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California Wild Lilac, or Ceanothus, in the Landscape

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Native Plants in the Landscape: A splendid spring flowering shrub from the chaparral zones is the wild lilac, or Ceanothus. They are also called blueblossoms, although flowers can be pink, white, and every blue from sky to purple. In size, varieties range from spreading groundcovers, mounding or arching shrubs, to small trees. What they share is an enthusiastic spring bloom, evergreen dark to mid-green foliage, and drought hardiness.

All ceanothus require well-drained sites, and lots of sun for good bloom. Once established, a few deep summer waterings will keep them happy. Certain varieties can naturalize in reasonably deep soil, and live for years on only our natural winter and spring rains. A few garden selections even tolerate summer water and perform well in normal garden settings. Sunset Western Garden Book gives a good list of varieties and their expected sizes.

The best practice is to match the size of the plant with the site it is expected to fill. A little early pruning to shape the shrub at the start is all that is required. While a few varieties can be pruned into a hedge, most have a tidy habit and require little assistance to stay attractive.

In a native landscape plan, good companions are the Western Redbud or Cercis occidentalis, Coffeeberry or Rhamnus californica ‘Eve Case,´ the manzanita Arctostaphylos ‘Howard McMinn,´ and deer grass Muhlenbergia rigens. A favorite very deer resistant landscape combination is the Ceanothus ‘Dark Star´ with the silvery foliage lavender ‘Fred Boutin.´

Deer Resistance: Some varieties are more deer resistant than others. Usually, the spiny ‘holly-leafed´ varieties like C. ‘Blue Jeans,´ C. gloriosus ‘Anchor Bay,´ and C. g. exaltatus ‘Emily Brown´ seem to best avoid browsing. Also, C. ‘Dark Star´ with tiny leathery dark green leaves is practically deer proof. Some of the taller varieties, like ‘Concha´ and ‘Frosty Blue,´ which may not be as deer resistant, can be grown with protection until they exceed Bambi´s reach, or under planted with a deer proof companion like Salvia clevelandii, the native fragrant sage. Again, if the plant is watered and fed through the summer, postponing its natural period of summer dormancy, it will be more attractive to wildlife. Mama Nature´s style, with no summer irrigation, results in a slower growing, tougher shrub, although it may look a bit stressed. In a home landscape, I aim at a happy medium, watering deeply and infrequently.

California Native Plant Society Fall Sale: You will find many varieties of this lovely California native at the fall CNPS plant sale, as well as advice on which variety will best meet the requirements of your site. The sale is on Saturday, October 14 from 9:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. at the WestAmerica Bank parking lot in East Sonora up Highway 108.

Garden Book: Master Gardeners of Tuolumne County are publishing a book “Sharing the Knowledge, Gardening in the Mother Lode.” A “must- have” book for every gardener in the Sierra foothills, it´s written by local Master Gardeners (a compilation of our weekly columns) and beautifully illustrated by local artist Kristie Wilde. Proceeds from this book support the Master Gardener demonstration garden focusing on “best practices” for gardening and landscaping in the foothills.

This book may be purchased prior to publication for only $15.00. After publication, November 1st 2006, the price will be $20.00. These books will make wonderful Christmas presents for all your friends and neighbors that garden in the Mother Lode.

To order a book, please send check or money order made out to Carolee James, the Book. Please include your name, address, telephone number, email address and the number of books you are ordering @ $15.00 ea. Send to: Master Gardeners of Tuolumne County, 2 South Green Street, Sonora, CA 95370. You will be notified when the books are ready for pick-up at the Master Gardener Office.

A sample of the book will be available to view at the Native Plant Sale tomorrow, Saturday, October 14th at the WestAmerica Bank parking lot from 9:00 am to 1:00 pm. Stop by the Master Gardener table to look at the book and place your order. There will also be a sample at the Master Gardener office through October. The office, open from 8:00 am to 12:00 pm, is located at 52 N. Washington Street in Sonora.

Don´t miss this opportunity to have this book packed with solid information about noteworthy native plants, and other trees, shrubs and plants that can be grown successfully in our area.

Garden demo: Ulysses Verceles will demonstrate how to build arbors and trellises from natural materials, Saturday, October 14, at 10:00 a.m. at the master gardener Cassina Demonstration Garden, 251 S. Barretta St., Sonora. Turn into the parking lot, drive through to the back, the garden is on the right. See you in the garden.

Mary Anderson, a Calaveras County Master Gardener and owner of Lost Hills Nursery, has spent the last 25 years getting to know California native plants on her 10-acre property. She propagates many native plants from the seeds of her ‘mother plants.´ As one of the original members of the Sierra Foothills Chapter of the California Native Plant Society she shares her wonderful knowledge of native plants at the twice-yearly Native Plant Sale.