Malibu Garden Column

The Mahonia nevinii is filled with red berries through the summer.

Borrowing ideas from local mountains for Malibu gardens

One of the greatest joys of living in Malibu is hiking in the coastal mountains. New trails enable anyone to park and hike at locations such as near Malibu Seafood across from Corral Beach. Hiking among the fragrant native sages, under sycamores and live oak trees, helps the gardener realize that nature has provided Malibu with a unique landscape plan. Home gardeners can take inspiration back to their gardens from the hillside environs.

While fall is considered the best time to plant natives, it’s sometimes a challenge to find good plants that are not root bound to add to the native garden. Research into varieties is important and checking out local nurseries, as well as those listed at the end of this article that specialize in native plants, is worth the effort.

When planting young natives, remember that the immature plant needs more attention than it will when it’s mature. Prepare soil by checking the drainage. Most native plants will do best in soil with good drainage. Incorporating organic material into alkaline soil is generally recommended for growth of young plants. California soils vary from sandy loam to clay and adobe. The clay soils retain water and have poor drainage and aeration. Addition of organic materials and gypsum can help the survival of young natives. Once established, natives in the personal garden need some pruning after flowering.

A recent visit to the Rancho Santa Ana Botanic Gardens in Claremont found the Mahonia nevinii filled with red berries. This shrub will grow four to 12 feet high and up to 12-feet wide. The display of yellow flowers from March through May is followed by the wildlife-attracting red berries in summer. Also known as Nevin’s Barberry, this endangered species will grow in poor soil and on sunny, dry slopes. It can be planted nicely with ceanothus, penstemon, yucca, coyote bush and Matilija poppies.

Salvias: This large family includes more than 750 species of annual and perennial sages. Known for their aromatic leaves, colorful flowers and grey or green foliage, sages have adapted to arid Mediterranean climates. The salvia Allen Chickering has fragrant grey-green foliage and blue-purple flowers. It will grow to three feet to four feet tall and wide in a mound shape. Red flowers adorn the salvia greggii while the alba variety has white blossoms.

California Fuchsia: These annuals and perennials are native to California, Arizona and New Mexico, and have bright red tubular flowers from summer through fall. They are well adapted to coastal and inland gardens. Hybrid varieties have pink or white flowers. The plants are classified in the genus zauschneria or epilobium.

Coastal Garden Recommendations: Ceanothus, California lilac, the ceanothus papillosus var. roweanus x impressus concha grows well in coastal Southern California gardens giving a bright blue almost solid background of flower clusters in spring. This can be complemented with yellow daisies of sea dahlia (coreopsis maritima) and orange California poppies (eschoscholzia californica). Some native iris will bloom at the coast. Sages that do well in coastal areas include the Cleveland sage, salvia clevelandii and purple sage (s. leucophylla). Flowers from these sages are bright blue and purple and the foliage is fragrant. Coyote bush, (Baccharis pilularis) grows well in coastal environments and once established will provide ground cover needed very little water or attention.

Where to Find the Native Plants and Information:

€ Visit the Rancho Santa Ana Botanic Garden, 1550 North College, Claremont, (909.625.8767). Members of this organization receive notices of its many educational courses, garden tours and plant sales. Web site:

€ Theodore Payne Foundation for Wildflowers and Native Plants, Inc., 10459 Tuxford Street, Sun Valley, (818.768.1802). This foundation also offers membership and newsletters about classes, plant sales and upcoming events. Its newsletters and Web site,, are informative about new plants and cultivars.

€ Tree of Life Nursery in San Juan Capistrano is a wholesale native plant nursery, which is open to the public on Thursdays and Fridays from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. 33201 Ortega Hwy, San Juan Capistrano (949.728.0685); Website:

Book Recommendation: Bob Perry’s “Landscape Plants for the Western Region.” This resource gives detailed information on western native plants.