sunset in Gualala, California

Big in California

Redwoods along the Avenue of the Giants
photo by SVSeekins

It’s known for big waves & big beaches, so those didn’t surprise me at all on my recent adventure along California’s northern coast.

I also anticipated being in awe when seeing the giant redwoods for the first time.   I expected them to be BIG – – and they are.  Sort of.

Now, if I’d just come out of the prairies, where I grew up, the redwoods’ size would have seemed ENORMOUS.  But having lived among the big cedar & fir of Vancouver Island, the redwood just didn’t seem AS big as I’d expected them to be.

Planter box in Mendocino California
photo by SVSeekins

What did surprise me was the size of some other plants.  Many of these I’d only ever seen as much smaller indoor house plants.

Who knew they could get so big?

succulents beside a driveway in Gualala, California
photo by SVSeekins

Or were tenacious enough to grow out of cracks in a planter wall!?!

It was these surprises that put me in a state of awe.  I oogled.

Locals just smiled indulgently at the crazy woman snapping photos of plants instead of beaches.

Iron Dog art in Gualala, California
photo by SVSeekins

Then we came along some giant statues in a little seaside town called Gualala.  They weren’t part of some touristic theme park as I expected. It turns out they’re garden art – really, really BIG garden art!

They looked pretty cool. Even though it was after-hours at the retail nursery, I had to stop & check them out.  No doubt other tourists pop by out of curiosity too…  This time I smiled indulgently, imagining the character running Iron Dog Fabrication.  The dinosaurs are a superb marketing gimmick. I just can’t imagine any customers taking one home.

coastal trail in Gualala, California
photo by SVSeekins

Now my imagination recreated California as some giant prehistoric jungle.

Had it somehow been spared destruction from glaciers during the last ice age?

Did flora still survive from those ancient jungles?

Considering the odd plants bordering a trail along the bluffs, I figure it must be true.

Are they trees?



unusual plant along trail in Gualala, California
photo by SVSeekins

They certainly didn’t look like anything I’d seen before.

On closer inspection I noticed the base of the strange plant looked like a yucca – – only the leaves were a bit fuzzy.

But it was the spike at the top of the thing I found most fascinating.

It easily reached 12 feet into the sky!


a closer look at the spike
photo by SVSeekins

I finally found a specimen I could get closer to.  It gave me some clues.

It looks to me like the spike is part of a big bloom made up of lots & lots of tiny blue flowers.  Cool.  At this time of year they’re pretty much done, but still so striking.  Can you imagine what this must look like in full bloom?

Still, curiosity tingled.  I had to know more about this big stranger.

The answer came from chatting with another guest of the motel we were staying at.  She ran a nursery a few hundred miles away, so I figured she’d know for sure.


Never heard of it.

echium invasion of a bluff
photo by SVSeekins

It’s not native to California, so there goes my theory of the prehistoric jungle.

Apparently echium is often used for dramatic effect in landscape designs, but can get out of hand when it finds a location it really likes. (In Australia it’s actually considered an invasive.)  In California it’s on the Watch List, but because it spreads fairly slowly it’s still welcome.

I’d be really tempted to grow echium in our garden if I thought it would survive in our less arid climate.  Isn’t it easy to understand the urge to experiment with new plantings, especially big dramatic kinds?  But I suppose that’s how invasions get started.   What an awful legacy that would be.  Imagine being responsible for next big invasion.

Even in California, where big seems to be fairly common, that would be a BIG deal…

another big beach in California
photo by CDMiller

© SVSeekins and Garden Variety Life, 2013

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4 thoughts on “Big in California”

  1. Hi SV

    Were you two on a timeshare week in California?

    We plan to do the San Diego Area again (minus the rain this time) end of Jan. beginning of Feb.

    Keep up the interesting plant postings…


    1. We spent 2 weeks exploring the Washington, Oregon & Northern California coast on our Motorcycle. What an experience that was 🙂


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