Ribes sanguineum - native west coast shrub in spring bloom

Introducing Native plants to the landscape is a trend that is becoming more popular as awareness of climate change and natural ecosystem preservation increases.  As a firm dedicated to the best in design in California and beyond, we are increasingly using the plants native to the areas in which we design.  Different locales have an amazing diversity of plants that grow naturally, and making use of these species creates landscapes that are uniquely beautiful as well as more sustainable for the future of our planet.


California Native Calamagrostis foliosa in a low-water landscape

California Native Calamagrostis foliosa is a J.Montgomery favorite

Wherever you are in the world, the use of plants native to your region can transform your landscape experience.  However, you have to make sure that the plants you are getting really are native to your area!  While many nurseries specialize in Native plants or at least have a section for them, each of these plants may have drastically different needs.  For example, a plant that is native along streambanks will naturally expect more water.  Trying to plant it in a low-water garden will often result in failure.  A plant native to the mountains, where it receives cold temperatures and snow, will often fail without a real “winter.”  Plants know nothing of state or country borders – they’ll grow where conditions are right, and nowhere else!  So keep in mind – “Native” may not always mean what it seems.


Calscape website - CNPS

In California, the California Native Plant Society’s introduction of the Calscape program has revolutionized the way we think of Native landscaping.  Based on endless research by U.C. Berkeley and the Jepson Flora Project of the different ecosystems within the state, Calscape provides information on the plants specifically native to an area.  Every place has its microclimates, and since plants native to one area won’t thrive in another without special care, this level of detail allows us to understand what plants to use, and what they will need.

The Calscape goal is simple:  “to help Californians restore nature and save water one garden at a time. We do this by showing people which plants are really native to any location in the state, helping them figure out which ones they want, and where to buy them and how to grow them.”  California native plants “are easier to grow, healthier and require little or no artificial irrigation when they are planted in an area in which they evolved and naturally belong.” – Calscape.

Calscape data for Alamo California

When using the site, it’s best to enter the most specific information possible – your city or town (if it’s a large city or a remote area, perhaps your zip code or GPS coordinates) to get as close as possible to the microclimate of your area.  Here, we have entered the location of our office in Alamo.  Once we do so, the 8,000 plants available narrows down to 800.  That’s still a lot to explore and choose from, but we’ve just been saved from trying to plant a lot of ‘California Native’ plants that wouldn’t have been happy here.

There is so much information available here that it’s hard to know where to look.  If you live in California and like this sort of thing, we really suggest checking it out.  Plus, most entries contain information about where you may be able to buy these plants.


California Native Carex pansa

California Native Carex pansa has a lush effect and makes a gorgeous border

When it comes to designing with Native plants, as with plants of any kind, there are many factors to keep in mind. Grouping plants based on similar needs (sun or shade, water use, etc.) is good to keep in mind for a successful garden. Seasonality, or the way the plant changes according to the seasons, may also be a factor. Using evergreens and deciduous plants to create effects, as well as plants that attract different kinds of wildlife, keeps the landscape exciting year-round. Even when grouped with non-native species, Native plants provide natural forage for pollinators and birds, help to stabilize native soils, and offer gorgeous and unique results in the landscape. Wherever you live, take the time to learn about the plants native to your area, and try a few out in the right spots in your landscape. We think you’ll be glad you did.

J. Montgomery Designs creates landscapes of all styles in all of the areas in which we work, throughout California and far beyond! This year we will feature more of our landscapes from different regions (including different countries!) Stay tuned.

Say Hello

Let’s Talk Possibilites