Get a Garden Sign that Proclaims, “Natives Here!”

Native plants live here - garden signCNPS soon will be offering Garden Signs that anyone with native plants in their garden can buy and display. We announced the signs to generate neighborhood interest in the gardens that are bringing us all into the future: great landscapes with habitat, low water use, reliance on Integrated Pest Management instead of chemicals, and help us to conserve native plants throughout the state and Baja. The signs are meant as a marker of recognition. People who buy the signs are not being “certified”, nor are the gardens inspected. This less formal approach to garden signage means more people will feel able to participate and welcomed into the community.

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California Native Sage Shortbread

I love shortbread – crumbly and rich – it is perfect for the holidays. Now that most of you have recovered from the Thanksgiving feasts, it’s time to start on making some treats for all the upcoming parties and celebrations.

This recipe is not too sweet and you can use any of several varieties from your garden. I love hummingbird sage (Salvia spathacea) for this.



  • 3/4 pound unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 3/4 cup granulated white sugar
  • 1/4 cups packed light brown sugar
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 3 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • Five California native salvia leaves, grown organically, washed and dried
  • Extra granulated sugar for sprinkling on top, if desired


Pick five to seven sage leaves. All California native sages are edible for culinary purposes. Sage is not commonly considered to be a plant that people are allergic to, but be safe. Ensure you (and other consumers of this treat) are not allergic to any herbal materials before using.

Wash the sage leaves under cool tap water and pat dry. Chop into small mince and hold aside.

Preheat the oven to 300 – 325 degrees. I like to use a cooler temperature and cook for longer – easier to avoid burning the bottom or edges that way.

In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, beat the butter and the two sugars until they are nicely combined. Add the vanilla. Sift together the flour and salt, then add them to the butter-and-sugar mixture. Add chopped sage. Stir in by hand, at first. Once the mixture is lightly combined, mix on low speed until the dough starts to stick to itself in a ball. Scrape out the dough onto your work surface which has been dusted with flour. Shape the dough with your hands into a thick, flat disk. Wrap or store in a container and chill for 30 minutes.

Bring the dough out of the refrigerator and, before it starts to warm up, roll the dough 1/2-inch thick and cut into 3 by 1-inch finger-shaped rectangles. Place the cookies on an un-greased baking sheet and sprinkle with sugar. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes, until the edges begin to brown.

Watch carefully to avoid burning, especially if you use the higher temperature. Pull the sheet from the oven and place on a cooling rack. Allow to come to room temperature.

Serve warm from the oven, room-temperature or chilled, whatever is your preference.

Alternatively, you can press the dough into a round pie tin, score the dough with a knife and then break into pie-shaped wedges once they return to room temperature.

A Crooked Path to a Native Garden

Under the huge, leaning Monterey pines, we stumbled over a tangled mat of weedy vines. Juicy snails slumbered under broken clay flowerpots. Agapanthus flower stems stood headless above the tight clumps of strapping leaves; little piles of deer droppings told tattletale nearby. Ancient, treelike camellias grew in the dry shade beneath the pines, blooming red and pink, their double flowers browning with petal blight. This was my big backyard in Oakland Hills (Sunset zone 16) the project I had wanted for so long. I saw a perfect native plant garden in-the-making. My spouse foresaw sunburn, sweat, and big chiropractor bills ahead. Continue reading

Fall’s Bounty of Seeds and Fruits

by Meghan Walla-Murphy
This article is part two in a four part series about seeds. Previous articles: Spring | Summer

photo by Meghan

photo by Meghan Walla-Murphy

Supposedly, hitchhiking is illegal in California; yet, the fall season is filled with hitchhikers. You, your dog or your cat may each become unwitting accomplices in this illicit activity. A late summer or autumn hike through an open meadow, dense riparian growth or even thick chaparral will reveal these travelers looking for an easy ride. Fur filled with burrs, pant-legs covered in clinging seeds, socks painfully filled with foxtails. Fall is the time of harvest, but it is also the time for seeds– often enclosed within fruits– to search for a new destination to flourish and spread their genetic vigor. Continue reading

Why the Fountain Grass Must Go

Bunchgrass in southern California

photo by Roger Klemm

Fountain Grass (Pennisetum setaceum) is a bunchgrass from Africa that is widely planted as an ornamental plant in portions of the United States with warm winters.  It is a tough, vigorous plant that will tolerate adverse conditions of heat and drought.  It does not appear to suffer from any pests or diseases, and many people appreciate its graceful seed heads produced in profusion over the spring and summer months.

The downside is that in California, Fountain Grass has no natural enemies and readily out-competes other plants.  It is invasive, and if you plant it in your yard, you will soon have seedlings of Fountain Grass popping up wherever there is bare soil.  It will even grow vigorously in the gaps between sections of concrete and bedrock of natural slopes.  Its seeds are carried long distances in the wind, so if your neighbor has it in their yard, it will eventually end up in yours, and the nearby natural areas.  If you are in a fire hazard area, it is especially dangerous, as it dries out early in the summer and becomes extremely flammable. Continue reading

Summer Seeds

By Meghan Walla-Murphy

Grindelia stricta

Grindelia stricta. photo by Meghan Walla-Murphy

The long languorous days of summer offer an opportunity like no other time of the year. The many day-lit hours present the possibility of intense growth and busy activity while warm sultry temperatures slow us down and beg us to take a siesta.  We shed layers of clothes and amplify under the warming glow of the California sunshine. During summer humans are capable of both concentrated production and aimless wandering. We work and play. Our gardens bolt and need tending, but paradoxically we stand back and let the plants do their thing.  A juxtaposition of vibrating energy and slow relaxation. Continue reading