By Bobbie Stephenson.
During the recent native garden tour put on by the San Diego chapter of the California Native Plant Society, a number of blue-flowered species caught my eye. I particularly enjoyed seeing baby blue eyes (Nemophila menziesii), also known as California blue bells, that has bright blue flowers with white centers. This species is in the forget-me-not, or borage, family (Boraginaceae). It is a low-growing annual about six inches tall and twelve inches wide that grows throughout California from sea level to almost 6,500 feet in many habitats. It grows well in beds and containers or as an annual groundcover. Baby blue eyes prefers partial shade, but can be grown in the sun if watered regularly, and can overwinter in mild climates.
Many Ceanothus species were also blooming during the tour. Ceanothus is a genus of about fifty or sixty species of nitrogen-fixing shrubs or small trees in the buckthorn family (Rhamnaceae). Many cultivars have been developed, including ground covers and any size of shrub or small tree, with white, blue, deep blue, or purple flowers. (For more information about nitrogen fixation, see Robin Rivet's April 2018 article, Trees of Life and Faux (Nitrogen) Fixes.)
The blue- and purple-flowered plants were complemented in many gardens by yellow- and orange-flowered ones. Foothill penstemon (Penstemon heterophyllus) was beautiful paired with Palmer's Indian mallow (Abutilon palmeri) in one garden. Foothill penstemon is endemic to California, meaning it does not occur naturally anywhere else in the world. It grows about two feet high and wide, has a long blooming time from spring through the summer, and butterflies and birds love its nectar. Indian mallow, with soft, velvety gray-green leaves, is a showcase plant with masses of bright gold flowers in spring and summer. Preferring hot, sunny areas, this species tolerates various soil types but does not like frequent summer water. You can read more about Palmer's Indian mallow in an article by Pat Pawlowski (see page 4) in the May 2011 issue of the SDHS newsletter.
Finally, the purple-flowered Cedros Island verbena (Verbena lilacina 'De La Mina')—in the verbena, or vervain, family (Verbenaceae)—was blooming in several of the native plant gardens and really stood out to me. The Cedros Island verbena grows a couple of feet wide and as high, and can bloom most of the year with a peak in spring and summer. The flowers smell spicy and attract butterflies. They have inflorescences of many small flowers that resemble the Lantana camara (also of the family Verbenaceae) that are so popular in butterfly gardens.
Bobbie Stephenson is a local botanist and the newsletter editor and a board member of the California Native Plant Society San Diego Chapter.