Rich History and Old-Stock Mission Vines in Our Backyard
Located on 86 acres of the former Milpitas unit of the Hearst Ranch, the Mission San Antonio de Padua features a large church, a museum, and a gift shop. In 2020, as part of the Mission’s ongoing restoration project, we joined the team to complete a renovation of the Mission’s courtyard garden. Working together with Joan Steele, administrator, we were able to create a beautiful garden designed to showcase the many native plants used by the Salinan Tribe. Although the garden is new, these grounds are rich in history (this year marks its 250th anniversary!), and we asked Joan to highlight one of the few original features remaining in the courtyard garden: its original grape stock.
Heritage grape stock cutting purchased through the Mission San Antonio gift shop.
“The cuttings would have been brought either from Mallorca, Spain, in the 1700s and/or from the area around what is now Mexico City,” explains Joan.
The Franciscans knew they would need to plant a vineyard in the New World to have wine for daily Mass. Following construction of the first irrigation system (aqueduct) in California, the Franciscans and the Native Salinan Tribal Members planted the first vineyard on the Central Coast.
They built an adobe wall around the vineyard to keep the animals out and built a house for the “vineyardist” within the vineyard. As the vines flourished, the Franciscans built two large wine vats and a wine cellar (one of the vats and the wine cellar are still visible today as part of the Mission museum). By 1841 there were 4,000 vines in the vineyard.
The Mexican government secularized the Mission in 1834. It was temporarily abandoned in 1844 and the vineyard continued to decline. Prior to his death in 1882, it is believed Fr. Dorothea Ambris moved some of the vines from the declining vineyard and replanted them inside the Mission courtyard and out in front of the Mission to better care for them.
Joan shares that in 2011 the Mission sent samples of these vines to UC Davis for DNA testing. It was discovered that the grapes are “Mission” grapes – also known as Criolla Chica in South America and Pais in France. While this varietal is no longer available in Spain, this type of grape stock is still used widely in Central and South America to produce the local table wines.
“We are very proud of our historic vines, still producing wonderful annual harvests,” Joan notes. “It is one of our long-range goals to reestablish the vineyard at the Mission, using cuttings from the original vines. We hope to engage the cooperation of local university students to rebuild the adobe walls around the vineyard and grow the historic vines for many years to come.”
Currently, the Mission has some cuttings available through the gift shop when it is open on the weekends. Visit www.missionsanantonio.net to keep abreast of the changing schedule due to COVID restrictions and staffing requirements.
With Spring officially upon us, many people are ready for planting in their gardens. Time to go outside with some of the pent-up energy we’ve been harboring and take it out on the dirt. The rewards can be beautiful!
While in many parts of California our gardens can have blooming plants virtually year-round, springtime is, of course, always particularly associated with floral displays in our gardens. This holds true with the surrounding wild landscapes too, and at Madrone Landscapes, we routinely sing the praises of our California native flora.
Other regions across the world share similarities with our California climates. They are known as Mediterranean-type ecosystems or “MTEs.” MTEs, with their characteristic climatic regimes of mild wet winters and warm and dry summers, they occur in just five regions of the world: California; Central Chile; the Mediterranean Basin; the Cape Region of South Africa; and Southwestern and South Australia. There are abundant examples of plants suitable for our Central Coast gardens that are native to these other regions. Let’s consider Five of these plants that may not be that well-known but might be great for your garden:
Starting close to home, there is the often-overlooked California Native Cornus sericea (Cornus stolonifèra), or Creek Dogwood. It is a deciduous shrub also known as Redtwig for its distinctive red stems, keeping it interesting through the winter. Creek Dogwoods can grow 8–12’ high and wide, and have clusters of creamy white flowers, spring to summer. The form is open, and leaves are 1.5–2.5 inches long and light green—brilliant red in fall. It is hardy to well below freezing and prefers partial shade. Branches will root if allowed to touch ground, and roots will spread. Redtwigs love moisture, are fire-resistive, and require medium irrigation in the dry months.
Mediterranean Basin, Europe
When one thinks of aromatic leaves, used in cooking, Laurus nobilis, or Sweet Bay, is often the first to come up. Also called Bay Laurel or Grecian Laurel, this small tree is also a versatile evergreen tree for Central Coast landscapes. Growing 20–30 ft. tall to 20 ft. wide, Sweet Bays produce small yellow flowers in Spring, followed by deep purple berries. Best known for their fragrance, they are deer-resistant, fire resistive, and attract birds. Preferring fertile, well-drained soils, they are low water users once established. The variety “Saratoga” is best for use as a tree, but the species can also be used as a background or for screen shrubs.
South Africa Aloe striata, or Coral Aloe, is one of many aloes native to South Africa. This beautiful succulent has found home in many a garden in the milder micro-climates (hardy to 25 degrees Fahrenheit) of North San Luis Obispo County, and throughout the Coastal climates. It grows to be a 2 ft. wide rosette with broad, pale green, nearly toothless, flat leaves. The brilliant coral-pink-to-orange flowers occur in spring on branched clusters up to 3 ft. tall. Plant in full sun in well-drained soil. Coral Aloes are fire- and deer-resistive, require minimal water, and attract hummingbirds.
Known for its graceful, weeping form and light green, evergreen foliage, Maytenus boaria, or Maytens Tree, is a unique and small specimen tree for much of the Central Coast. Hardy to 20 degrees Fahrenheit, the Mayten Tree grows to over 30 ft. and has long, pendulous branchlets hanging down from its branches. The tiny spring flowers are pretty inconspicuous, and the leaves are 1–2 inches long. They are fire- and deer-resistive and want full sun and ample summer water. They tend to branch on the side and may need guidance through pruning. Suckers are discouraged through deep watering, and Maytens Trees can produce beautiful lighting effects in the landscape.
People native to Australia have have made good use of Grevilleas since time immemorial. With over 350 species of Grevilleas—from virtually flat ground covers to soaring trees—their uses range from building furniture to making drinks from the nectar. One favorite landscape plant is Grevillea “Canberra Gem,” also known as Spider Flower. This shrub has a graceful, open form from about 8 ft. tall to 12 ft. wide. The bright green leaves are needlelike and prickly, making for a good barrier plant. Flowers are red clusters from early spring and intermittently at other times. Not only deer-resistive, this and other Grevilleas attract butterflies and birds with their nectar and seeds. Canberra Gem grows in a variety of soils from clay to sandy loam and is quite rough tolerant, preferring occasional deep soakings and good drainage. Hardy to about 20 degrees Fahrenheit.
Colorful natives to brighten up landscape design for the Central Coast
Madrone began over 40 years ago with the idea that a company dedicated to sustainability and the use of California native plants could be a great combination — beautifying human habitats while serving to “heal the scars” of development. The garden and landscape performance benefits of this approach prove their merit.
Over the decades, the functional benefits of native plants have become universally recognized and honored. They also remind us of our locale’s singular natural beauty and why we need to protect our region from biological decline.
We’ve gathered five of our favorite California native accent plants that don’t require a lot of care, such as water and fertilizer. These colorful beauties can also be incorporated into many different garden settings throughout the Central Coast. They are especially useful in the small, forgotten spaces in the landscape.
Erigeron glaucus, Seaside Daisy
This low, evergreen perennial thrives in borders and nooks, full sun for Coastal gardens and partial shade inland. Native from Santa Barbara north to Oregon. The long bloom season, Spring through summer, can be extended by “deadhead” pruning, which fortunately does not require wearing tie-dye clothes. There are several varieties available, including ‘Wayne Roderick’ (or WR) and ‘Cape Sebastian’. They form thick mats, 6-10 inches high, spreading 2-3 ft., and can take frost and high temperatures well over 100 degrees F.
Pacific Coast Hybrid Iris
Walking in a redwood grove or a coastal mixed evergreen forest, one can occasionally happen on a Pacific Coast iris popping up through the low understory. Best grown in partial shade unless close to the Coast, these exquisite, delicate-looking, springtime bloomers are frost-hardy and relatively drought tolerant. They make excellent informal borders or accents among other shady perennials or in rock gardens.
Heuchera species, Coral Bells
When rock gardens come to mind, it is hard to beat coral bells. We love the way their bright-colored flower stalks rise above the evergreen foliage! The native species often are found in the nooks and crevices among stone outcroppings from San Luis Obispo County north through Coastal Washington. The flowers range from white through many shades of pinks and reds, making great combinations with other small perennials, shrubs, and grasses.
Dudleya brittonii, Britton Dudleya
A succulent originating on the bluffs of coastal Baja California, Britton dudleya is a beautiful accent plant that forms a single, low, chalky gray-white rosette to 12-14″ diameter, and in well-drained soil, thrives on neglect. Its flower stalks rise 2 feet or more, turning red with pale yellow flowers. It loves full sun on the Coast and some shade and protection from the frost inland. Britton dudleya is very popular and makes a striking complementary statement to many California gardens.
Ceanothus glorious ‘Anchor Bay’ and Ceanothus ‘Centennial’
A garden needing larger plants to act as ground covers might include these two low-spreading shrubs for fast establishment and beautiful blue spring flowers. Centennial is very low, 8-12″ high, spreading to 6 feet or more. ‘Anchor Bay’ is taller, up to 3 feet in height, and spreading 6 feet. ‘Anchor Bay’ is one of the most widely used ground cover species of Ceanothus, performing best in full sun on the coast and in partial shade inland. ‘Centennial’ also prefers some shade inland and both require well-draining soil.
From Santa Maria to San Luis Obispo to Paso Robles and beyond, these drought-tolerant natives will liven up your outdoor sanctuary, with minimal upkeep.
It’s that time of year again: Summer! The sun can do a lot of good for your plants in your landscape, but not everything can handle the heatwave blaze. Here are 8 back-bone plants to rely on when the temps are high and the air is dry.
Agave ovatifolia (shown above) is family to the famed Century Plant which is prized for its durability and form. This variety, known as Whale’s Tongue Agave, stays much more compact, and has attractive blue/gray foliage with small teeth along the margins of each succulent leaf. A single, dramatic flower spike blooms at maturity. It is a sun-loving, drought-tolerant succulent that will add sculptural interest to any summer display.
Another California Native and reliable performer is Ceanothus. Known by many as California Lilac, Ceanouthus griseus horizontalis ‘Yankee Point’ is a specific groundcover variety that will tenaciously fill empty space in your landscape. Great for erosion control, this winter bloomer adds year-round interest with its small blue flower clusters. A main attraction for pollinators, this plant will not only tolerate drought and heat, but will help stabilize ecosystems.
Chondropetalumtectorum is a South African native reed grass which not only adds a sleek texture to your landscape but can endure almost any challenge that the Central Coast presents. This plant will take on searing heat, cold down to 20 degrees, and is one of the closest we’ve found to the ‘no maintenance’ dream. This one is bombproof and beautiful.
Kniphofia, also known as Red Hot Poker plant, is a striking option for foreground plantings, containers, and against walls. Its attractive blade-shaped leaves offer a clean texture during winter months, while the spring and summer blooms have a striking ombre color effect. Also native to Mediterranean South Africa, Kniphofia has an exotic look that maintains its beauty even in the blaring summer heat.
Our California native deer grass, Muhlenbergia rigens, is a drought-tolerant champion of the landscape. Attractive seed heads in the Spring give this larger grass an endearing tousled look which works in almost any setting, as a background, accent, or mass. Up to 5’ tall and wide, this grass stands out with its substantial size and will pull through despite the hottest California summer.
Jerusalem Sage, or Phlomisfruticosa, is a unique plant that offers many sought-after characteristics. This plant has the size and form of a sage, but the peach-fuzz foliage is true green in contrast to the silver of our native Sage varieties. Bright yellow flower whorls are non-toxic and stand out in the garden. Jerusalem sage is a sun-loving and solid choice for inland summers in areas such as Atascadero, Paso Robles, and San Luis Obispo.
Salvia x ‘Allen Chickering’ is another stunning California Native which loves arid climates and sunshine. This member of the Sage family showcases characteristic gray/green leaves and attractive, fragrant flower whorls. A top performer in the landscape, Allen Chickering Sage will attract hummingbirds and butterflies while deterring deer, making it a top choice for the warm season.
Creeping thyme is a dainty groundcover that adds charm to patios, walkways, and borders. Thymus serpyllum ‘Pink Chintz’ exhibits a showy bloom during the Spring and Summer months, with bright pink flowers speckled against the ashy green leaves. This Mediterranean herb has a distinctive aroma and can tolerate light foot traffic in addition to cramped conditions and heat.
Wherever you are in San Luis Obispo County, try out this complete palette for a glitch-proof approach to summer scenery.