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Wild at heart

Exuberant wildflowers run amok in this Southern California garden.
Growing in rock-lined beds arevarious lavenders (Lavandulaspp.) and creeping thyme(Thymus spp.). Both give offbeautiful fragrance whenbrushed against.
Germination of larkspur(Consolida ajacis) is improvedby chilling the seed (35°F. to40°F.) for seven to 14 days priorto planting.

Jo and Paul Casterline

In Jo and Paul Casterline's Poway, California, garden, the plants have positively taken over. In more than two decades of gardening together, the Casterlines have cultivated a 1-acre hillside with drought-tolerant native trees and shrubs and a fruit orchard in their mild Zone 10 climate. The area where they spend the most time, however, is a flower-filled garden near their Southwestern-style home. Here, surrounded by nature's exuberance, they often dine alfresco beside their boulder-rimmed pool. Beyond, gravel pathways meander down a gentle slope into a rock garden.

Paul and Jo delight in the ways their eclectic mix of plants shelters wildlife. The large Monterey pine has hosted a pair of nesting titmice. Wrens, sparrows, hummingbirds, and scrub jays also make appearances in the multitude of gardens and foliage. Swallowtail, yellow sulphur butterflies, and songbirds are all attracted by the man-made attractions: the birdbath, fountain, and swimming pool.

Jo's secrets

During a home remodeling and pool installation several years ago, landscape designer Frank Mitzel helped Jo and Paul plan flagstone steps, pathways, and sitting areas, and position accent boulders. Decomposed-granite soil drains well, according to Jo, but lacked the nutrients to support the garden she envisioned. To fix the problem, Mitzel brought in 50 cubic yards of amended topsoil consisting of 80% sandy loam and 20% natural wood compost. An automatic irrigation system pops up to keep everything green and lush.

Once the bones of their flower garden fell into place, Jo and Paul freely cultivated and rotated plants as they wished. Jo adores floral color, and one reason the flower garden looks glorious every spring is that she extensively sows seeds that reseed themselves. Among those that have naturalized are larkspur (Consolida ajacis), calendulas (Calendula officinalis), toadflax (Linaria maroccana), scarlet flax (Linum grandiflorum 'Rubrum'), and bachelor's buttons (Centaurea cyanus).

Among Jo's favorite flowering shrubs are California lilac (Ceanothus spp.), Baja fairy duster (Calliandra cali-fornica), and bush poppy (Dendromecon rigida). These California natives -- along with pincushion (Leucospermum cordifolium), statice (Limonium perezii), and pride of Madeira (Echium fastuosum) -- thrive in drier perimeter areas.

Jo and Paul also grow columbines, a reminder of their former home in Colorado. "It's a beautiful area, but I don't miss it," Jo says of the arid state. "I had to grow avocado and citrus trees and bougainvillea indoors. When the first wildflower came up -- usually in April -- I wanted to kneel and kiss the ground."

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