Fire Station CA Native Plant Garden Update

Above, Ceanothus
The local fire station has been in the process of removing their lawn and installing a native-plant garden for a year and a half.  Last March they put in a lot of native plants on the sides and back of the property, and this March, having completed some concrete parking spaces and a dry-riverbed drainage area, they planted out the front of the property with yet more California natives.  I blogged about the project last March here. In between their March planting events, a crew removed a dying Sequoia or two, and several large Pines. 

I'll look both at what was planted last March, and what went in this year by doing a counter-clockwise circle around the property, starting at the southeast corner (~7 o'clock).

This slope along the station driveway was planted last March.  A few plants have died since then, and the rest have grown only modestly, because this winter's rainfall wasn't any better than last year.  Last March was a particularly hot one, with a heat wave bringing temperatures to 90F (32C) for four miserable days.  Not a great time to plant.   Wouldn't mulch help?  Guess it's not in the budget. 
 The station faces east.  The east (front) has a driveway for the fire engine and a new concrete parking area for visitors.  A section of concreted-in river stones was added at the edge--perhaps to discourage parking there.  I don't quite see the reason's somewhat...odd. 
 They had a few stones left over which are sitting, lonely, among new plants and the unmulched soil.  
 Freshly planted selection of CA natives...Artemesia...
 Baccharis (Been there, done that, yecch). 
Melampodium leucanthum,  Blackfoot daisy
 A pair of naive Oaks,  not sure which species, but they will be fabulous, far superior to the pines.
 Several different Arctostaphylos
 New growth, cool!
Moving north to the northeast corner of the property (4 o'clock).  Directly in front of the building was a sidewalk parallel to the building's front wall.  Most of the sidewalk has been replaced by a dry riverbed for draining storm water, a feature that will be helpful if we ever get any substantial rain storms.  Maybe next year...

Several Ceanothus are planted as foundation shrubs, not too close to the building for fire safety, but a good idea from a gardener's perspective: room for the Ceanothus to grow as they please.  A mass of 'Iceberg' roses between the fire engine garage and the building's front door, a remnant of the old landscape, remains.  As I remember,  some locals planted roses at the station shortly after 9/11.  We were all so nice to each other right after 9/11.  Remember?
A large Liquidambar (3 o'clock) is the sole surviving healthy tree, its surface roots exposed.  Spray irrigation was run on the surface of the soil.  
 Oh please oh please MULCH
From the front of the building back, the plants were put in last March.  Some (Iris, Dudleya) have vanished.  The survivors have grown, a couple of the Ceanothus having done very well--they are blooming with their gorgeous blue flowers, attracting bees and plant-loving eyes.  Ooooooh!  Blooo-ooh!

 There's also Jojoba...
 ...more Arctostaphylos, with new growth...
Groundcover Artostaphylos, perhaps?
 This is the lone surviving Dudleya.  Poor baby.  It's been stepped on.
On the west side of the property, (2 o'clock) behind and to the west of the building along the road, is an area which formerly had several large trees.  The trees began to die from drought and were removed.  This area was also planted last March, so there's been some growth.  Two Quercus agrifolia (Coast Live Oak) and more assorted natives...
 Not everything survived.  Kaput!
 Mahonia 'Golden Abundance' is doing pretty well.
 The back of the property (west side, 1 o'clock to 10 o'clock) hosts fireman parking, a drainage culvert, a lone Opuntia that was there last year, some dead plants that didn't survive being planted last march, and a row of six Erigonums that did suvive and grow.  There are more Mahonia on the far side of the culvert, along with several Rhus.

 Nice!  Another Oak?
 Happy Rhus planted last year
 I didn't see the red-circled creature when I took the photo--a baby Preying Mantis on Mahonia. Sweet!
There's a local hiking trail directly behind the fire station property proper, so I walked along that trail to the southwest corner of the property.  This young native Oak is to the south of the fireman parking area, and will eventually provide nice shade (and quite a bit of leaf litter) for the vehicles.  The oak predates the native plant project by several years.  The red arrow indicates a Rhus integrifolia, looking thirsty. 
 Toyon (Heteromeles arbutifolia) is native to this very area--seedlings come up in my garden.  This one was planted as part of the project, however.   

 Ahh...another bloooh-tiful blooo-ooh-tiful Ceanothus. 
 Sigh.  The flowers really are that incredible shade of blue. 
Standing (8 o'clock) and looking northwards,  the lone surviving Liquidambar tree on the far north of the fire station is looking healthy,  though the Sequoia to its left is nearly dead.  A large limbed-up Pinus pinea lives on this side of the building, at right. 
   Now just about back where I started at the southeast corner of the property (7 o'clock), a remnant of original 1960's landscaping, juniper hedge.  
 This slog of a post well-illustrates the problem convincing gardeners to go CA native--your garden is going to look like nothing much for several years.  You could alleviate the wait by tossing around some native CA wildflower seeds when the rains begin in November...and mulching...hint, hint.

Update:  A thought I wanted to add:  this project is an example to the community of a climate-appropriate landscape.  As an example, shouldn't it look as good as possible?  If you want to encourage water saving and fire-safe-ing,  make it pretty!  In other words, mulch and wildflower seeds...


  1. Ah, I remember this one. I'm experiencing some very finicky, second-hand stress right now about the mulch situation, same as you. But nothing looks over-watered! Ceanothus (flower-wise) and arctostaphylos (tender new foliage-wise) are always great indicators of poor culture that way (reason why most of mine, barring the most garden-tolerant of cultivars, are dead as dodos after the first four or five years). Thank you for updating us!

    1. Glad you found it of interest. Helpful of you to point out the condition of new foliage is an indicator of bad or good culture, thanks!

      A post with a serious lack of eye-candy I hope was somewhat remedied by the astounding blue of the Ceanothus flowers.

    2. Yours is one of the few where the text and photos are always of equal interest. Congratulations on your Ray Hartman and Austin Griffiths, by the way!

  2. Is it me or did they under-plant? (Meaning that there should be more plants in there -- so much space!)

    1. No, that's one thing that can surprise about CA natives--many of the shrubs there will get at least the size of a large SUV. Looking at how it is planted, it appears eventually it will look pretty full, with just enough space between shrubs for maintenance.

  3. While overall it's not the best example for inspiring native gardens that Ceanothus is just gorgeous and should at least invite some inquiries. Drought tolerant "once established"! That last part seems to get lost when planting new watersaving gardens. My community has been at this waterwise gardening effort for over 20 years and I still hear the same objections to ripping out lawn. Most often people think it's more work. They can pay someone to mow but there are few crews that can maintain a native plant garden as this example clearly shows.

    1. Very true--there have been constant reminders here at garden centers and in newspapers about "If you've planted a xeric landscape, remember you still have to water the first year or two." At least that bit of education here has been widely circulated.

      I think and hope that people will get it about non-lawn maintenance and that the mow-blow people will become educated about maintenance of plants other than grass. They can have their guy come out two or four times a year, or monthly instead of every week. It's not so much more maintenance as that the maintenance has to be more skilled.

      Non-gardeners here are starting to say, "Hey, I'm saving money not having a lawn!" That is a huge motivator.

  4. The Ceanothus look great! I wonder which variety they used? The flowers are a much deeper blue than that of of the noID Ceanothus I inherited. The property definitely needs some mulch.

    Fingers are crossed for a good soak! The skies here are auspiciously gloomy.

    1. Maybe 'Concha' and 'Ray Hartman'?

      Raining here, light and steady, at 1pm. YEEEEEEEEEE HAAAAAAAAAAAWWWWWWW! Let's hope for a soak!

  5. It's mystifying to ponder why anyone would plant a Sequoia in OC. I mean maybe about 10ft from the ocean ? I wish them the best , but I think they need professional help--probably not in the budget. At least they are trying !

    1. This neighborhood is a tree disaster, a textbook case of What Trees Not To Plant: in a fire-prone area--fire-prone palms, pines, eucalyptus, "California" pepper; in an area of high winds--weak wooded, heavy-branched Erythrinas, Auraucarias and Grevellia robusta; in an area adjacent to wildlands--prolifically reseeding aliens, those palms, Eucs, and peppers again; next to streets, foundations, and driveways--surface rooted Ficus. If it was cheap or a free seedling, it got to stay. Ironic that "cheap" or "free" seedlings cost a fortune to have trimmed.

      As such, the dozens of Sequoias planted in the late 1970's (there was a Sequoia thing back then, no?), barely rate a mention as a disaster, especially since they've nearly all died by now from the drought. I'm not sure I must add the qualifier "nearly"--I think they've all died, or are close to it.

      Okay, rant over--you sure hit a nerve there!

  6. We got rain too! Not very much yet though. And I want to give this fire station credit... At least they're not replacing their lawn every year like the fire station in neighborhood is doing! I hope they get the mulching hint...

    1. I think we got 0.03" at most, but the overcast and cool temperatures mean I can shut off the irrigation system for a week--a bit more rain forecast Saturday night and another chance on's something.

      Absolutely, I think the fire station is doing great--if the plants can survive and establish, in a few years they'll have something interesting there.

  7. Any chance a few neighborhood gardeners might take up a collection to get mulch for the site, and seeds for the winter? I love Toyon, and am blown away by the western Ceanothus.

    1. I've been on the lookout for a fireman to talk to about their project. They hike through the neighborhood with heavy backpacks (strength and endurance training) quite often. Haven't managed to get one yet.

  8. Thanks for posting an update. I am glad the spirit is still there, if not the total execution. You will have to return again in 2017.

    1. I will, if only to see those incredible blue Ceanothus flowers!


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