Englishman Theodore Payne and His Adopted California Natives

Theodore Payne

Theodore Payne

Imagine a garden that needs little water, fertilizer or soil amendments. In this highly economical garden, there are many shrubs with fragrant foliage, trees with smooth or textured bark, bulbs that produce exotic flowers, and perennials and annuals that reseed themselves reliably every year.
Englishman Theodore Payne promoted exactly this sort of garden when he came to California. Payne recommended native plants not only to state residents, but also to the international gardening public as well.
Exactly 100 years ago, in 1903, Payne opened his first nursery at 440 S. Broadway in downtown Los Angeles. Payne continued in the nursery business until 1961, one year after the nonprofit Theodore Payne Foundation, located in the La Tuna Canyon area of Sun Valley, at 10459 Tuxford St., was established.
Special centennial events are being held in honor of Payne’s original horticultural contributions to our city. For more information, call (818) 768-1802 or visit www.theodorepayne.org. The following species are among the newest and most outstanding plants currently on sale at the Theodore Payne nursery, some of them acquired from the Rancho Santa Ana Botanical Garden in Claremont.
Sisrynchium bellum ‘Sea Cliff’ is a California native from the iris family. It has reddish purple flowers and makes a wonderful complement to more familiar Sisrynchiums such as blue-eyed grass (Sisrynchium bellum) and yellow-eyed grass (Sisrynchium californicum). Like their familiar flag iris cousins, Sisrynchiums will slowly naturalize or take over a sunny or partially sunny patch of earth.
Salvia clevelandii “Betsy Clebsch” is a compact, blue-flowered sub- shrub in the sage group, many of whose representatives are native to California. Among my favorites are Salvia apiana, with chalk white foliage, the ground-hugging Salvia leucophylla “Gracias,” and Salvia spathacea, the shade-tolerant pitcher sage with magenta flowers and felt-covered leaves.
Mimulus “Verity White” is a monkey flower with rare large white blooms. Monkey flowers are usually encountered in orange, red or yellow.
Zauschneria “El Tigre,” a low-growing, red-flowered California fuchsia, blooms just as the weather starts gets hot, and is a favorite of hummingbirds.
Bringing birds, insects and other local critters into the garden is one of the reasons for planting California natives. This dimension of liveliness is sorrowfully lacking in gardens of nonnative species, which appear listless by comparison.

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