- Author: Harold McDonald
I live at the very edge of the Volcanic Tablelands in West Chalfant. Sixteen years ago, they scraped most of our acre clean of vegetation, spread decomposed granite and hauled our house in on two trailers! My plan all along had been to plant mostly California natives and other drought-tolerant plants. I brought a few with me from my previous house in Big Pine, and some we got from the old county windbreak program, but that still left a lot of empty space! We were able to purchase some plants locally from Bishop Nursery and Sierra Gardens Nursery (which unfortunately closed several years ago), but I soon realized that much of what I was looking for wasn't even available to our nurseries from the standard wholesalers—they are only available from specialty nurseries.
I still shop locally first. During the growing season, I check at least once a week to see what's come into town. Most of the backbone of my yard has come from Bishop Nursery (e.g., mountain mahogany, fernbush, and coffeeberry); I've found Cleveland sage and other star performers at High Country Lumber; and most of our trees came from our own Chalfant Big Trees Nursery. But I'm always searching for something new, and I've never been able to drive past a nursery without stopping, so over the years I have discovered a number of other sources for xeric plants. Today I'd like to share some of those with you.
In Person Only
http://theodorepayne.org A non-profit that really works to promote the preservation and use of native plants, Theodore Payne has a retail nursery in a rural setting between I-210 and I-5 near San Fernando. They have a great selection of seeds available online, but if you want plants, you'll have to visit in person. Ten percent discount (15% for members) at their fall, winter and spring sales.
https://californianativeplants.com Tree of Life Nursery, on the Ortega Highway between Lake Elsinore and San Clemente, is a fun place to visit in person. Good catalog available online, but no online ordering.
https://www.rsabg.org/grow-native-nursery/gnn If you've never been to the Rancho Santa Ana Botanical Garden in Claremont, you're missing out. Spread over 86 acres is the largest selection of our state's native flora to be found anywhere. And their Grow Native Nursery has a nice selection of CA natives for sale to the public. Discounts are available for members (10%) and for individuals working for a public or school garden project (20%). If you're both of those things, you save 25%!
https://www.cornflowerfarms.com I've looked many times, but never ordered from this place. They're primarily wholesale, but you can look at their inventory list (email them for login info), choose what you want, and then pick up your order at their nursery near Sacramento. The downside: $200 minimum order. The upside: they have flats of many plants, which is a cheap alternative if you need multiples, say for a ground cover ($2/plant, 25 minimum). A good choice for a group order, maybe?
https://plantsofthesouthwest.com My personal favorite for seeds. And if you happen to be in Santa Fe, NM, they have a retail nursery with both seeds and plants that's fun to visit. And while you're there, you could also check out Agua Fria Nursery on the same street, which has lots of 4” pots (my favorite!), but unfortunately no online ordering.
http://www.alplains.com Seeds only, but if you're looking for something obscure this is a good place to look. They also have good germination information for each species.
http://www.seedhunt.com Not one I have used a lot, but a fair selection of CA natives and other seeds, including 18 species of Salvia.
https://www.dianeseeds.com OK, this one's not really a source for CA natives, but I love their catalog, prices and speedy, friendly service.
Some of these I use more for info and dreaming, because shipping is such a killer, but it's cheaper than going and getting it in person!
https://www.laspilitas.com A huge catalog and a great resource for learning about CA natives. You can visit the nursery in Santa Margarita, which makes for a great spring trip if you combine it with a wildflower expedition to the Carrizo Plains!
https://www.highcountrygardens.com Another Santa Fe, NM, nursery, and one nearly everybody knows about, with a beautiful catalog of plants adapted for the high and dry West.
https://www.mountainvalleygrowers.com The focus of this nursery near Fresno is more on herbs than CA natives, but I always get in on the great deals at their fall sale in September. Their (all organic) plants come in 3” pots and are always beautiful, and their packaging for shipping is by far the best I have encountered anywhere.
https://www.fbts.com Again, shipping can be expensive, but if you're looking for a Salvia (and I always am!), Flowers by the Sea in tiny Elk, CA, is the place to find it. Good catalog with lots of filters and photos, and the plants themselves are reasonably priced.
Editor's Note: there can be some restrictions on bringing in plants to California from out-of-state without a certificate. Many nurseries can provide this. Most mail-order sources take care of this for you.
Mention of a business is not an endorsement, but only for informational purposes to obtain hard-to-find plants.