On either side of Tiara Street, you will see those unmistakable orange poppies. They grow in thick clumps, having self-sown their way into front yard prominence, emerging from well-mulched soil.
If you want to be assured of success with California poppies and other natives, it’s not a bad idea to bring in a truckload of decomposed granite or gravel.
It depends, of course, on your soil type. If your soil drains well — and, if it does, most conventional annual and perennial plants will have grown easily in it without amendments — you can do a native makeover and not be concerned about your soil’s suitability.
But, in any case, you should lay down several inches of mulch after you plant. If plants are native to desert, prairie or meadow, mulch with gravel or decomposed granite, and if their habitat is chaparral, forest or riverbank, mulch with straw, pine needles, shredded bark or wood chips.
If your soil is heavy or poorly drained, an inexpensive way of improving it is to find a tree trimmer and ask for a free load of wood chips. It costs money to unload a truck full of wood chips at the dump and tree trimmers are more than happy to deposit a load of those chips on your driveway at no charge to you.
Spread the chips over the ground six months before you intend to plant. Some soil is so heavy or clay-ridden that it may take more than a load or two of wood chips to improve it. In such cases, consider soil amelioration with decomposed granite or gravel, or just layer several inches of one of these materials on the soil’s surface.
If you have sloping terrain, your soil condition is not as critical as where the ground is flat since drainage on slopes is nearly always superior to that on level terrain.
The royal blue of California desert bluebells (Phacelia campanularia) and lacy phacelia (Phacelia tanacetifolia) presents a fine contrast to the rich orange of California poppies. Phacelias, together with poppies (Eschscholzia californica) and mountain garlands (Clarkia unguiculata), whose color spectrum is in the pink to purple range, are among the easiest sun-loving annuals to grow, and this triumverate of natives will provide a kaleidoscope of color throughout the spring.
Baja spurge (Euphorbia xanti) is a perennial to which I was recently introduced. It is a selection that is appropriate for gardens of native plants or other water-thrifty species.
Baja spurge is sometimes referred to as “succulent baby’s breath” for the resemblance of its flowers to that of common baby’s breath (Gypsophila paniculata), used as filler in floral bouquets. Like common baby’s breath, the flowers of Baja spurge are mildly fragrant.
Because of its spreading proclivities, Baja spurge is recommended for dry slopes, where it can roam free without concern.
Fruit tree blossoms
Late winter to early spring is a special time when flowering pears, plums, peaches, apricots, crabapples and cherries suddenly explode into clouds of white or pink blossoms. These trees are not grown for their fruit but mainly for their flowers, sometimes for their foliage color — as in the case of purple-leaf plums — and occasionally for their form, as in the case of weeping cherry and weeping apricot.
Not to be forgotten in this group of ornamental woody perennials is the flowering quince (Chaenomeles spp.). There is a class of fruits known as pomes, and among this group you will find apple, pear and quince. Although quinces may be trained to grow like trees, they typically develop as deciduous shrubs.
The traditional color of quince flowers is a sort of tomato red, but all versions of pink and orange, as well as scarlet, are encountered. Many flowering quince varieties are thorny, which makes them an excellent candidate for a botanical security fence, especially when their thicket-like growth habit is taken into account.