Yes, You Can Create a Native Plant Garden!

Have you always wanted to start a native plant garden, but don’t know where to start? It can seem daunting to figure out which plant is suited for the right place, how to space your plants, how to make smart use of available water, or how best to reflect the beauty of natural landscapes.

But transitioning to a native plant garden doesn’t have to be overwhelming. CNPS worked with partners to develop Bloom! California to make it easier for more people to create beautiful, native gardens. Bloom! partner, Miridae Landscape Architecture and Construction, developed a suite of native plant landscape design templates that you can find on the  Bloom! California’s website. These are essentially “recipes” you can follow for a variety of styles and needs, including:

  • Shady refuge
  • Sunny pollinator patch
  • Privacy hedgerow
  • Pots & planters
  • Linear strip & swale
  • Welcoming entry

These design templates use resilient and reliable native California plants available for purchase at your local Bloom! California nursery. Whether your green space is large or small, suitable for yarrow or valley oak, you can start small and build as you go. You can use the templates in combination or as a single project. Here are a few suggestions to get you started using the design templates.

Know before you grow

Before you get inspired, get familiar with your garden’s characteristics with the following observations:

  • Scope: Define the area for your planting project. Will it be a few pots? A narrow strip next to the sidewalk? An entire yard?
  • Light conditions: Observe sun and shade on your site throughout the day. Keep in mind that the sun is at its highest angle during summer and lowest during winter, so exposure will vary across seasons.
  • Wet spots: Identify low points (if any) where water might accumulate.
  • Zones: Based on your observations, divide your site into smaller zones of like conditions.
  • Cost: What is your budget for the project? Adjustments to plant sizes/plant quantities or a phased approach to the design can help keep costs manageable.
  • Involvement: How much time and energy are you willing to spend taking care of your plants? Some plants don’t need as much attention as others, but all plants require some basic maintenance!

Now that you know your space, get inspired!

Shady Refuge
Planting in shade is all about choosing plants that are suited to low light conditions.Bloom! vignettes: Shady refuge with trees and understory plants. Left side is a photograph and right is an illustration

Use These Plants

Sunny Pollinator Patch
Areas with full sun are perfect for drought-adapted native flowering plants, which also serve as important sources of food and shelter for birds, bees, butterflies, and other pollinators.Bloom! vignettes: plants in a sunny pollinator garden. Left side is a photograph and right side is an illustration, features purple flowers and groundcoversUse These Plants

Privacy Hedgerow
Native shrubs such as the dense, evergreen Toyon (Heteromeles arbutifolia), can be a more beautiful and ecologically beneficial alternative to conventional fencing.Bloom! vignettes: privacy hedgerow featuring toyon, left side is a photograph and right is an illustrationUse These Plants

Pots and Planters
This is a personal favorite of ours, and possible for any space. You can create a native plant oasis on your patio or balcony with just a few containers.Bloom! vignettes: illustration of potted native plantsUse These Plants

Linear Strips & Swale
No space is too small or narrow to add at least a few native plants. For tough spots like curbsides and medians, try resilient grasses mixed with annually seeded flowers.Bloom! vignettes: showing swales, left side is a photograph and right is an illustration with pink flowersUse These Plants

Welcoming Entry
For a wilder and more natural look, work with curves instead of lines. Layer and weave drifts of species together.Bloom! vignettes: an entry way that is inspired by more natural look with winding paths. Left side is a photo and right is an illustrationUse These Plants

For a more contemporary look, stick with straight lines and interrupt single-species planting areas with a specimen of Manzanita or Deer Grass. For a more minimalist look, cut back on the total number of plants.

Bloom! vignette: an entry way with a more contemporary look with straight lines and multiples of the same plant. Left side is a photo and right side is an illustrationUse These Plants

More Design Tips

  • Rather than buying one of everything, plant fewer species in higher quantities for a more modern and calming effect.
  • Plant in drifts and swaths of like plants, rather than a sprinkling of different plant species, for a simple but powerful visual effect.
  • Try to plant in groups of odd numbers.
  • Give plants room to grow into their mature dimensions! Always note the mature sizes on the container labels and space plants accordingly.
  • Give structure to your yard with evergreen shrubs that will remain green year-round and that will act as a backdrop to more colorful perennials and annuals.
  • Select a larger species, such as a Manzanita or Oak, as a single specimen for the landscape. Give it space so that it can grow to its full, mature form.
  • If a particular view is important, imagine planting in layers of increasing height from front to back.

Wherever you live in California and no matter what your style is, Bloom California’s garden inspiration vignettes show a range of garden solutions. Discover more ideas that speak to your garden and vision, along with Resources, a Nursery Locator, and more at bloomcalifornia.org.

What other gardeners are saying…

Screenshot of social media comments about the Bloom! vignettes including thoughts like, "These designs are so useful for anyone looking to start! Love <3"

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