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LOCAL COLOR THEODORE PAYNE GARDEN TOUR PUTS THE SPOTLIGHT ON CALIFORNIA FLORA BY JENNIFER ERRICO CORRESPONDENT.

Putting California plants back in her garden was a revelation for Debbie Taylor.

"It changed my life," said the Sherman Oaks resident. "I went home from a class about California natives, tore up the lawn and started planting. I fell in love."

Taylor is one of 30 homeowners whose gardens will be showcased on the Theodore Payne Society's third annual native plant tour.

The self-guided event, today and Sunday, includes gardens in the San Fernando Valley, Los Angeles and San Gabriel Valley that reflect a variety of styles and use at least 50 percent native plants.

"This is not your typical tour with a one-way approach to gardening," said tour organizer Keith Malone. "The owners will all be there to answer questions and educate people about the beauty of California plants."

Gardening with plants from the state may seem like a no-brainer, but people often gravitate to what's cheap, available and common when it comes to home landscaping.

"California is full of people who came from a different place, and they brought with them what they were used to," said Malone. "When you look around, you see a false ecology - most people have never seen the real California."

Many people incorrectly think all Southern California is a desert and that native plants are cactuses and succulents. But the area has many different regions in which hundreds of trees, shrubs and ground covers are native. Some native gardens look Mediterranean, while others have a more woodsy, wild feel.

Native plants, having evolved in California, also provide food and shelter for the area's wildlife - including songbirds, hummingbirds and butterflies.

"Before I had natives, I had no birds," Taylor said. "Now I have wild finches."

Some of Taylor's favorite plants are the coastal live oak, hummingbird sage and the evening primrose, whose seed pods birds feast on.

"The neighbors were really curious when I started my garden," said Taylor, who designed her yard to look like a mountain retreat, complete with a path leading to a little cabin tucked in the back. "Now they have started planting."

Taylor and other enthusiasts enjoy the many benefits of natives. They use less water, they're more disease-resistant than non-natives, and they are adapted to this climate so they grow quickly and need no fertilizer.

"It's the easy way of gardening. You don't feed them, and they need just a little water," said Taylor. "People are so used to buying annuals, but if you want pretty all year around, you can plant natives."

Gardeners interested in California natives should start small, suggests Malone, the tour organizer. A visit to the Theodore Payne nursery or the local foothills may give you inspiration.

Once home, select a section of your garden and plant some natives - there's no need to pull out the lawn right away, especially if you have pets or children.

Bill Entz of Granada Hills, whose garden is also featured on the tour, says that anyone who isn't convinced that a California native garden can be beautiful should look to nature.

"Anyone who has been hiking knows that the plants you see are different than what you will find at the local store," he said. "Other plants are cheap and available, but they just don't have the right feel."

It took just one trip to the Theodore Payne nursery and Barbara Beckner of Studio City was hooked on California natives.

"I saw these plants that were so happy with whatever Mother Nature threw at them," said Beckner, whose garden is also part of the tour.

Her roses were removed to make way for salvia and oak trees. Some of Beckner's other favorites: the manzanita, which offers cover and berries to a variety of wildlife; the California poppy, now in bloom; and the quail bush, with its yellow flowers against gray leaves.

She finds the most common misconception about natives is that they take more time to tend than non-natives. Beckner says the opposite is true - natives are easier to care for because they have evolved to thrive in this region. She even lets her wildflowers go to seed to attract birds and ensure the plants will come back the next season.

"Now that I have found how wonderful these plants are," she said, "the poor nursery doesn't see me anymore."

2006 THEODORE PAYNE CALIFORNIA NATIVE GARDEN TOUR

What: Self-guided tour of 30 local gardens featuring native plants.

Where: Various locations.

When: 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. today and Sunday.

Tickets: $10.

Information: (818) 768-1802 or theodorepayne.org. The Theodore Payne Foundation is located at 10459 Tuxford St., Sun Valley. Nursery hours: 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday.

CAPTION(S):

10 photos, box

Photo:

(1 -- cover -- color) CALIFORNIA GARDENS

Going native

(2 -- 4 -- color) Barbara Beckner, below, poses in her picturesque Studio City garden which features native Southern California plants, above and at right.

(5 -- 6 -- color) At left, a bee buzzes around a lupine plant; below, Barbara Beckner's garden is a tour stop.

(7 -- 10 -- color) From top, the Entzes' native lupine and poppies add splashes of orange and purple; Debbie Taylor's dainty golden abundance. At left, Beckner's red and white blooms liven up the garden's greenery.

Photos by John Lazar/Staff Photographer and Gus Ruelas/Staff Photographer

Box:

Summer-blooming natives

Source: Theodore Payne Foundation
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Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Apr 1, 2006
Words:886
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