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Arroyo Seco Foundation

News of the Arroyo


Go into your local garden store and ask: ‘Where are the native plants?'





<b>June 25, 2016</b> - Steve Scauzillo sings the praises of native plants and laments how hard they are to find at local nurseries and home improvement stores.


Steve Scauzillo


San Gabriel Valley Tribune


“Hon, can you water the bougainvillea?” asked my wife, Karen.


I opened the shower door and pulled out the blue bucket. It was half-full with water collected while waiting for the shower to get hot.

Like Jack in the nursery rhyme, I fetched the pail of water and climbed up to the terrace of our three-level condo and shared the precious resource on the drought-tolerant, heat-loving, red bougainvillea.

It’s year five of the drought and I’m reminded of it everyday. Watering our terrace plants with re-captured water. Leaving a rain barrel out during storms. Attaching low-flow nozzles to the faucets in the bathrooms and kitchen.

Credit the media with an onslaught of stories about lowered precipitation levels. Also credit goes to the State Water Resources Control Board for their active conservation plans. But turn on the TV and you’ll see shiny green lawn commercials and guys fighting over which herbicide to use or who’s got a bigger mower?

Get this product for your lawn and you’ll be a man. Puhleease. Can we grow up?

I walked into an Orchard Supply Hardware here, in drought-aware Southern California, and was hit with displays of colorful plants that require lots of water. Hanging pots of petunias, etc. Way in the back was a bougainvillea that my wife and I wanted as a dry-weather, sun-tolerant species. These were hard to find. The store had very, very few displays of native plants. If they did, they were off to the side. Pushed to the back.

Judging from the TV commercials and the displays in the commercial home improvement stores, you’d never know we were in the thick of a drought. You would not know that California, and many other parts of the West, are struggling to move enough water for fish, trees and people. Or that heat records keep on breaking.

I’m thinking something has to change.

The drought-tolerant plants need to fight for the eye-level display shelves. Tags saying “native Southern California plant” need to be front and center at all garden and home improvement stores. But sadly, they aren’t.

One pleasant exception was Armstrong Nurseries. They’re actually holding classes on growing plants that need less water. Here are just a few offered at all their stores next month:

• Saturday, July 9 at 9 a.m. “Water-wise Plants for California Gardens.” Armstrong Garden Centers plant experts will display and discuss the best low-water plants for California’s diverse climate. There are many colorful choices available to plant.

• Saturday, July 23 at 9 a.m. “Growing Cacti & Succulents.” Easy-care succulents and cacti love the heat and are water-wise.

It’s great that some stores truly get it. They are training customers how to switch to the new drier, hotter Southern California environment. The new normal. They are truly teaching people how to have a green thumb.

What is so astounding is the lip service other home improvement stores give to native plants. There are boatloads of colorful, flowering native flora in the Southern California landscape. Surely plant companies can grow these and put them in pots and sell them?

Take a hike along the newly opened Fish Canyon Trail. Nowhere have I seen a more dazzling display of native plants. The phacelia varieties are many, as are the thistle (lavender is my favorite), the monkey flower and the different hues of lemonadeberry and gooseberry.

You like yellow? It’s my favorite color. Plant tall sunflowers that swing in the breeze like a dancer in slow motion. Or everyone’s favorite yellow, the Matilija poppy, which someone described to me as a plant with a fried egg on top.

Don’t forget fiery reds and pulsating purples. I’m talking about lupines and scarlet larkspur that dominate the canyon through July. Sell those. Buy those for your home landscaping or terrace plants.

My dream is to walk into a garden store and see these magnificent painted ladies on the eye-level shelves. They’re tried and tested in nature’s backyard. One that’s hotter and drier every year.

Follow Steve Scauzillo on Twitter @stevscaz/ or email him at




Arroyo Seco Foundation, PO Box 91622, Pasadena, CA 91109-1622 (323) 405-7326