Five Favorite Mediterranean Plants for Springtime

Five Favorite Mediterranean Plants for Springtime

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:

California
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.

Central Chile
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.

Southwestern Australia
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.

Edible Landscapes on the Central Coast

Edible Landscapes on the Central Coast

This article was originally published in Living Lavishly Magazine Volume 10, Spring/Summer 2020.

The Satisfaction of Growing Your Own Food

There are few things more fulfilling than feeding someone. If you can grow the food yourself, it is even more rewarding. I started growing tomatoes and sugar snap peas as a young kid and it pushed me to pursue horticulture, landscape architecture, and landscape construction. For a kid, a bite of a home-grown tomato can be a life changing experience.

Your landscape is a wonderful place to create something beautiful and grow something you can eat at the same time. Some of us grew up with family gardens, and now we want to bring them to our own landscape. Many of us have never grown any food in the garden, but feel it would be a fun thing to do. The great thing about living on the central coast of California is that you can grow so many good things to eat!

When deciding to grow food in your landscape, think about how you will use the garden. How much time can you devote to the gardening a week? What types of fruits and vegetables do you like to eat, and how much of them will you really use? How much do you cook?

If you enjoy spending your weekends working in the yard, love fresh produce and cook a lot, you can really go all out. If you have a busy lifestyle, but enjoy some fresh produce, there is still hope. Just keep it simple.

Tips and Tricks for Everyone:

  1. Put in the work early to make it easier on you later.
    • Raised garden beds can make it easier on your back to garden without bending over.
    • Think about critters—provide protection from deer, rabbits, squirrels, gophers and birds.
    • Install automatic irrigation systems so you don’t have to remember to water.
    • Make sure you organize your plants based on similar water requirements.
    • Add rich compost to the garden before you start planting.
      Put your garden as close to the kitchen as possible.
    • Build a compost bin so you can reuse your green waste and kitchen waste as compost.
  2. Grow the right plants.
    • The central coast is full of micro-climates. If you don’t know what grows well in your area, ask your neighbors or local nursery for advice.
    • For fruit trees, look at frost tolerance, chill hour requirements, and pollinators.
    • Plan the spacing and height of your plants to fit the space.
  3. Do it together.
    • If you get your kids or spouse to help, it will be a fun group project so everyone can enjoy the fruits of their labor.
    • Having others with a stake in the success will help motivate you to keep up with the work.

Simple Gardening for Beginners

  1. Perennial Herb Garden:
    • Grow water-wise perennials such as rosemary, oregano, chives, thyme, and mint.
    • You can tie it into an irrigation system for other Mediterranean landscape plants and you don’t need to designate a separate garden space.
    • You will never need to buy herbs at the store again, you will always have fresh herbs just outside your kitchen with almost no work.
  2. Fruit Trees:
    • On the coast you can have avocado or citrus trees as part of landscape trees for year-round fresh fruit.
    • Inland (and on the coast) you can grow apples, peaches, pears, apricots, plums and more to have seasonal harvests.
  3. Small Vegetable Planters:
    • Designate an area for some raised planters for a handful of vegetables in a controlled environment.
    • Get crafty and you can use things like livestock troughs for an instant planter.
    • Plant easy vegetables like tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, zucchini, peas or leafy greens.

Advanced Gardening for Enthusiasts

  1. Create a Food Forest:
    • Use the fruit trees as your backbone and layer perennial and annual crops below.
    • Organize raised garden boxes with in-ground crops to maximize your vertical space.
    • Create garden paths and benches to have a place you can get lost in the food forest.
  2. Train your plants:
    • You can trellis vining plants or prune trees to create arches to walk through or walls of green to contain the garden.
    • Create structures to grow vining crops such as tomatoes, beans, peas, berries, and grapes.
    • Train aromatic groundcovers into walkways to step on and enjoy the fragrance.
    • Use tall plants like blueberries or corn to create a labyrinth.
  3. Prepare for great meals and seasonal activities:
    • Pumpkins for Halloween.
    • Apples for pie season.
    • Tomatoes for canning sauces.
    • Cucumbers or zucchini (yes, zucchini) for pickles into the winter.

Enjoy the Experience

Incorporating edible plants into your landscape is a great experience. You will impress your family, friends, neighbors, and co-workers with your bounty of food. Whether you go big or keep it simple, you can improve the quality of life for yourself and others with the celebration of home-grown vittles!

8 Summer-Proof Plants for the Central Coast Landscape

8 Summer-Proof Plants for the Central Coast Landscape

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.

Ceanothus griseus horizontalis ‘Yankee Point’

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.

Chondropetalum tectorum


Chondropetalum tectorum 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 uvaria ‘Flamenco’

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.

Muhlenbergia rigens

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.

Phlomis fruticosa ‘Grande Verde’

Jerusalem Sage, or Phlomis fruticosa, 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’

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.

Thymus serpyllum ‘Pink Chintz’

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.