green wall and start over.

But before sharpening the pickax, dream. Dream aloud. There is no better time than February to view California’s native lilac, lemonade berry, coffeeberry, gooseberry and barberry plants, most of which are in full flower at Rancho Santa Ana Botanic Garden.

A tour of Southern California’s best native garden in midwinter reveals these shrubs dripping with gold, white, pink and blue flowers. Although the blossoms are admittedly fleeting accessories, they are succeeded by berries.

Apologies for language that sounds like red carpet commentary. It’s unfair to the plants. Click here to keep reading

The Dry Garden: Lili Singer

On March 5, what has amounted to a year-long birthday party will conclude with a gala at Descanso Gardens. Everyone with $75 and a love of native plants is welcome to attend a shindig marking the 50th year of the Theodore Payne Foundation for Wildflowers & Native Plants.

Celebrating the stoic glory of our native flora is a great cause, but this isn’t just about the birthday of an organization affectionately called Teddy Payne by KPCC radio host John Rabe. It’s not even about the English seedsman for whom the foundation is named. It’s about the foundation’s special projects coordinator, the homegrown horticulturist Lili Singer, who turns 61 on Saturday and whose nearly four decades of garden teaching in Southern California has much to do with the rise of not only the Theodore Payne Foundation, but also the Los Angeles County Arboretum & Botanic Garden, the Southern California

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