By Pat Pawlowski.
Well, I do not actually live in a valley, but it is green (at least part of it). Of course, out here in Southern California, a green landscape is much lusted after, especially by folks who have come from wetter climates. So some of them, pining after the green hills of home, plant lawns, denying the reality of what San Diego County really is: a semi-desert. To combat our area’s desert-like conditions, local plants have figured it out: some drop their leaves during summer, and many have very light-colored leaves (due to lower chlorophyll levels) with extra protections to combat the sun’s pesky rays. But what if your gardening eyeballs crave a luscious, leprechaunish, four-leaf-cloverish kind of green? What to do? Compromise, of course. It’s easier than you think. First, learn to love different shades of green: the gray-green of Cleveland Sage (Salvia clevelandii) may not be brilliant green, but boy! The Wild West scent of the leaves will leave you drooling, not to mention the wonderful blue flowers that attract hummingbirds (some of which have greenish backs). The tiny leaves of Deerweed (Lotus scoparius) don’t look like much, but they can attract the Bramble Hairstreak butterfly, whose wings are – you guessed it – a nice green. I could go on about the merits of the many natives whose leaves are not shamrock green, but hey, there’s a better way. To balance out all those wonderful natives that you will plant anyway, despite the fact that their leaf colors are less than bright green (and you WILL be planting some of those, especially if you have hiked around the local hills or have visited a native plant nursery), here are some substantial California native shrubs whose leaves can green up your landscape all year long:
Lemonade Berry (Rhus integrifolia) Sugar Bush (Rhus ovata) Toyon (Heteromeles arbutifolia) Hollyleaf Redberry (Rhamnus ilicifolia) Hollyleaf Cherry (Prunus ilicifolia ssp. ilicifolia) Coffeeberry (Rhamnus californica) Pacific Wax Myrtle (Myrica californica) Mountain Mahogany (Cercocarpus betuloides) Manzanita (Arctostaphylos spp.) Note: Not all species are green. Wild Lilac (Ceanothus spp.) Note: Not all species are green.
The best way to admire the greenery of the above plants is to visit San Diego Botanic Garden or Tree of Life Nursery (californianativeplants.com). With any of the above plants, even gardening greenhorns will rejoice; these suckers can take heat and drought and still look refreshingly green. They’ll contrast nicely with those silvery, subtly colored natives who will have charmed you into buying them anyway. Remember, varying shades of anything make life more interesting, right? Your valley might not be all green, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Member Pat Pawlowski is a writer, lecturer, and garden consultant who loves plants of all colors.