The Coastal Gardener: Native or introduced, the gardener's debate

March 25, 2011|By Ron Vanderhoff
  • Stream Orchids.
Stream Orchids. (Ron Vanderhoff,…)

The debate between which plants should prevail in gardens, native plants or introduced plants, is a contentious one.

Advocates of our native flora will point out such qualities as water conservation, wildlife opportunities, their limited need for fertilizer and reduced maintenance needs.

Traditionalists, favoring exotic plants, speak of their year-round good looks, the large diversity of choices, easy availability and the important security of gardening with plants with which they are already familiar.

The vast majority of our local landscapes employ an array of well-known introduced, non-native plants, such as delphiniums, penstemons, solanums, ranunculus, salvias, clematis, violas, orchids, poppies, lilies, sweet peas, bleeding hearts, even dichondra.

Traditionalists love these familiar and colorful plants. A quick walk around the block would likely uncover most, if not all, of these well-known stalwarts of our gardens.


What most local gardeners may not know is that all of these plants are native to Orange County; maybe not the same species or hybrid growing in your garden, but a native version of the same plant.

Deep blue delphiniums and bright-yellow violas growing wild in Orange County? Yes.

Climbing clematis? Yes.

Golden ranunculus? Yes.

Six-foot orange lilies? Yes, and lots of them.

Remember, I'm not talking about these plants growing in cultivation or being planted; I'm referring to completely native plants, wild and indigenous.

Right here in Orange County, on our hillsides and canyons grow fragrant pink sweet peas, exotic nodding peonies, elusive orchids, stunning purple penstemons, huge yellow bleeding hearts, a wide variety of salvias, several poppies and even a rare but beautiful spreading dichondra.

It is possible to incorporate a few local native plants into your garden, while not venturing too far from the popular, familiar plants to which you're already accustomed.

Perhaps the gap between the advocates of native plants and those of introduced plants isn't as wide as we think.

If you're a traditionalist, and you can't imagine a garden without your familiar plants, this weekend would be an excellent time to take a slow casual walk at Crystal Cove State Park, the Laguna Coast Wilderness or any one of the many trails in the Cleveland National Forest.

Delphiniums, ranunculus, violas, sweet peas and many other familiar garden friends might greet you there.

RON VANDERHOFFis the nursery manager at Roger's Gardens, Corona del Mar

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