This is a comfortable place…

where we can share about designing native plant gardens, attracting wildlife, native plant communities, sustainability, the rhythms of the seasons, and all sorts of topics of the heart – native heart that is! 

Debbie Ballentine

Categories: Uncategorized

10 Top Native Plants for Southern California Gardens

Enjoy a fuss-free, water-wise garden by growing plants naturally in tune with the climate and wildlife of Southern California

Coast sunflower (Encelia californica) Photo by Debbie Ballentine

California sunflower (Encelia californica)  Photo by Debbie Ballentine


From the stunning blue of California lilacs in spring to the joyful, daisy-like blooms of California sunflowers from spring to fall, and the spritely charms of pink chaparral currants in winter, the plants below have been selected for their wildlife value, minimal maintenance, gardening ease and availability in nurseries. Depending on the species, they are appropriate in moderate inland areas of Southern California desert or coastal regions. Each has its own wildlife niche, whether it’s birds, butterflies, hummingbirds, native bees or the plethora of pollinators. This selection of California native plants will add beauty and seasonal interest to   read more…

Categories: Uncategorized | Tags: , , | Leave a comment

Upcoming Events

Debbie Ballentine will be giving talks on April 19th, April 23rd and May 19th. See her New EVENTS Page for full details.

Scrub Jay and Acorn Woodpecker. Photo courtesy of Las Pilitas Nursery.

Scrub Jay and Acorn Woodpecker. Photo courtesy of Las Pilitas Nursery.

Gardening is for the birds!

Brief 30-40 minute version
Sat April 19th, 1:30 pm

Gardening is for the birds!
Full 70-90 minute version with photo presentation
Thu April 23rd, 6:30 pm

How I Did It: Creating a bee-friendly garden
Tue May 19th, 7:00 pm

Hope to see you there!

Native Hearts Garden Blog

Categories: California native plants, Designing a garden, Wildlife conservation, Wildlife in your garden | Tags: , , , , | Leave a comment

Celebration of California Native Plant Week

California native plant week is April 11-19th, but events are happening all over the state for the entire month. Learn more about native plants and celebrate our botanical heritage.

Following are the events planned by the Santa Clara Valley chapter of the California Native Plant Society (CNPS). Go to the CNPS site to for events all over the state.

Wayne Roderick daisy & Foothill Penstemon

Wayne Roderick daisy & Foothill Penstemon

Coastal Wildflower Day April 11, 2015

Saturday April 11 – 10am – 4pm
Half Moon Bay State Beach
95 Kelly Avenue, Half Moon Bay

Celebrate the start of California Native Plant Week at the Coastal Wildflower Day in Half Moon Bay (HMB).  Enjoy fun activities, wildflower hikes, games and crafts for families and native plants for sale.  Visit the native plant nursery and see the dune restoration on site at HMB State Beach.

Bike or walk in for free, or parking on site is $10.  Bring a picnic lunch and spend the day.  For more info. or to volunteer, contact Toni Corelli at or (650) 726-0689; or visit

See the flyer.

Going Native Garden Tour April 18, 19 2015

13th ANNUAL GOING NATIVE GARDEN TOUR A free, self-guided tour of home gardens featuring California Native Plants that are waterwise, attractive, low maintenance, low on chemical use, and bird and butterfly friendly. A variety of home gardens landscaped with California native plants will be open to the public Saturday, April 18 and Sunday, April 19, 2015, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Locations throughout Santa Clara Valley and Peninsula. Talks and native plant sales at select gardens. Free admission; registration required at; registration ends at 3pm on April 19. Volunteers receive a T shirt and invitations to visit native gardens throughout the year. For more information, or email

Press release

Native Plant Sale Saturday, April 25, 2015

Scores of species of California native plants well-suited for our gardens and wildlife will be on sale at Hidden Villa Ranch on Saturday, April 25, 10am – 3pm. Speak to experts about lawn alternatives such as native perennials, wildflowers, and grasses. Native plant books, posters, and note cards will also be on sale.

This sale is organized by the Santa Clara Valley chapter of the California Native Plant Society (CNPS). Hidden Villa Ranch is located at 26870 Moody Road, Los Altos Hills, 2 miles west of I-280. Come early for the best selection. Cash, check, or credit cards are accepted. Bring boxes to carry purchases home. Free parking. No pets.

There will be a Wildflower Show at the plant sale. See the flyer (PDF).

Bee’s bliss sage is a ground cover that blooms in the spring, attracting bees.

Press release

Native Hearts Garden Blog

Categories: Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Welcoming Insects Into Our Gardens

Lady beetle larva

Ladybug larva eat more aphids than Ladybug adults

Beneficial insects provide a number of ecosystem and human services, including pollinating insects, responsible for about 30% of the pollination of agricultural plants; predatory insects that eat other insects; parasitic insects that lay their eggs inside other insects; insects that break down decaying matter thereby building good soil; and insects that dig in the soil allowing air, water and nutrients to penetrate to the plant roots. It’s said that there are far more beneficial insects than pests.

What’s more, insects are eaten by all kinds of wildlife. So creating a garden for insects is creating a wildlife habitat.

Learn more about creating habitat...


Categories: California native plants, Wildlife conservation, Wildlife in your garden | Tags: , , , , , | Leave a comment

How To Create Your Own Butterfly Garden

Encourage these fanciful winged beauties to visit your garden while helping restore their fragmented habitat

Butterflies are among the most beloved insects. Someone once called them flying flowers. They float, they flutter and they dazzle us with their colors. We relish their dance of spring. Then there’s the bad news: Because of pesticides and habitat loss, the populations of our cherished butterflies is in decline.

A few simple tips will have you on your way to creating your own butterfly habitat. Any home garden, even a container garden, can attract butterflies. My vision is a patchwork of schools, businesses, home gardens and parks around the country that provide insect habitat, restoring communities of beneficial insects. The steps are simple — like most of earth’s creatures, butterflies just need food, water, sun and read more…

Anise Swallowtail (Papilio zelicaon). Photo courtesy of Treebeard.

Anise Swallowtail (Papilio zelicaon). Photo courtesy of Treebeard.

Photo courtesy of Flickr user Treebeard.

Categories: California native plants, Wildlife in your garden | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

No milkweeds, no Monarch butterflies

In creamy white with a dash of pink, the little star flowers of milkweeds seem to sparkle and anticipate explosion into parade confetti. Yet their beauty is not their greatest asset. Milkweeds (Asclepias spp) are critical to the survival of monarch butterflies (Danaus plexippus). Monarchs are in decline, partly because they reproduce only on milkweeds. No milkweeds, no monarchs.

But not just any milkweed will do. There is a close relationship between monarchs and their local milkweeds. This is because milkweeds from different regions have different chemical compositions. These chemicals can bestow protection from predators, or a bellyache and worse. For this reason it is important to select milkweeds that are native to your region.

Monarch on Showy Milkweed (Asclepias speciosa). Photo courtesy of Las Pilitas Nursery.

Monarch on Showy Milkweed (Asclepias speciosa). Photo courtesy of Las Pilitas Nursery.

The three California native milkweeds profiled here are alluring, exuberant, fast growing and easily available. While inviting monarchs, all milkweeds also entice…

Read more…

Categories: California native plants, Summer bloom, Wildlife in your garden | Tags: , , , | Leave a comment

Graceful Winter Tassels of Ribes Malvaceum

Pink chaparral currant (Ribes malvaceum) revives the sleeping garden with elegant pink tassels and handsome mallow-like leaves on its upright branches. The white to pink flowers bloom as early as October and continue as late as March. It is an important nectar source for winter hummingbirds, who find its offerings seductively delicious. As the season warms, other pollinators enjoy its sweet nectar. The tassels are followed in spring by edible fruit that ripens to a dusty blue-purple.

Photo courtesy of East Bay Wilds, Pete Veilleux

Photo courtesy of East Bay Wilds, Pete Veilleux

Malvaceum won’t disappoint when it blooms and leafs out. New foliage and flowers appear after the first rain, or maybe with your fall irrigation. Ribes species are the highlight in my winter garden — the flowing flower tassels enchant all who see them, and the bounty of nectar and berries invites the critters to come play and… read more…

Categories: California native plants, Uncategorized, Water-wise plants, Wildlife in your garden, Winter bloom | Tags: , , , | 2 Comments

10 Top California Native Plants

Enjoy a fuss-free, water-wise garden in the Golden State by growing plants naturally in tune with the climate and wildlife

Toyon berries

Toyon berries in winter (Heteromeles arbutifolia)

These plants provide an important habitat to critters large and small, stunning seasonal colors, textures and interest in any-size garden, and are climate appropriate in dry California summers. They were chosen for their gardening ease, extreme beauty, value to wildlife, minimal maintenance, availability at nurseries, and because they are native to most regions of California. Learn more…

Categories: California native plants | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Try California Wild Grape for Interest All Year

Sure, it’s stunning in fall. But the spring buds, summer grapes and gnarled winter vines are gorgeous too



California wild grape is known best for its sensational fall colors, but it is much more than a one-season plant. In spring its silvery leaves and tiny buds emerge from bare vines. In summer the lush foliage with ripening fruit will conceal that undesirable chain-link fence. And in winter it reveals its most interesting feature — its gnarled and peeling vine branches. California wild grape is truly a four-season plant.

As with many vines, this one can grow fast and furiously. Pruning in winter keeps it manageable and lovely. Use it to quickly cover a fence, an arbor or a wall; it can even be used as a ground cover. It works in many situations — wet or dry soil, sun or partial shade, clay or sand — and makes a charming statement throughout the year. Learn how to grow California wild grape…

Categories: California native plants, Wildlife in your garden | Tags: , , | Leave a comment

Creating drama in your California native plant garden

All the Garden’s a Stage

Fall and winter are the seasons for planting. Here are some of my simple design tips to inspire you…

Deergrass (Muhlenbergia rigens)

Deergrass (Muhlenbergia rigens) — Photo by Debbie Ballentine

As I think about designing a native plant garden, I often think about the things I enjoy in my home garden: the different textures of rock and mulch; the sculpted mounds that add dimension; the shooting spikes of firecracker penstemon (Penstemon eatonii); the joyful exuberance of blue bicolored lupines and yellow beach evening primroses (Lupinus bicolor, Camissonia cheiranthifolia); the surprise of red California fuchsia (Epilobium canum, aka Zauschneria californica) in the summer; the pink flowering currant (Ribes sanguineum var.glutinosum) tassels emerging from the bare branches in winter; the California grape’s (Vitis californica) colorful foliage signaling autumn; the riot in spring of mountain garland clarkias, California poppies and blue-eyed grass (Clarkia unguiculata, Eschscholzia californica, Sisyrinchium bellum).

Each of these has one thing in common… drama.

Many of us want our gardens to be calm, soothing, and a place for rejuvenation. For a peaceful landscape we include the quieter colors of white, blue, and soft pink. We design our paths with curving sinuous lines, and design our view with horizontal lines. Yet for me this isn’t enough. To fully rejuvenate I need to be reawakened and energized. For this I need a little drama.

One of the last steps in a new landscape design is choosing the specific plants and materials for the garden. This is when you consider where and how you want to add drama. If you already have a garden, then adding drama can be as simple as replacing an area of wood mulch with cobble and pebble stones, or planting some light tawny deergrass (Muhlenbergia rigens) between your existing dark green Howard McMinn manzanitas (Arctostaphylos ‘Howard McMinn’).

Deergrass (Muhlenbergia rigens) and Manzanita (Arctostaphylos spp)

Deergrass (Muhlenbergia rigens) and Manzanita (Arctostaphylos spp) — Photo by Debbie Ballentine


Contrast, Contrast, Contrast

Drama is all about contrast. There are a number of elements that can add drama to your garden. Here’s a quick list organized from the easy to the more challenging:

  1. Garden art and water features
  2. Contrasting shades of light and dark
  3. Contrasting color
  4. Energizing vertical lines
  5. Other interesting plants
  6. Surprises
  7. Contrasting textures
  8. Three dimensional mounds and berms

Let’s talk about some of these in detail.

Lesser Goldfinches and Bush Poppy (Dendromecon rigida). Photo by Barbara Eding.

Lesser Goldfinches and Channel Islands Bush Poppy (Dendromecon harfordii, corrected from original post) — Photo by Barbara Eding

Water Features

Certainly this is easiest way to add drama. Choose something you like that works with your overall theme and install it. You’ll be entertained for hours by the antics of all the wildlife.

Light colored Idaho fescue (Festuca idahoensis) against a dark mounding Ceanothus. The blue in the grasses also compliments the blue flowers of the Ceanothus creating a rich color palette and contrasting shades.

Idaho fescue (Festuca idahoensis) against a dark mounding Ceanothus — Photo by Debbie Ballentine


This one is so simple you are probably already doing it. Put light foliage plants in front of dark foliage plants or vice versa, like the light blue grasses against the dark ceanothus above.

Remember that silhouettes can also play a role, as with this naked Buckeye tree (Aesculus californica) and it’s large fruit-shaped seeds.

Buckeye tree (Aesculus californica) — Photo by Debbie Ballentine

Remember that silhouettes can also play a role as with a naked California buckeye tree (Aesculus californica) and its large fruit-shaped seeds against the sky.

Clockwise from top left: Coast Sunflower (Encelia californica), Western Blue Flax (Linum lewisii), California fuchsia not in bloom (Epilobium canum), Sulfur Buckwheat (Eriogonum umbellatum polyanthum 'Shasta Sulfur'), Idaho fescue (Festuca idahoensis), Sunflakes (Camissonia bistorta), Margarita BOP Penstemon

My home garden, clockwise from top left: Coast Sunflower (Encelia californica), Western Blue Flax (Linum lewisii), California fuchsia not in bloom (Epilobium canum), Sulfur Buckwheat (Eriogonum umbellatum polyanthum ‘Shasta Sulfur’), Idaho fescue (Festuca idahoensis), Sunflakes (Camissonia bistorta), Margarita BOP Penstemon — Photo by Debbie Ballentine


We instinctively put opposite colors together like yellow and purple to create pop. And we put together colors like blue and white for a calming effect. Sizzling colors are red, orange, hot pink, and yellow — while blue, white, soft pinks, and many purples are cool and serene.

Firecracker penstemon (Penstemon eatonii) is one of many plant species that have vertical lines

Vertical lines of Firecracker Penstemon (Penstemon eatonii) in my home garden — Photo by Debbie Ballentine

Vertical Lines 

Ornamental grasses and grass-like plants exuberantly shoot toward the sky or flow like a fountain. This upward “movement” is energizing. Many grasses, like purple needle grass (Stipa pulchra), also sway tranquilly in the breeze. These grasses are both stimulating and calming.

Nearly a foot across, the large triad of leaves and shooting burgundy flowers of Trilliums are dramatic with nothing else needed. Photo by David Clarke Benner.

These Trilliums are as big as a foot across — Photo by David Clarke Benner

Interesting Plants

Certain plants create their own drama without any other help. Some of these are irises and monkeyflowers (Mimulus and Diplacus spp.) that come in a huge array of spectacular colors. Pink-flowering currants play out their own drama in the winter with their splendid long tassels. Bush poppies (Dendromecon harfordii) stun our eyes nearly all year with sparkling yellow flowers. Trilliums (Trillium chloropetalum) have a distinctive triad of broad leaves and elegant burgundy flowers that touch our spirit. And California Dutchman’s pipe (Aristolochia californica) makes us chuckle with its little green pipes.


There are so many ways to create surprises. One type of surprise is the well-known “secret garden.” Design a curving path going out of view to hint at something special just around the corner. Then for a touch of the theatrical, place a spectacular specimen — like a Ray Hartman ceanothus (Ceanothus ‘Ray Hartman’) or a silk tassel (Garrya elliptica) — in this hidden area.

Another type of surprise can from the plants themselves, such as the reawakening of forgotten mariposa lily bulbs (Calochortus spp.) or the rising of mountain garland clarkia annuals (Clarkia unguiculatacreating a living drama day after day.

Allen Chickering Sage (Salvia ‘Allen Chickering’) adds an interesting texture to a summer garden.

Allen Chickering Sage (Salvia ‘Allen Chickering’) adds an interesting texture to my summer garden — Photo by Debbie Ballentine


This can be foliage, flowers, bark, rocks, just about anything. It’s easy to see the difference in foliage textures: Choose plants that have the same cultural needs yet contrasting textures. The dried seed heads of sages alone can be a dramatic touch after the bloom.

Cobbles and pebbles contrast to the mulch, succulents and groundcover Manzanita (Arctostaphylos hookeri ‘Buxifolia’).

Cobbles and pebbles contrast to the mulch, succulents and groundcover Manzanita (Arctostaphylos hookeri ‘Buxifolia’) — Photo by Debbie Ballentine

But we often forget about the ground itself. I like to design the garden so different plant communities are defined by the texture of the ground. In my garden, I chose small angular golden rock for the sunny chaparral community. Then I chose arborist’s mulch, which is rough and inconsistent, for the oak woodland community. Just this week I decided to add refined mulch in the redwood community. Each of these mulch textures contrasts with the next and gives each area its own unique feel.

Mounds and Berms

Most drought tolerant plants need excellent drainage. The best way to accomplish this is to build mounds and berms. But don’t put each plant on its own mound, creating a backyard full of bumps. Instead create interesting multidimensional berms with sleek slopes and curving lines. It’s surprising how much the change in elevation and different slopes and curves affect the overall dynamic of the garden.

Enjoy the process

Think of your garden as a life-long, three dimensional, living project. It’s ever changing. So go ahead, play with ideas. Whatever you do, take the time to enjoy the process. It’s worth it.

This article by Debbie Ballentine has been reprinted from Regional Parks Botanic Garden e-Newsletter, published April 2014

Categories: California native plants, Designing a garden | Tags: , | Leave a comment

Create a free website or blog at The Adventure Journal Theme.


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 629 other followers

%d bloggers like this: