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Carolyn Singer: Restoring nature

Native western redbud (Cercis occiddentalis) on a rural Nevada County road.
Photo by Carolyn Singer |

You have a full week to prepare. A week from today, the local Redbud chapter of California Native Plant Society will hold its fall native plant sale. Support their enthusiastic goal, “restoring nature, one garden at a time,” with some advance preparation and planning.

The preparation should include gathering boxes for your purchases. If you have a wagon available, take that also to the sale at the North Star property (north of the Growers’ Market) next Saturday.

Planning takes more time. First and foremost, know your site. The complexities of elevation, exposure, microclimates, soil and deer play a critical role in influencing whether any plant will survive and thrive. The best guide to assist you with your shopping list is the Redbud chapter’s book, “Trees and Shrubs of Nevada and Placer Counties, California (2014) available locally.



When I open my well-used copy and read “not likely below 3,000 foot elevation,” or the description of a habitat that includes “creek areas” or “moist canyons near streams,” I know this plant will certainly not be appropriate for my dry site at 2,600-foot elevation.

Check the Redbud website (www.redbud-cnps.org) for a list of plants expected to be available at the plant sale. Some will be in limited quantities. CNPS members (you can join this week online to save time) may enter the sale beginning at 8:30 a.m., an advantageous hour before it is open to the public.




There is a wealth of information available to assist with your choices at the sale, with the exception of “deer-resistance”. Several local native enthusiasts have spoken to me with conviction about how the plant in question is deer-resistant. Then I discover that their garden is fenced. Or a vigilant dog is present. Or both.

Try to find local growers whose gardens are open to wildlife. And who have had experience growing the plant you have selected.

Plants you might look for at the CNPS sale include the coveted Matilija poppy (Romneya coulteri), an excellent pollinator native for habitat restoration. Native bees and honeybees feed on its abundant pollen in June.

Coffeeberry (Frangula) is a beautiful native with varying forms. Some cultivars get quite large, others remain compact in growth habit.

For semi-shade gardens, evergreen bush anemone (Carpenteria ca) is far more suited to our Sierra foothill climate than the rhododendrons so often planted. Attractive dark green foliage is the backdrop for bright white flowers in May. While deer browsed on the young plant when I first introduced it into my garden, they soon ignored it, preferring tastier options.

Western Redbud (Cercis occidentalis) catches our attention in spring, when vibrant magenta flowers glow in the native landscape. This is a plant with more than one season of interest, however. Seed pods are of interest in midsummer. In fall the red leaves highlight the shapely branching habit.

Looking for a lawn substitute? Try the native yarrow, Achillea millefolium. While it may be grown easily from seed sown in fall, the purchase of a plant at the upcoming Redbud CNPS plant sale may be to your advantage as you can make several divisions from a one-gallon plant.

The following week, a very unique plant sale takes place in a neighboring county, northeast of Placerville.

Oct. 12-16, Lotus Valley Nursery (http://www.lotusvalley.com), a small Placer County nursery specializing in ornamental grasses, holds its annual sale. Well worth the trip south on Hwy. 49, this family-owned nursery has been one of my favorite destinations for years. They grow both native and non-native grasses in their display gardens.

Two of my favorite native grasses, grama grass (Bouteloua gracilis) and basket or deer grass (Muhlenbergia rigens) may usually be found there.

A broad selection of the varying forms of fescue (Festuca) will entice you too. All the grasses are deer-resistant.

Remember as you select natives for your garden that you are providing a habitat that supports native pollinators.

We are “restoring nature, one garden at a time”.

Carolyn Singer has gardened organically in Nevada County since 1977. She is the author of the award-winning “The Seasoned Gardener, 5 decades of sustainable and practical garden wisdom”, and two volumes of “Deer in My Garden” (deer-resistant plants), available locally. Send your gardening questions and comments to carolynfsinger@gmail.com. Check out her website at carolynsingergardens.com.


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