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Friends of the Regional Parks Botanic Garden
Native Plant Sale!

Saturday, April 19, 2014




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The garden is located at the intersection of Wildcat Canyon Road and South Park Drive in Tilden Regional Park near Berkeley, CA


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April 2014
All the Garden’s a Stage:Creating Drama in Your California Native Plant Garden


Deergrass (Muhlenbergia rigens)

As I think about designing a native plant garden, I often think about the things I enjoy in my own 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 elegant 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 and manzanita

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.

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 all antics of the wildlife.

Goldfinches and bush

Goldfinches and bush poppy (Dendromecon rigida) Photo by Barbara Eding


Idaho fescue and a mounding ceanothus

Idaho fescue (Festuca idahoensis) and a mounding ceanothus


This one is so simple you are probably already doing it. Put light foliage plants in front of dark foliage plants or vice versa.


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

California buckeye tree


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.

Swirls of color contrasting and coordinating
Swirls of color contrasting and coordinating

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.


Firecracker penstemon

Firecracker penstemon is one of many plant species that have vertical lines

Interesting Plants


These trilliums are as big as a foot across. Photo by David Clarke Benner.

Certain plants create their own drama without any other help. Some of these are irises and monkeyflowers (Mimulus 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 rigida) 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 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 elegant clarkia annuals creating a living drama day after day.



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 salvias alone can be a dramatic touch after the bloom.


Allen Chickering sage

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

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


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 shapes. 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.

Debbie Ballentine studied landscape design and horticulture with an emphasis on sustainability at Foothill College in Los Altos Hills, California. Her greatest joy is to increase the understanding of California native plants, sustainable landscape practices and wildlife gardening through her writing and photography. She writes her own Native Hearts Garden Blog, has written for the CNPS Grow Natives blog, and has a seasonal column about sustainable gardening in My Out and About Magazine.


Regional Parks Botanic Garden Plant Sale – April 19, 2014, 10 am to 3 pm

It’s the time of year to add some color to your garden.  Find it at our spring plant sale.   For perennial color we will have penstemon, yarrow, mimulus, bleeding heart, buckwheat, heuchera, and many more plants with colorful blooms.  We’ll have that huge leopard lily with blooms reaching over six feet tall. There will be lots of irises again with differing colors, many of which will be in full bloom. Of course we’ll have trilliums, some at the blooming stage. Remember, they take about seven years to get to blooming size.  Various native bulbs will be available.
For shrubs we’ll have lots of different manzanitas and ceanothus. Snowberry is good for the oak understory.  The mock orange makes a wonderful backdrop, particularly when it’s covered in white flowers.   We will also have the rare double-flowered form of mock orange.  Think about salvias if you need absolutely guaranteed deer resistance. For the well-watered spot in your garden think about twinberry (hummers love the flowers and birds love the berries) or dogwoods. The red-twigged dogwood makes a wonderful winter statement and the black-fruited dogwood provides berries that birds devour as soon as they are ripe.
We will have plants for shady areas, from redwood understory to light shade.  The heucheras will be blooming, so you can pick a nice color match for your garden.

For vines consider the Dutchman’s pipe, which provides food for the pipevine swallowtail butterfly. It was spectacular in bloom this year. The California grape provides food for the birds.  Clematis would be good for a trellis.
Savvy collectors will wander the setup on Friday before the sale to spot what’s available and where it’s located so they can zero in on their picks on Saturday.  Please bring boxes (we will have a limited supply) for your plants—and remember we have a holding area where you can stash your plants while looking for more.
We are located on Wildcat Canyon Road (between Anza View Road and South Park Drive) and will have strong volunteers to load your plants into your car after you have checked out.

Hope to see you then. It’s always a lot of fun.

Ron Clendenen

Bringing Back the
Natives Garden Tour


Sunday, May 4, 2014, 10 am–5 pm

A free, self-guided tour of 40 Alameda and Contra Costa county gardens

This delightful collection of native plant gardens ranges from Al Kyte’s 30-year-old wildlife oasis to brand new installations, from five-acre lots to small front-yard gardens, from local native plants to natives from throughout California, and from gardens designed and installed by owners to those designed and installed by professionals.



• Passes to 40 gardens
• Garden Guide that provides details on each garden
• Garden talks scheduled throughout the day

Learn how to:
• Select and care for California native plants
• Attract butterflies, birds and bees to your garden
• Garden without pesticides (and protect your children and pets!)
• Lower your water bill

California native plants are naturally adapted to local soils and climate, thrive without amendments, fertilizers, or pesticides, and offer incomparable habitat value to wildlife. Discover more about the possibilities California native plants offer at a variety of lovely gardens open on Sunday, May 4, 2014 for the Bringing Back the Natives Garden Tour

On Saturday and Sunday, May 3 and May 4, from 10:00 to 5:00, the Native Plant Sale Extravaganza will take place. During the Extravaganza a number of nurseries specializing in California natives, many not normally open to the public, will carry large quantities of hard-to-find California natives.
Registration is required. Registrants will receive a Garden Guide containing descriptions of each garden and directions. Early registration is suggested to ensure a place.

Visit to register for the tour, view photos of the gardens, read garden descriptions, download plant lists for each garden, obtain contact information for landscapers that specialize in native plant gardens, and more.



or call (510)236-9558 between 9 am and 9 pm.












Upcoming Classes

A click here will take you to a fuller description of the class as well as the class registration form
Saturday and Sunday, April 26 and 27, 10 am–2:30 pm Learning the Brodiaea Clan and Their Uses in the Garden Space Available
Saturday, May 10, 9 am–5 pm Botanizing California: The Special Habitats of the Santa Cruz Mountains Class is Full
Sunday, June 8, 10 am–1 pm Creating Hypertufa Containers Space Available
Saturday, June 21, 10:30 am–2:30 pm Butterflies for Beginners Space Available
Illustration/Photo Credits

©Debbie Ballentine

Deergrass, Idaho fescue, California buckeye tree, swirls of color, firecracker penstemon, Allen Chickering sage, cobbles and pebbles

©Barbara Eding

Goldfinches and bush poppy (Dendromecon rigida)

©David Clarke Benner


John Rusk Plants awaiting sale, western bleeding heart (Dicentra formosa), manzanita, leopard lily (Lilum pardalinum), Trillium chloropetalum, Heuchera