Friday, March 26, 2010

Plant of the Week: California Lilac

When you run into someone who says native plants all look half dead and boring, show them a Julia Phelps Ceanothus in full regalia.  Oh yeah?!  Take that!  She's gorgeous!  Plant a Ceanothus and you've extended an invitation to the native bee population.  Have a picnic anytime, guys!  Quail and other birds love the seeds and butterflies often drop in for a sip of nectar, too.  The amazing thing about Ceanothus is its versatility.  You can go for a tree-like specimen, a small shrub, even a low-growing ground cover.  And as if that weren't enough, the variegated 'Diamond Heights' ground cover will stop people in their tracks. 

Ceanothus have variable growing requirements (at least some varieties you can fudge more than others) so I'm generalizing here.  Please refer to "California Native Plants for the Garden", Las Pilitas Nursery or your trusted plant guide for more detailed info.

Sun:  Full sun to part shade.  Some varieties work great under oaks
Soil:  For the most part well-drained.  It's best to pick one that's native to your general area.  No beach-loving Ceanothus' in hardpan, please!
Plant:  Preferably before some rain.  Ceanothus don't like summer water.  No, seriously... don't do it!  If you plant before it rains, the storms will do the work for you without you having to worry about over watering.  Mulch well and you're done!
Buy it:  Ceanothus are so lovely that any nursery would be mad not to carry at least one variety!  Click on the Las Pilitas link above to get the skinny on what's out there or just ask the nice folks at the nursery.  Ignore them if they say they're short lived- they must have over-watered and made the Ceanothus angry.
Good for:  a flowery focal point, habitat garden (that includes deer sometimes, so best to keep them out of harm's way for a few years), the neglected garden, cottage gardens, anyone who has the blues

Again, these are general descriptions, so check out the particular variety before paying attention to what I'm saying!


  1. Perfect timing! When I was buying my SF Flower and Garden Show tickets...I was sucker-punched by a Julia Phelps ceanothus in full bloom at the garden center. Somehow it found its way into my truck, and is awaiting a new home in my garden, near my Ceanothus thyrsiflorus. Don't get me wrong, I like the other Ceanothus...but the color of Julia Phelps is simply stunning! BTW, our Allen's chipmunks LOVE LOVE LOVE ceanothus seeds!

  2. Hello Neighbor!

    I've recently fallen under the spell of ceanothus. We recently bought a little East Oakland bungalow, and are figuring out our garden.

  3. I bet the chipmunks are so fun to watch! I'm sure the impulse buy will fit right in- as soon as you have time to plant it, right? Or am I the only one with a backlog right now...?

    Congrats on the new house, Lisa & Robb! The blossoms smell amazing, too! I'm such a flower floozie (to steal a term from Annie's)- my favorite plant is always the one that's currently blooming!