Informal, highly naturalistic gardens have existed since the beginning of garden building. For the most part, they were attempts to re-create a natural paradise.
A native garden is a type of natural landscape that uses only indigenous plants and building materials; the garden takes on the quality of the region in which it is located. Other types of natural gardens use plants and building materials that are natural looking but not necessarily indigenous to the region. There may be a mix of native and nonnative plants in a natural garden.
Both native and natural gardens are informal, loosely structured, and they work well in large and small spaces. The house seems built around the garden, rather than vice versa. The style of your home will dictate whether this informal garden style is appropriate for you. Rural and rustic settings are especially suited to a native or natural garden, whereas an urban or a suburban lot may not look natural enough for this style.
When selecting nonnative plants, be especially careful of their growing requirements. It’s a good idea to select plants from similar climates. For example, plants from Australia, New Zealand, Chile, South Africa, and the Mediterranean thrive in central and southern coastal California, since all these areas share a temperate climate, with dry summers and rainy winters.
There are no hard-and-fast rules for patios, walkways, and structures in a native or natural garden. However, arranging the plants in this type of garden may require more thought than for other styles. The plants should appear as natural groupings; they should look as if they have evolved into communities such as those seen in fields, woods, prairies, and deserts.
Simplification of the natural terrain is usually the key to successful expression of such a style. For example, the complexities of an actual woodland, which would likely create a hopelessly crowded, unharmonious effect in the confines of a typical yard area, might be gracefully reduced to two or three mossy native stones, a planting of three appropriate trees, perhaps of the same species, a clump of ferns, one native ground cover, several native shrubs, and, at the drip line of the trees, apparently natural clumps of spring bulbs.