Theodore Payne Foundation

Best Native Plants, August 2009

Unlike exotics, indigenous plants play well with others: They don’t run amok, crowding out their neighbors. They’re often drought tolerant, too. But just because they’re hearty doesn’t mean they’re lacking in looks. When Theodore Payne first came to L.A. in the late 19th century, the botanical verve of the region sent him swooning. Soon the British transplant established a business specializing in native seeds and landscapes. The nonprofit created after his death, the Theodore Payne Foundation, is headquartered at the end of a short dirt driveway that transports you from the suburbs of Sun Valley (14 miles from downtown) to a spread that recalls a more rustic Southern California. Walking the grounds, it’s easy to miss the sign on the gate that politely requests PLEASE WATCH FOR RATTLESNAKES, but what’s unmistakable is the breathtaking variety of vegetation—shade-soaked ferns, nodding red fescue, sun-dazzled island snapdragons, creeping wild grape. Given how few nurseries sell native plants in any volume, the selection (updated weekly on the foundation’s Web site) is inspiring. More than a nursery, the area is a quiet celebration, a place not only to find conversation pieces for your yard but to linger and learn. Books and wildflower seeds, along with weekly classes, can be found in the clapboard office. Pack a cooler, and you can grab a bench and picnic under the sycamores.