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Plants That Don't Demand Much of Anything


Native plants, perfectly suited to our climate, thrive in Orange County gardens.

The following, drought-tolerant and undemanding, require little more than admiration:

* Beach sagewort (Artemisia pycnocephala): This shrubby perennial is native to the beaches of Northern California. It is low- growing, spreading to about 4 feet with 18-inch flower spikes that have insignificant light cream or yellow flowers in spring. The soft, silvery gray foliage stays fresh-looking throughout summer. Requires sun or partial shade.

* Blue-eyed grass (Sisyrinchium bellum): This ornamental grass is native to the coast of California; narrow green or bluish green leaves and purple-blue star-like flowers in spring; requires part shade inland and full sun on the coast; grows 4 inches to 16 inches tall.

* California fuchsia (Epilobium californica): Hardier and much easier to grow than most fuchsias; has small fuchsia-like flowers that attract hummingbirds in spring and summer; comes in white and shades of red; the cultivar 'Catalina' has lipstick orange blossoms; grows 4-feet wide by 2- to 4-feet tall and thrives in a variety of conditions, including part sun or shade.

* California poppy (Eschscholzia californica): Our state flower is a perennial that is usually grown as an annual; has gray foliage and single orange flowers with satiny petals in spring that close at night and on overcast days; best grown by broadcasting seed in a sunny part of the garden; reseeds readily; the foliage and blossoms are edible, and the seeds can be made into a paste, patted into cakes and baked.

* Clematis ligusticifolia: Slightly fragrant flowers in spring and summer; seed heads are striking and reflect the sun; does well in shade and part sun; roots must stay cool; grows 20 feet or more.

* Coyote mint (Monardella odoratissima): This fragrant perennial herb has a strong minty smell; small, smooth green leaves that were used by the California Native Americans to make a thirst-quenching tea that was also used to cure colds, fevers and colic; likes full sun and grows 2 feet tall and 2 feet wide.

* Deer grass (Muhlenbergia rigens): This ornamental forms dense, tight clumps of narrow bright green leaves that can grow to 3 feet tall or more; was used by the California Native Americans to make baskets; likes full sun or part shade.

* Douglas iris (Iris douglasiana): This easy-to-grow iris has lavender blooms in spring; isn't picky about growing conditions, blooming in sun or filtered light; can reach 1 to 2 feet tall.

* Elderberry (Sambucus mexicana): California Native Americans called this the "music tree" because its branches could be easily hollowed out and made into flutes and whistles; has small white or creamy white flowers in the spring, summer and early fall, followed by clusters of blue to nearly black powdery berries that are edible and are often used to make jams, pies, juice and wine; blossoms can be stir-fried and eaten, and the leaves can be boiled for tea; grows as a large shrub or tree that can reach 50 feet.

* Fuchsia-flowering gooseberry: Hummingbirds seek out this shrub that has dark crimson flowers on prickly stems; blooms January through May; berries are gummy; requires a little summer water so that it doesn't lose leaves; sun on coast, light shade inland; grows 3 to 6 feet tall.

* Manzanita 'Howard McMinn' (Arctostaphylos densiflora): This shrub grows in a 5- to 6-foot mound that has many whitish pink flowers that bloom in late winter and early spring; good accent plant with attractive red bark; likes full sun.

* Matilija poppy (Romneya coulteri): Although this plant can be invasive because it spreads by underground rhizomes, it can be controlled by planting in containers, which are inserted underground; called the "fried egg plant" because it has large white flowers up to 9 inches wide with petals the consistency of crepe paper and a round mass of golden stamens; blooms May through July and on into fall if watered; flowers are very fragrant; plant in full sun.

* Mexican bush sage (Salvia leucantha): This shrub can be planted in the summer months; blooms in late summer and fall and at times in spring with tall velvety purple flower spikes covered with white flowers; attracts hummingbirds; requires sun or light shade; grows 3 to 4 feet tall and when in bloom makes a dramatic, 6- to 7-foot statement.

* Mexican fan palm (Washingtonia robusta): California Native Americans used this palm as roof thatching, and they ate the clusters of sugary, edible flesh; requires full sun; can grow to 100 feet.

* Monkey flower (Mimulus cardinalis): This perennial blooms in the spring and summer with funnel-shaped flowers that have two lips and are thought to resemble a grinning monkey face; there are several varieties, including cardinalis, which has a scarlet flower; grow 1 to 4 feet tall.

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