Some years back, I toyed with the idea of starting my own wholesale nursery business. We're not talking acres of palm trees in huge wooden planters here, just a few kinds of natives, wildflowers and grasses. I even got a business license and came up with a name, but eventually decided it was more work than I wanted to invest. I did sell a few dozen plants to Steve at Chalfant Big Trees, but that was it. Little did I know it at the time, but taking the beginning steps toward my own nursery was to transform my own gardening!
One of the first things I did when I began to entertain the idea of my own nursery business was to set aside an area on our acre that I would use to field grow the plants. I rototilled, removed rocks, incorporated compost and laid out drip tape to this area. Though I never followed through with the business plan, I now had a nursery plot, and I have used it as such ever since. It is filled with dozens of types of plants, but the only customer this nursery is serving is me!
The beauty of this is that I nearly always have an appropriate plant “in my inventory.” I am constantly working at perfecting my landscaping, trying to match my plantings with the conditions of each location. Dustin Blakey's wise words form Master Gardener training always come to me: “Right plant in the right place.” That's the way I see my job as caretaker of the landscape. Especially in the challenging conditions here at the edge of the Volcanic Tableland, I have to be like a coach. I don't get to choose my dream roster, but instead have to find a way to maximize the potential of each of the players I have been given. There is nothing in my nursery plot that will not survive in my yard given the right conditions. When I'm evaluating different areas of my yard, thinking of what plants would complement the existing plantings, I nearly always have something that will work a few feet away in my nursery garden.
I suggest you give this strategy a try. It's not necessary to set aside a separate area in your yard. You can plant babies temporarily near existing plants, taking advantage of the irrigation that is already in place, and move them when the time comes. You can even repurpose a big pot—say maybe one you bought a tree in—and fill it with garden soil for a portable nursery.
It's so great to have a ready, year-round custom nursery at your disposal. Rather than having to search time after time at the local garden store, you'll have just the plant you want right in your own yard!
Though it's been hard to tell with the fire/weather we're having during this craziest of all years—September felt pretty summery—the plants in my garden have been telling me for a number of weeks now that summer is finally ending. The mornings are cooler, the days are shorter, and the garden is responding.
Salvia greggii is a star in the garden all year, but their show this time of year has given them their common name—autumn salvias. And so many colors! Purples and other shades are becoming easier to find, expanding the palette beyond the pinks and reds. The New Mexican sunflower (Helianthus maximiliani) is finally showing that its bloom is worth waiting for. The spindly but strong stems looked so close to withered during the long, hot summer it hardly seemed worth the water they cried out for. The Gaillardias, who rarely seem to miss a beat, are gloriously responding to the more moderate temperatures and longer nights fall brings to our hemisphere.
The grasses have been recast from supporting actors to leading roles. The light of the sun, now lower on the horizon, suffuses the flower stalks of silver beardgrass (Bothriochloa laguroides), deergrass and its smaller cousin (Muhlenbergia rigens and M. dubia), and blue grama grass (Bouteloua gracilis and its named variety ‘Blonde Ambition' are both fabulous). And as the warm season fades, they will begin to shine more brightly. No group of plants can compare to the grasses in terms of solid year-round interest. Yes, they don't look great after their annual late-spring haircut, but by the time you cut them back, they should be very actively growing, so the awkward phase doesn't last long! After that, they provide a great green backdrop for the bloomers, waiting for their chance in the spotlight. Fall and winter is their time!
Some of your new plants may not look too happy, but don't get discouraged—the transplant success rate for many natives is not good, so just know that you are doing the best you can. Spring is normally the time natives look best, so focus on how gratifying it will be when you see fresh, green leaves after a long winter's sleep!
These are some of the plants I am moving right now in my yard. Not all of them are Inyo County or even California natives, but all can deal with the tough environment the Owens Valley serves up:
- Salvias - S. greggii and S. clevelanii (marginal this far north, but worth the extra care!
- Young native grasses that are not yet blooming
- Pine muhly
- Grama grasses
Though I buy a lot of plants locally (I found goldenrod and a lot of other great stuff at High Country Lumber last week), other than the Native Plant Society's August sale, it can be tough to find native plants here, so I am always on the lookout for sources for plants when I travel. I've listed a few of my recent favorites below. But the best thing to do is to develop your own nursery stock. Watch this space for an article on that soon!
Online (links to these from plants above)
- Mountain Valley Growers
- High Country Gardens
- Annie's Annuals
- Digging Dog Nursery
- Plants of the Southwest (seeds only)
- Tree of Life Nursery, San Juan Capistrano
- Theodore Payne, Sunland
- Rancho Santa Ana Botanical Garden, Claremont
- Miner's Ace Hardware, Morro Bay (and other locations), carries plants from Annie's Annuals and The Growing Grounds
Links and sources posted are for information purposes. No UC endorsement is implied or intended.
- 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.
- Author: Amy Weurdig
Devils Claw is a plant native to the Southwest including the Owens Valley and can be found here and there. The plant has several other names like unicorn plant, double claw, or even red devils' claw. There are several Native American tribes that have used the dry black seed pods in their basketry including those in our area. The Papago tribe ate the pods and the Pima tribe ate the seeds, like pine nuts. So, the plant is diverse – either as a craft or food source.
Don't let the resourcefulness end there as it's been rumored to also be used in alternative medicine – things like taking a piece of the broken off claw and pressing it into the flesh and lighting it on fire for rheumatic pain – we definitely don't advise this! There are also species native to the continent of Africa that are used there for ointments, where the tubers and roots are highly valued and sold as supplement. Again this is not research-proven enough for recommendation.
As the plants began to grow, the leaves were large and fur like, with a light gloss to them. The stems were thick and spiny, and both seemed to have viscous goo on them. This is a bit sticky and has a faint odor. There is just a blush of purple to the stem and leaves.
The flowers started to appear mid-August in the high heat of summer. They had white corollas with a violet-red upper lip and a hint of tulip yellow in the center – very similar in design of an orchid, with a graceful white tongue hanging down from a burst of color.
As the seed pods started to develop -there was a slow start to their arrival - some were shorter and sharply hooked, while others were a more sweeping arc spinning off a larger firm pod.
The pods are edible, supposedly related to the flavor of okra so we began to harvest the green pods before they got too large and tough. I was also growing okra in my plot, because my husband is from Texas. We harvested enough devils claw and okra to do a pickling project. Both were made into refrigerator pickles with the same brine on the same day. They resided in the refrigerator for just over 4 weeks to allow for the brine to do what brines do. Then we proceeded to have a tasting. Visually, the devils claw made the brine turn a dark red color while the okra stayed the same with just a hint of green to it from the fruit flesh.
As the pods dried out, they shed their thick green fur and revealed a black prehistoric-looking shell, complete with T-rex spines, the hooks split in two to allow the access to the seed pod. The harvest of the seeds revealed various seed chambers in the pod and that required some prying and digging to release the bumpy, spiny seeds. The pods are not nearly as delicate as they appear, nor are the hooks. These dried hooks are rumored to be how the plant would spread by merely hooking themselves onto a passing woolly mammoth and dropping off seeds along the way as the pods split apart.
The summer is still waning into autumn and the temps are cooler at night and varying cool and warm days. The plants are slowly dying back, and the remaining seed pods are drying up to be harvested for seeds.
The continuation of this project will be next year when we are able to locate a large planting facility to see how these can be a stable, pest resistant, drought tolerant, multi-use food source. If you have or know of a place to suitable cultivate a larger parcel of devil's claw, please let us know, as we look forward to more culinary adventures with devil's claw, aka unicorn plant.
Reference: USDA NRCS Plant Guide Devil's Claw
Aggressive—the word has negative connotations, both in everyday life and in the gardening world. But aggressive, along with self-seeder, are words I now look for in plant descriptions. It says to me that they might be tough enough to thrive out here in the wilds of West Chalfant.
Of course, one definitely wants to avoid plants that might be invasive—escaping from the garden and spreading outside their native range. Fortunately or not, that's not an issue for me—nothing survives out here without supplemental irrigation!
The definitions can be a bit confusing, but maybe naturalized is the word I'm looking for. The USDA defines a naturalized plant as one “that does not need human help to reproduce and maintain itself over time in an area where it is not native,” but that naturalized plants “do not, over time, become native members of the local plant community.” Now doesn't that sound like a plant that any of us would welcome into our garden?
The key, of course, is that location, exposure, watering and other variables all affect a plant's behavior. Plants that were obnoxious in west Bishop hardly stand a chance out here. I've tried without success to grow those little violets that used to spread everywhere in my yard. No longer do I have to deal with sprouts from the neighbor's cottonwood tree coming up 30 feet inside my yard. And God has finally delivered me from periwinkle!
Now that's not to say that there are no plants that can get out of control in my yard. I fell in love with the graceful sway of Mexican feather grass (Nassella tenuissima) when I first moved out here, but soon found out how prolifically they reseed. I now allow only a few plants in inhospitable sites and relentlessly remove any volunteers. Fortunately, the seedlings are easy to pull out.
I have replaced the feather grass with purple threeawn (Aristida purpurea), a California native that is easy to grow from seed, super tough, drought tolerant and beautiful all year round. It is a prolific seeder, but not nearly the nuisance that Mexican feather grass is. One caveat is that its seed heads are very poky, so it's unfortunately not a good choice for pet owners.
My other go-to grass for tough conditions is silver beardgrass (Bothriochloa laguroides torreyana). This native to the southern half of the US is also easy from seed. One of the prettiest sights in my yard is the setting sun lighting up its white, fluffy seedheads. Like many other grasses, beardgrass has fabulous color during the fall and winter. It's not nearly as drought tolerant as purple threeawn, but it really deserves a place in your garden. It will reseed prolifically if given abundant water, and though it's a bit harder to remove than purple threeawn, its volunteers survive transplanting much more readily. It constantly amazes me that ornamental grasses are so underutilized in most people's gardens. For more on grasses, see my earlier posts on some of my favorites.
I'm always on a quest for yellow daisy-like flowers. Gloriosa daisies and coreopsis were dependable standbys in Bishop, and though I keep trying, they just don't seem to thrive out here. Fortunately, I have found two natives that I can always count on to perform—Mexican hat (Ratibida columnifera) and desert marigold (Baileya multiradiata). Mexican hat comes to us from the prairies, so though it's drought tolerant, it's also fine with regular watering. It comes in two colors: yellow and red, and if you're growing both you'll get beautiful bi-colored offspring that substitute nicely for the similarly-sized gloriosa daisies. Between the previous year's plants and the new volunteers, they will bloom from late June through September.
Desert marigold is found in the desert Southwest, is extremely drought tolerant, and is covered with the cheeriest yellow daisies you could ever hope to find. To keep this little plant (12”) looking neat, I snip off the spent flowers, and Baileya rewards me with a great yellow accent that lasts from May through at least October. Though it's a short-lived perennial, it will readily (but not too readily!) give you seedlings to replace it with. It's happiest with little or no water, so I use it to soften the transitions between watered and unwatered areas. If I have a bare spot in the yard where I want some yellow, I'll transplant in volunteer seedlings of these two plants—Baileya if it's a dry spot, Ratibida if it will get a bit more water.
All four of these plants are aggressive—but in a good way. They are easy to grow from seed, they thrive with little care, they look fabulous, and they will give you plenty of volunteers to leave in place or move where you see fit. That is, they are easy to naturalize. You can order seed of all four online from Plants of the Southwest.