Oh, Manzanita, how I love your delicate pink blossoms, your knarled branches of rich mahogany color and peeling bark. You stand like an ever-watchful sentinel, while other chaparral plants have faded in the summer’s heat…
It’s September and I am back in Southern California to help my friend Marcie update her native plant garden. It is a treat to be back in the Santa Monica Mountains that I love so much! I am taking Marcie to the Theodore Payne Foundation’s Native Plant Nursery, out in Sun Valley. It’s my favorite nursery. Although it is a bit of a drive through the Valley’s heat, it is worth it! The nursery is more than just a place to buy plants, it is the source for So Cal native plants. Most of the plant they sell are grown right there by their talented native growers, many from seed. Once the seedlings are old enough, they will be offered for sale.
Theodore Payne Nursery has a complete online inventory, which helps a lot in planning ahead. How many times have you headed out to a nursery, sure of what you wanted, only to find that that plant won’t be “in” for weeks!
The staff a Theodore Payne is very helpful and knowedgeable. They help gardeners make sure they choose the right plant for the right site. Also impressive is their seed collection. They sell seeds for almost every native plant I can think of. Those native gardeners who are talented enough to grow native plants from seeds are welcome to do so! The seed collection is especially nice when you want to scatter wildflowers. No more buying cans of a “wild” mixture that just doesn’t like your area. Theodore Payne’s wildflowers seeds are native to So Cal. They belong here and they will grow .. unless hungry birds get them first!
But, on this day, I have come for Manzanitas and not seeds. I convinced my friend, Marcie, that she should add a Lester Rowntree Manzanita, Arctostaphylos ‘Lester Rowntree’ to her native plant garden, in honor of that intrepid gypsy botanist of the same name. They are in stock at Theodore Payne and ready to go home to Topanga!
Arctostaphylos species fall into two major groups: plants that form a basal stump and sprout new growth after a fire, and those that do not form basal sprouts & die from fire. The fire resistant species remain alive, their roots intact to continue to hold the soil in place, even on a hillside that have been blackened & denuded by fire.
Besides their stand-alone elegant shape and handsome bark, Manzanitas Arctostaphylos have a valuable place in the Chaparral ecosystem. Manzanitas create their own ecosystem for the insects in the soil below, and nectar rich flowers for bees above. Hummingbirds delight in Arctostaphylos’ delicate wintertime flowers. In fact resident hummingbirds such as Anna’s Hummingbirds rely on them. The round red fruit of manzanita are savored by coyotes, foxes, and quail.
In So Cal, autumn is eagerly awaited by the native plant gardener after summer’s heat is gone. But even though we turned the calendar to September, don’t be tricked into rushing to plant just yet. Planting later in Sept or even Oct guarantees your plants will not suffer another gasp of summer heat. Planting in mid to late fall allows plants to establish good root systems and drink in whatever rain might come their way during winter. It is important to get native plants well-established before the next summer’s heat and drought.
The Theodore Payne Foundation & Nursery is a non-profit organization that continues the mission of Theodore Payne (1872 – 1963) of educating Californians about the value and use of California’s extensive native plants. They offer classes on growing natives, as well as organizing an annual Native Plant Garden Tour each April.
Their mission statement:
- To promote and restore California landscapes, and habitats
- To propagate and make available California native plants and wildflowers
- To educate and acquire knowledge about California flora and natural history
Theodore Payne was one of the original botanists in the field of California native plants and a contemporary of Lester Rowntree, the Gypsy Botanist. After he came to California from England, he fell in love with its landscape. He dedicated his life to the preservation of native California plants. He was instrumental in providing native plants to many gardens in the Los Angeles area, including Descanso Gardens, La Canada, California.
Back in Topanga at Marcie’s, I am happy to have some Manzanitas that will be fire resistant for her garden, as this is shaping up to be one of the worst fire years in California’s history. I tried to select varieties that bloom at different times, so as to continue the blooms from Fall to Spring, providing nectar and food for as long as possible.
Do you have a favorite native plant nursery where you live? If so, please share. We’d love to hear about it!
“The rapidity with which the wildflowers are decreasing is most damning. If we do not begin to preserve them, the time will come when they will become extinct and live only in history. -Theodore Payne, 1916
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