Brilliant Corners: Five Favorite California Native Accent Plants

Brilliant Corners: Five Favorite California Native Accent Plants

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.

Iris douglasiana,
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.
8 Summer-Proof Plants for the Central Coast Garden

8 Summer-Proof Plants for the Central Coast Garden

It’s that time of year again: Summer! The sun can do a lot of good for your plants in the garden, 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

Agave ovatifolia 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 which will add sculptural interest to any summer garden!

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 which 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 which 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.

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 which 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 on top of cramped conditions and heat!

Wherever you are in San Luis Obispo County, try out this complete palette for a bomb-proof start at Summer gardening!

Design Styles for the Central Coast

Design Styles for the Central Coast

by Jules Welch

It’s easy to be overwhelmed when looking at an empty plot of land or a back yard in disrepair. Luckily for homeowners, HOA’s, and commercial property owners, landscape designers see your space as a blank canvas—a unique opportunity to meld function with artistic expression. Design style plays a huge part in every built environment, and often incorporates a colorful mix of the owner’s personality, designer’s aesthetic, and greater climatic and cultural context. Some design styles that are popular for our coastal California area include:

                -Contemporary/Minimalist

                -English Cottage/Craftsman

                -Xeriscape/Native/Low Water

                -Mediterranean and Spanish Colonial Revival

There is a lot of overlap when it comes to style, but certain core characteristics define each aesthetic. Read more about these traits to find out what speaks to you:

Contemporary/Minimalist:

Colloquially described as “modern” design, contemporary landscapes are influenced by mid-century modern art and architecture but are defined by their cutting-edge qualities for the present day (which, technically, could be any style). However, when someone refers to a contemporary landscape, they are likely describing a geometric style which features minimalism, clean lines, and grid layouts. Contemporary design is often used in commercial projects such as campuses, plazas, and office buildings; it may also be used to complement custom homes. These landscapes generally favor green foliage over colorful flowers, with intentional spacing and simple hardscapes like concrete or pea gravel.

Gain Inspiration: Andrea Cochran is a renowned Bay Area designer known for her spacious designs with an emphasis on form.

English Cottage/Craftsman:

English Cottage Gardens came into their own during the industrial revolution, when families fled city life for remote holiday cottages in the country. This mix of ideologies brought a unique design sense which mixes the formal with the chaotic. English cottage gardens can be identified by their overgrown, lush look, usually incorporating lawn and border plantings among tightly-grouped flowering perennials.

Gain Inspiration: Gertrude Jekyll (1843-1932) was known for her craftsman inspired cottage gardens, using color “rooms” to achieve dynamic and natural mass plantings.

Xeriscape/Native/Low Water:

Xeriscape is a style of landscape design which requires minimal irrigation and maintenance, focusing on efficient use of water. Often using native and native-adjacent plants, these water-wise gardens tend to evoke an arid, desert feel. Gravel, cactus, and decomposed granite are the keystone elements of a xeriscape. Designers also incorporate sustainable water-harvesting elements such as planted swales and rain gardens into their xeriscapes. Native California gardens can still look lush, colorful, and attractive, while still retaining their drought-tolerant, low maintenance qualities.

Mediterranean and Spanish Colonial Revival:

Most coastal regions in California have a Mediterranean climate, meaning that numerous plant species from Southern France, Italy, and Spain thrive here! Mediterranean design styles bring lavender, olive trees, and Italian cypress into California’s landscape. It is also the origin of our incredible wine culture. Often using plaza-style patios, pavers, vines, and potted plants, Mediterranean design makes the most of sun/shade, views, and crops. Sometimes used to describe Spanish Colonial Revival style, these gardens often incorporate stucco walls, tile, and cooling water features. Symmetry and striking, sculptural plants with colorful foliage often come into play.

What’s your Design Style?

Design style can be subtle or overt, but it is responsible for the feeling we get in an outdoor environment, whether familiar or obscure, nostalgic or innovative, cozy or vast. Most importantly, though, it’s what makes home feel like home.