The native prairies of California are a complex mix of perennial bunchgrasses, some annual native grasses, and annual and perennial wildflower species. Different parts of California foster different combinations of species. Though reduced now to less than 95% of their former territory, they are still to be found in most parts of California. Many of these grasses are easy to grow, and can be used in gardens in a variety of ornamental ways, as well as in "grassland restoration projects." Their ecology and different ways to use them are described in our Notes on Native Grasses chapbook and in Bunchgrass Basics under our How-To section. It is a fascinating and rewarding study!
Each grass has its own particular characteristics and ecology. We grow most of the grasses we offer in our Demonstration Garden here in Bolinas and welcome you to visit. They range from 8" to 4' tall. Most of the grass species are not sod forming (spreading through underground roots), unlike lawn grasses, but some species, like red fescue (Festuca rubra) are used to create a lumpy naturalistic lawn.
They can be grown in 4" pots or in liners for later transplanting, or sown directly where they are to grow.
Finding a relic native prairie that looks the way it did for the last 10,000 years or so, is a valuable opportunity, and their particular beauty deserves preservation. Check out areas that are formed of serpentine rock-based soils or other lean soils not conducive to weedy grasses from elsewhere. If you have such a place near your land, use it as a restoration model for your own prairie. Many California lawns are currently being replaced with drought-tolerant, locally native bunchgrass species.