California Native Plant Society

Summer colors in the native garden

by Tanya Kucak

Arctostaphylos ssp.

Halfway between San Francisco and San Jose, turn west off Highway 280 at Woodside Road, and in a mile or two you'll reach one of the most understated and relaxing public gardens around. The Woodside Library Native Plant Garden was established in 1970, when the library was built, so it has mature manzanitas as well as preexisting native oaks (Quercus lobata). A major garden renovation several years ago added a thousand new plants.

In mid-July a couple years ago, I wandered through the half-acre garden on a scorchingly hot afternoon. From the sunny terrace at the back of the library, the garden goes gently uphill, with wide gravel paths curving around island beds, ending in a shady bench-lined terrace in the redwood grove. A fairly new planting of gray-white  dudleyas (Dudleya cymosa and D. 'Frank Reinert'), just starting to bloom, and feathery-leafed yarrows (Achillea californicum 'Island Pink') in pinks and reds catches the eye at terrace level.

Manzanitas (Arctostaphylos densiflora 'Howard McMinn'), with their rich, deep mahogany bark and leaves turned perpendicular to the sun, share a bed with lower-growing, textured, lighter green coyote brush (Baccharis pilularis). A short distance away, the shiny, deeply veined dark-green leaves of a ground-hugging ceanothus (Ceanothus 'Yankee Point') provide counterpoint.

Another bed features various native buckwheats in full bloom, from the low-growing soft red spheres of rose buckwheat (Eriogonum grande rubescens) and pink-tinged white pompoms of coast buckwheat (E. latifolia) to the exuberant eye-level creamy sprays of St. Catherine's Lace (E. gigantea) cascading over the path, busy with bees. Their more dignified cousin, California buckwheat (E. fasciculatum), blooms in creamy rounded sprays at the top of upright stems clothed in rosemarylike leaves. All the buckwheats attract pollinators when in bloom, then as the blooms age and form seedheads in late fall, birds enjoy the seeds.

California Fuchsia

At the other side of the bed, fragrant sage (Salvia clevelandii 'Winifred Gilman') blooms in pinwheels of deep purple-blue encircling the stems, radiating out from light green leaves dusted with a hint of gray. One of my favorite things to do in this garden is to compare its fragrance with other cleveland sage cultivars here, including 'Whirly Blue', 'Pozo Blue', and 'Allen Chickering'.

Across the garden is woolly blue curls (Trichostema lanatum), with furry purple-magenta spikes and thin, shiny light-green foliage. A challenge to grow in most gardens, it owes its success here to the slope and to the gravel that was added to the beds, both of which help provide the excellent drainage it needs. The lilac verbenas (Verbena lilacina 'De La Mina’) form mounds of color from spring to fall.

Other splashes of color come from orange California poppies (Eschscholzia californica) and from small shrubby monkeyflowers (Mimulus bifidus and hybrids), in soft orange and apricot. The poppies, if cut back after their spring bloom cycle, will rebloom in summer. Hummingbird fuchsia (Epilobium canum), low-growing gray foliage with red-orange flowers, is just starting to bloom and will continue until late fall, drawing hummingbirds daily.

From the shaded benches under the redwoods (Sequoia sempervirens), look for the spikes of deep yellow California goldenrod (Solidago californica) emerging from the bed of grasses. Farther downhill, Hooker evening primrose (Oenothera elata), an aggressive biennial with big yellow flowers at the tops of tall stems, looks wilted in the heat of the day because its flowers open in late afternoon and wither the next day. By contrast, the smaller but assertive yellow flowers of gumplant (Grindelia hirsutala) look fresh all day long.

Located in back of the library at 3140 Woodside Rd., the Woodside Library Native Plant Garden is accessible only through the library, and it is open to the public during library hours Mon.- Sat. Call 650/851-0147 for hours.

Tanya Kucak ( gardens organically.


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