Websites for Native Plant Gardening

Websites for Native Plant Gardening

California native plants are not only beautiful, they use less water, reduce maintenance and pesticide use, and invite beneficial pollinators. Find resources for planning, purchasing and planting natives at these helpful sites.

Calscape

Calscape is designed to help Californians restore nature and save water one garden at a time. An advanced search feature lets you choose among any number of preferences. Then the software will generate a list of which plants are recommended for that location in the state, which nurseries may be carrying them, and details on their habitat preferences.

Calscape Garden Planner

Find the perfect native plants for your garden by answering 4 questions. The site will generate a species list specific to your site, complete with sun exposure, mature size and water use. It will also offer some design samples for the type of garden you prefer, from fairly arranged to very casual.

CNPS Gardening and Horticulture

Make use of the ever-growing list of talks and articles on the organization’s home web site. Information is available for all stages of planning and planting as well as maintenance (see “Digging Deeper”).

Bloom! California

Features 11 categories of natives that grow particularly well in our area, together with details about each individual species. The site creates a variety of garden designs, such as a “Shady Refuge,” “Linear Strip,” and “Privacy Hedgerow,” using these species.

Local Bay Area CNPS chapters

All chapters have gardening information on their web sites. Check out Santa Clara chapter, East Bay Chapter, and Sonoma’s Milo Baker Chapter, in particular, for useful ideas and news of their plant sales.

The Theodore Payne Foundation

Though located in Southern California, the Theodore Payne Foundation has a native plant database that is of interest to Marin gardeners. Just account for our cooler weather and wetter winters when using this site.

California Native Plant Link Exchange

The website will help you select local native plants for any location in the state. For each plant that grows wild in California, there is a plant information page that shows nurseries and seed vendors that sell the plant and information about growing the plant.

The Butterfly Net

This unique website aims to encourage native plantings that support the most butterfly and moth species, specific to your location. Enter your address, click on “Find Plants,” select the habitat where you live, (e.g. oak woodland, redwood, grassland, etc.), fill in preferences for nectar and host plants and it returns a prioritized list of plants. This site is the effort of Lepidopterist Chris Cosma, who has organized a tremendous amount of beneficial information in support of butterflies and moths.

Native Plant Nurseries

These also have interesting and informative websites. One with tons of information is laspilitas.com. Though based in Central California, most of our local plants are included in these folksy, in-depth and often funny plant and gardening descriptions. This website is worth a visit!

Some of our local nurseries sites with plant information are California Flora Nursery in Fulton and the Watershed Nursery in Richmond.

Water Agency Sites

Bewaterwise.com

They have user-friendly native plant profiles for plants for the Los Angeles area, but the vast majority of their list will also thrive in the Bay Area.

Marin Water

Our local water agency published a book called the Watershed Approach to Landscaping, with very complete information on how to assess your property’s needs and plan a low water garden. It emphasizes native species. The book can be downloaded for free.

Sonoma-Marin Saving Water Partnership

Offers free garden design templates for a native/adaptive garden and ones that are eco-edible, contemporary, or cottage. While designed originally for Sonoma to help people rebuilding after the fires, they are equally applicable in Marin.

Interesting Local and National Organizations

Refugia Marin

A 100% volunteer-driven organization with a mission that includes conservation as well as education about the myriad benefits of native plants for thriving wildlife habitats. They forge partnerships with schools, community leaders, and like-minded organizations toward a shared goal of enhancing the natural beauty of our communities and embracing rewilding initiatives.

Home Ground Habitats

An organic plant growing ground and educational center in Novato. Their grounds and demonstration gardens showcase a sustainable, organic approach to creating a truly California-friendly landscape using native plants and drought-tolerant Mediterranean species to increase biodiversity. Not generally open to the public but they do teach classes and their web site is a feast of useful information, particularly on creating habitat and growing plants from seeds and cuttings. Home Ground grows the plants for the Marin chapter’s plants sales!

Homegrown National Park

Put your garden on the national map of habitat gardens! Check out Entomologist Doug Tallamy’s nationwide effort to get folks planting natives, wherever they live.

Xerces Society’s Western Monarch Conservation

The go-to site for guidance on breeding, migratory, and overwintering monarch butterfly habitat, advice on habitat establishment and restoration, and research on the distribution of monarchs and milkweed in the West.

Why Garden with Natives

Why Garden with Natives

California Natives are adapted to our climate and soils

California native plants evolved over thousands of years in our soils and climate.  California has one of the most diverse ecosystems on earth.  These range from seashore to high mountain top; from coastal areas with a temperate Mediterranean climate to deserts with dramatic temperature extremes including some of the hottest on earth.

Natives are beautiful

DL-meadow-smallClarkia in a Native Garden

 

California native plants can create a garden that is every bit as beautiful as one populated with exotic plants from faraway places.  And native plants can be combined with other common garden flowers and shrubs.  However, a garden in which California natives predominate is hard to beat for natural beauty.  Our local natives, many with green, gray and silver foliage, provide a restful and tranquil quality to the garden.  But if you want bright color, local natives such as California fuchsia (Epilobium canum),  California poppy (Eschscholzia californica) and Clarkia will knock your eyes out.

 

 

 Reduce water usage

One of the myths about California native plants is that all are drought tolerant.  Many are, but the diverse plant habitats in California include riparian, wetlands and bogs, with plants that need regular water.  By using some of the many California natives that are drought-tolerant, you may be able to significantly reduce your water use.

Reduce maintenance and reduce or eliminate fertilizer and pesticides

It is another myth that California native plants in the garden need virtually no maintenance.  While some are maintenance free, most require some periodic attention such as weeding, pruning, and checking irrigation.  But being adapted to California soils, most need little or no fertilizer.  And because native vegetation attracts lots of good bugs you are much more likely to be able to rely on nature’s balance for control of insect pests rather than resorting to pesticides.

Increase biodiversity

Biodiversity is increasingly recognized as the key to a healthy planet.  By developing, paving over and building on huge swaths of formerly pristine land, we have set in motion an unprecedented threat of extinction for not only many plants, but also birds, butterflies, bees and larger animals.

Bumble-Bee-BuckwheatNative Bumblebee on Native Coast Buckwheat (Eriogonum latifolium)Native gardens can play an important role in maintaining and expanding biodiversity.  Scientists have found that in urban and suburban gardens native plants are much more effective than exotic plants in supporting biodiversity.   Plants and insects, which are at the bottom of the food chain, are the foundation of all other biodiversity.  California native plants and insects have coevolved and are the food source for local butterflies and birds.  Most insects are “plant specialists” and can’t survive on exotic plants.  For example, research by Douglas Tallamy, an entomologist at the University of Delaware, found that native plants in gardens, in comparison to exotic garden plants, produced four times the insect biomass, three times as many insect species and 35 times more caterpillar biomass  (D. Tallamy, Bringing Nature Home (Timber Press 2007)).  This is the food chain and source of biodiversity that is missing in gardens that use only exotic plants.  Another example closer to home: Gordon Frankie, a bee researcher at UC Berkeley, has found that many California native plants are highly attractive to local bees; see Best Bee Plants for California.

 Attract Wildlife

One of the great joys of gardening with native plants is observing the critters that are attracted throughout the year.  Our Marin native gardeners report that their gardens are focal points for birds, bees and butterflies.

Native Plant Nurseries

Native Plant Nurseries

Many local nurseries carry some California native plants. The nurseries listed here are ones that specialize in California native plants. Most have online plant inventories on their websites. Because online inventories may not fully reflect current stock available, we suggest you make a call to confirm that the nursery still has the plants you want before making a trip.

Marin

CNL Native Plant Nursery

254 Shoreline Hwy Mill Valley, CA 94941
phone: (415) 888-8471
CNL_Nursery@yahoo.com
Hours: daily 9:00 – 5:00
Native Plant Nursery and Landscape Consultation

Home Ground Habitats

1875 Indian Valley Road, Novato, CA
P.O. Box 592, Novato, CA 94948
phone: Gulten 415-246-3509, Charlotte 707-787-8821
info@homegroundhabitats.orggulten@homegroundhabitats.org
Hours: 1st and 3rd Thursdays of the month from 1 – 5 pm, or by appointment
Home Ground Habitats is a not-for-profit, volunteer-powered nursery with beautiful demo gardens on a one acre site. They grow the plants they sell. At the nursery, you can see mature, established specimens of these plants in their demo gardens.
Please park on the street and walk in

Mostly Natives Nursery

54 B Street, Point Reyes Station, CA
Mail: PO Box 883, Point Reyes Station, CA 94956
phone: (415) 663-8835
info@mostlynatives.com
Hours: Thursday to Sunday, 11 – 4

O’Donnell’s Fairfax Nursery

1700 Sir Francis Drake Blvd., Fairfax, CA
phone: (415) 453-0372
info@odonnellsfairfaxnursery.com

Marin | Seeds

Larner Seeds

235 Grove Rd., Bolinas, CA
Mail: PO Box 407, Bolinas, CA 94924
phone: (415) 868-9407
info@larnerseeds.com
Hours: vary seasonally, call or check website
Seeds of California natives available by mail order. Shop, demo garden and nursery open for both retail and wholesale trade.

Sonoma

California Flora Nursery

2990 Somers at D Street, off River Road, Fulton, CA
phone: (707) 528-8813
plants@calflora.com
Summer Hours: Monday – Friday 9 – 5, Saturday & Sunday 10 – 4
Availability list published

Wild Garden Farm

2710 Chileno Valley Rd., Petaluma, CA
phone: (707) 769-9114
roanne@wildgardenfarm.com
Call or enquire by e-mail for seasonally changing hours, contract propagation, and current inventory
As the successor to North Coast Native Nursery, in the same West Marin location, Wild Garden Farm propagates a diverse selection of native species for wildlife habitat, water and soil conservation, pollinator hedgerows and other functional and ornamental landscaping purposes.

East Bay

East Bay Wilds

2777 Foothill Blvd. at 28th Ave, Oakland, CA
phone: (510) 409-5858
pete@eastbaywilds.com
Hours: by appointment or on special days
Pete Veilleux, California native plant landscaper, maintains a native plant nursery offering a diverse array of natives from throughout the state, as well as unusual garden ornaments. Call ahead to ensure Pete will be there, and check website for open days, directions, and an availability list.

Native Here Nursery

Tilden Regional Park, 101 Golf Course Road, Berkeley, CA
phone: (510) 549-0211
nativehere@ebcnps.org
Hours: Saturday 10 – 2
The nursery is run by the East Bay Chapter of CNPS. Plants native to Alameda and Contra Costa Counties are grown from seed and cuttings. Grasses are a specialty and can be custom-grown.
Directions: Enter Tilden Park from Grizzly Peak Blvd. or Shasta Rd., follow signs to the Golf Course-the nursery is across the road from the Golf Course parking lot.

Oaktown Native Plant Nursery

702 Channing Way, Berkeley, CA
phone: 510-387-9744
oaktown@oaktownnursery.com
Hours: Wednesday – Sunday 10 – 5

The Watershed Nursery

601 A Canal Blvd, Richmond, CA
phone: (510) 234-2222
sales@thewatershednursery.com
Hours: Tuesday – Sunday 10 – 4
California native plants & services for habitat restoration. Specializing in growing plants native to the nine counties surrounding the San Francisco Bay.

San Francisco

Bay Natives

10 Cargo Way at Jennings, San Francisco, CA
phone: (415) 287-6755
info@baynatives.com
Hours: daily 9:30 – 5:30
Specializes in CA natives. Also carries domestic edible plants. Full inventory available online. Retail & wholesale (only with resale license). Delivery available to the home or job site.

Peninsula

Yerba Buena Nursery

12511 San Mateo Rd. (Hwy 92), Unit C, Half Moon Bay, CA
Mail: P.O. Box 3188, Half Moon Bay, CA 94019
phone: (650) 851-1668
kathy@nativeplants.com
Hours: Tuesdays, Fridays and the FIRST Saturday of the month 10 – 4
Look for the “Yerba Buena Nursery” sign at Pastorino Farms

Public Gardens Featuring California Native Plants

Public Gardens Featuring California Native Plants

San Francisco Botanical Garden at Strybing Arboretum

A dedicated garden to showcase California native plants was in the original bequest from Helene Strybing when establishing the SF Botanical Garden. The California section of the garden includes a coast redwood grove and the Arthur L. Menzies Garden of California Native Plants featuring annual wildflowers and perennials.

Location: Martin Luther King Drive in Golden Gate Park near the intersection of 9th Avenue and Lincoln Way, San Francisco

Tilden Regional Parks Botanic Garden

Devoted to the collection, growth, display, and preservation of the native plants of California, the garden is organized by regional plant community, and covers all climates in California. The plants of each regional area are grouped together so you can understand and appreciate which plants flourish in which region. See https://www.ebparks.org/parks/tilden/botanic-garden for visitor information and a list of what’s in flower each month. They also hold monthly plant sales.

Location: 1550 Wildcat Canyon Road within Tilden Regional Park in the Berkeley hills.

Note: most cell phones do not work at the Botanic Garden.

University of California Botanical Garden

Approximately 1/3 of the 34-acre garden is devoted to California natives, so it’s worth a visit! Reservations are recommended for the general public. Free passes may be available through the Marin County Library System via Discover & Go. Check their web site for information about their very popular plant sales.

Location: 200 Centennial Drive, Berkeley CA

Pollinator Garden at Bay Model Visitor Center, Sausalito

CNPS Marin planned and installed a garden at the Army Corps of Engineers Bay Model in the fall of 2017. Plants are grouped roughly into habitats for hummingbirds, songbirds, butterflies, and monarch butterflies; native bees enjoy all of it. To preserve the water view from the lobby of the building, plants that remain 4–5 ft high or lower at maturity were used. All plants chosen for the garden are commonly available and grow well in Marin County; we offer many of them for sale during our spring and fall plant sales. A visit to the garden allows you to see how the plants work together as a plant community.

The garden has educational signage to help visitors understand which area supports which pollinators. A free brochure lists the plants growing in the garden—plus some alternate choices—organized by pollinator, and a brief description of what is unique about each. There is also a plant list of all species that were initially installed. Always open.

Location: 2100 Bridgeway, Sausalito, CA

Public Landscaping Using Native Plants

Downtown Larkspur Native Landscaping

Spearheaded by Laura Lovett, CNPS Marin board member, various locations around downtown Larkspur have been gradually planted with California natives. CNPS maintains them for the city. These public plantings focus on annuals and perennials as the beds have to remain low in height for traffic safety. Locations include:

Beds by the Lark Theater, Magnolia Avenue.

Planted 2017. Great wildflower display in the spring.

Larkspur Police Station, 250 Doherty Drive

The area around the entry sign was newly planted in winter 2023, mostly with wildflowers. Older landscaping dates from police station construction and consists mostly of ceanothus and redbud.

Downtown Parking Lot, corner of Magnolia and Ward.

This is due to be replanted in Fall 2023 with native plants, mostly shrubs and grasses.

Hangar Avenue, Hamilton, Novato

Check out the relatively new native plant landscaping for the repurposed airplane hangers along Hanger Avenue, west of the control tower; signage says The Landing. Plants include Cleveland Sage and prostrate Coyote Brush.

Novato Fire Station 63 Resilient Demonstration Garden

This garden was planted in spring 2023 as a showcase for native fire-wise landscaping that also supports biodiversity. It features groundcovers, succulents, a pollinator meadow, drought-tolerant shrubs and more. The garden, designed by the Habitat Corridor Project, is expected to have full plant coverage 3 years after initial planting.
Location: corner of San Marin Dr. and San Ramon Way, Novato

Neil Cummins Elementary School/ Corte Madera Town Park

Non-profit Refugia Marin prepared and planted a new California native landscape in the marsh habitat on public land adjacent to the Neil Cummins Elementary School garden, turning a strip of land that had been left untended over the years into a flourishing habitat. Accessible from the public pathway.
Location: 498 Tamalpais Dr, Corte Madera

Annual Native Garden Tours

Eco-Friendly Garden Tour

The Sonoma-Marin Saving Water Partnership

Sponsors an annual tour of home gardens in Marin and Sonoma counties. It highlights Russian River-Friendly and Bay-Friendly landscaping best practices, and supports Qualified Water Efficient Landscaper certified professionals by featuring their personal or client’s gardens. Pre-registration required. The 2023 tour showcased 7 Marin gardens and many more in Sonoma, most of which featured California native plants. It’s a great way to see what other gardeners have created. Be sure to visit Home Ground Habitats Nursery in Novato which is usually having a plant sale in conjunction with the tour.

Bringing Back the Natives Garden Tour

During two days of virtual tours and two days of in-person tours, you can view over 50 gardens in Alameda and Contra Costa counties, including a multi-home pollinator pathway in Berkeley. Pre-registration required. There are usually plant sales held in conjunction with it. Highly worth driving to the East Bay! See website for details.

Building the Bay Model Pollinator Garden

Building the Bay Model Pollinator Garden

The beautiful cycle of natural connections between native plants and native pollinators is the focus of this garden. A variety of perennials and shrubs that bloom throughout the seasons offer sustenance for a diversity of pollinators; each section of the garden focuses on some of the plants favored by a specific type of pollinator.

The planting bed is about five feet wide and, in total, about one hundred feet long, curved in a horseshoe shape. Two existing coast redwood trees anchor the site; they were planted in 1987 by Bay Model head ranger Chris Gallagher. Other than that, the bed had lain fallow for a number of years; the soil was poor and heavily compacted. An old ornamental pear tree in bad shape was removed, as were a handful of non-descript non-native plants. Chris had envisioned a pollinator garden in the space and gotten funding for it; the Marin chapter provided plant expertise, labor, and a vision for what it could become. It turned into a very successful collaborative project!

Planning for the garden began in the fall of 2017 with Laura Lovett, Charlotte Torgovitsky and Kristin Jakob pouring over extensive lists of native plants and creating smaller lists for each individual pollinator section of the garden. Plants were grouped into specific habitats for hummingbirds, songbirds, butterflies, and monarch butterflies; native bees will enjoy all of it. Choices were difficult, both because of limited space, but also because we had a height restriction. To preserve the water view from the lobby of the building, they asked that plants not be more than about four feet at maturity.

All plants chosen for the garden are commonly available and native to Marin County; we did not introduce plants from other ecoregions of the state. Once we had the list of plants figured out, Charlotte’s group of volunteers for Home Ground Habitats started propagating and sourcing as many as possible, adding to the stock over the year as plants became available so they were on hand when we were ready to plant them. Thanks to good garden prep and cool, sunny Sausalito weather, the garden has grown in much faster than anticipated and was full of bloom by the first spring.

Educational signage, with artwork by illustrator Maryjo Koch and design by Laura Lovett, was added to help visitors understand which area is for which pollinator. A free brochure lists the plants growing in the garden—plus some alternate choices—organized by pollinator, and a brief description of what is unique about each. There is also a plant list. Each species of plant in the garden has a label, although some species will come and go according to the seasons.

We owe a huge THANK YOU to all our volunteers from Marin CNPS, SPAWN, and the Bay Model. We could not have done it without all our cheerful helpers! We will continue to maintain and upgrade the garden and welcome volunteer help. Sign up for our monthly electronic e-bulletins to receive notice of workdays in the garden.

Our hope in undertaking this project is that people will come visit and see how beautiful and easy it is to create a garden with California native plants, and be motivated to do the same at home. Pollinators are essential to the food web, as well as being a source of delight in our gardens. We encourage everyone to be more aware of the needs of these tiny creatures that provide such valuable services for all other life on earth.

[Special note: the garden is featured in the Summer 2019 issue of CNPS’s Flora magazine!]

The garden 10 months after planting.

Home of a future native plant pollinator garden at the Bay Model.

Planning for the garden began in the fall of 2017 with Laura Lovett, Charlotte Torgovitsky and Kristin Jakob pouring over extensive lists of native plants and creating smaller lists for each individual pollinator habitat section of the garden: for butterflies, native bees, songbirds, and hummingbirds, plus a Monarch way station.

When the boulders were delivered to the site, Dan’s California Native Landscapes crew worked with the Army Corps guys and their backhoe to move the boulders into place. In order to make boulders and stones look natural in a garden setting, about one-third of the boulder must be buried in the dirt; the crew dug and filled around the rocks as they were brought into place with the equipment.

When the boulders were delivered to the site, Dan’s California Native Landscapes crew worked with the Army Corps guys and their backhoe to move the boulders into place. In order to make boulders and stones look natural in a garden setting, about one-third of the boulder must be buried in the dirt; the crew dug and filled around the rocks as they were brought into place with the equipment.

Additional irrigation stations had to be added so we could run the different sections of the garden, as well as the water features, as separate zones with different watering times.

Additional irrigation stations had to be added so we could run the different sections of the garden, as well as the water features, as separate zones with different watering times.

Upright edging was installed between the garden and the lawn to keep the lawn grass from encroaching into the new garden soil.

Once the boulders were placed, we brought in more soil to mound up around the rocks and create variation in the topography of the garden. For the area around the existing redwood trees, we used two cubic yards of a more acidic Rhododendron blend. For the remainder of the garden, we brought in seven cubic yards of a clean clay/loam fill dirt, purchased from Marin Landscape Materials in Novato.

Plants arrive! Once we had the list of plants figured out, Charlotte’s Home Ground Habitats volunteers propagated and sourced the majority of the stock. They added continually to the stock over the year so that the plants were on hand when it was the proper planting time.

June 2018. Charlotte arrived on workdays with her SUV loaded with plants, tools, hoses and trugs. Each plant was cleaned up and shaped before being put into the ground. We had a planting plan prepared but as we saw how things looked together, we made some alterations. The volunteers helped us choose specific placements and combinations of plants.

We weren’t able to start planting until early June, and by then the soil was dry and hard. We had to work with large garden forks and a hose to prepare each planting hole. It’s not the ideal way to plant, but it worked!

We started with more than five-dozen plants, mostly one-gallon size, focusing on the shrubs and ‘bones’ of the garden. Right after planting day, Dan and his crew returned to install irrigation lines and place an individual emitter at each plant.

Since the location of the garden is so public—and a very popular dog-walking spot—we realized that some sort of fencing would be necessary to keep dogs and small children from trampling the plants. A temporary fence of bamboo stakes and black plastic netting served the purpose until a permanent fence could be installed.

By September, our little seedlings were in bloom and the garden was taking off. Roseann dal Bello, ASLA, took over as our irrigation specialist, and adjusted the irrigation systems after each successive planting. Orange flags marked the location of newly-added plants so she knew where irrigation heads were needed.

Roseann also got the birdbath and the hummingbird mister working.

There is no electricity at the garden site, so the irrigation timer is on a battery, and the re-circulating birdbath gets power from a small solar panel. CNPS member and skilled carpenter Eddie Robertson built a frame for the solar panel from salvaged redwood fencing.

Proper plant labels were ordered from a company in Illinois that provides them to botanical gardens. There is one sign for each species, but we’ve found that many of the labels have vanished under the foliage already.