Carolyn Singer: Talk to the growers! |

Carolyn Singer: Talk to the growers!

A Snowberry Clearwing moth sipping nectar from the flowers of Salvia "Pozo Blue," a superior hybrid form of the shrubby California native sages.
Photo by Nancy Gilbert |

To learn about any plant you would like to grow in your own garden, conversing directly with a gardener or grower who has personal experience is the best approach.

But in the vast and amazing world of nursery retail sales, these opportunities are few and far between. And so it is that most shoppers must rely on the scant (and sometimes even misleading) information available on the nursery label.

The upcoming California Native Plant Society at the North Star site on Saturday, Oct. 14, is a unique annual event.

The sale is open to the public 10:30 a.m. to 2 p.m., and members only 9:30-10:30 a.m.

Not only will native plant growers be offering their precious native stock, but also members of the local Redbud chapter will be roaming the sale to assist you.

“Native plants that beat the heat” is the theme of this year’s sale, appropriate to the summer we have just experienced and to those that are to come.

When I asked active Redbud member Nancy Gilbert for a short list of some of the natives selected that will be available, she had many suggestions.

Included in the list was Romneya coulteri (Matilija poppy) which is rarely found in nurseries. And October is the perfect time to plant. Supplies of this outstanding pollinator perennial are always limited.

Also on the extensive Redbud “short” list were species of coffeeberry (Frangula), one of my favorite Sierra natives. Always attractive, this evergreen shrub is rarely damaged by deer. An excellent choice for any garden with good sun exposure.

Manzanitas (Arctostaphylos species) also beat the heat and will be offered at the sale.

In my experience, these are more likely to be damaged by deer. However, browsing is usually minimal and some protection in the beginning should allow the manzanita to establish, reducing its future vulnerability.

At the top of my list of preferred perennials is Berbers aquifolium v. repens (creeping berberry).

Whether temperatures soar to above ninety-five for endless days, or the garden is blanketed in snow, this amazing groundcover is undaunted. Each year it spreads slowly, an attractive evergreen. I was pleased to see that it will be available at the sale in two weeks.

Deer grass (Muhlenbergia rigens) will also be offered, my favorite native grass. The benefits of growing this striking native grass are often understated. Its root system reaches deep into the native soil, extracting nutrients that seem mysteriously lacking in our Sierra foothill soils.

As the plant grows, the decomposition of the lower leaves adds to natural mulch at the base of the grass.

Established stands of deer grass, also known as basket grass because of the native American use of the long and graceful flowering stalks, attract pollinators with their late-season bloom.

Habitat for beneficial lizards may go unobserved, but when quail are disturbed as you walk by, there’s no doubt about the contribution this grass makes in a complex ecosystem.

This is only a sampling of the rich assortment of native bulbs, perennials, and shrubs to be available. I expect there to be some trees too. Since all will be in limited supply, the more preparation you can do in advance of attending, the better your experience.

Perusing guides to native plants of the Sierra Nevada region is valuable. These are available in local book stores and nurseries, and will also be available at the plant sale (though you may not get much of a chance to read).

The plant sale opens early for California Native Plant Society members, and you can even show up and use the first few precious moments to join the local Redbud chapter. To save valuable time, join online in the next two weeks before the sale (

If you plan to make several purchases, bring boxes for your convenience and perhaps even a wagon.

The first couple of hours of the plant sale are intense, and you may not be able to distract a grower with your long list of questions. Look for a roaming California Native Plant Society member to assist you. Then return to the grower when the initial energy of the sale has subsided.

In my next column I will detail planting, irrigation, and protecting your natives from the deer.

Take a renewed look at your garden and the natural flora of the Sierra foothills. Select native plants that beat the heat, creating a landscape less demanding of water and of you.

Carolyn 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 Check out her website at

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