Let’s talk about CA Native Tree Selection for a Garden (Danville CA)

This project is a lawn replacement in Danville CA. This neighborhood was affected by the January 2023 floods, so we made design choices to help the property be resilient against atmospheric rivers in the future. We established drainage pits, installed kickboards on fencing, graded soil that had been above pool-level, and created berms and swales in the open areas of the front yard.

Plus, we are driven by year-round functional and aesthetic goals — a welcoming, low-maintenance landscape with privacy. The trees should be beautiful and attract nature, but not so big as to cause root damage or future overgrowth issues!

We’re extending the hardscape, with a walkway that runs from the street to the front entry. There are 3 steps with steplights, matching the existing pavers.

In the sideview above, notice the privacy with the berm and the trees, but omitting the “hedge” barrier of old-school lawn-based landscapes. The homeowner chose to use pebble as a groundcover after seeing the mulch in the neighborhood wash down the street in the January flooding.

In the backyard, we’ve taken out a long-forgotten pond, graded down dirt that was piled up above pool level, and created a drainage area, adding CA Native plants.

The planting plan (see 3 images ) is rich with color, texture, drought-resistant CA native plants (and hybrids/cultivars as appropriate) that will draw in and care for our pollinators.

So… let’s talk about HOW we select CA native trees for where we live!

First, I suggest trees that I know will grow well and provide the desired garden and landscape impact for the client. Then the client approves the selection.

Here’s the exciting part. I personally go to the nursery and CHOOSE each of the trees and large shrubs, as well as many of the smaller color or scent plants, for EVERY installation.

I work with my rep at Devil Mountain Nursery to verify the best inventory. She can check the entire state of California and sometimes Oregon to source plants for our clients.

I walk the nursery. I usually go early in the morning, by myself, and I study the plants.

I look for the plants that are the best representative of their species. I think about what they look like in the wild as well as what they’re being bred to do in garden spaces. I think about each specific homeowner’s design.

  • Does the design call for taller trees? shorter?
  • Is the space wide enough for a sweeping trunk with wide branches? Or do we need something slim?

At the nursery, I observe the plants — with my eyes, with my hands, with my nose.

  • What is the structure of the trunk?
  • How will the branches grow?
  • What condition are the leaves in?
  • Has there been recent damage due to weather? Heat stress? Storm damage?

Sometimes, even with a good selection, I will think that none of the plants suit our specific landscape. Then we adjust and substitute. Because it’s really important to me that the plants are the very best available.

Or I will find a GREAT plant that wasn’t on our plans. This actually happens pretty often. I find something beautiful and just HAVE to have it for a client.

Dormant plants, like you see here (no leaves) are not usually a WOW when first planted. However, this is a GREAT time for the plant to get established in a new yard. The dormancy season is when the plant is working on its root development.

So it’s important to select dormant plants by the shape of the branches. One only has to imagine how they will fill out with color blooms and then leaves. Does the structure promise health of the plant and a nice amount of fullness for the viewer?

  • Are we using these as trees for shade?
  • Are we using them to create privacy?
  • Are they “foundation plants” that will anchor shrubs and/or flowers?

If you’re thinking it’s time for something fresh, alive, pollinating, and joyful in your landscape, give us a call. We would love to help.