Nemophila is a small flowering plant genus found in the American West, primarily in California. Members of this genus are especially widely distributed around the Bay Area, although they can be found in other regions of the state, and there are an estimated 11 known species. Some are cultivated as ornamentals in the garden and they are usually available through nurseries in regions with temperate climates in the form of seedlings or seeds. Gardeners can also sow seeds collected and traded on seed exchanges.
Members of this genus are low, spreading plants with an annual growth habit. They will reseed themselves if the weather is fair and can emerge very early in the spring garden, adding greenery and color early in the season. Nemophila has bright green lobed to toothed foliage, sometimes with hairy stems, and small flowers with five petals. The flowers can be blue, white, or purple and may be marked with spots, stripes, and a pale area in the center of the blossom.
The name Nemophila means “woodland loving” and these plants are commonly found in woodland areas. They prefer soil of medium quality with good drainage and a layer of mulch, similar to that found in their native habitat, and like partial shade or filtered sunlight. Some species are drought tolerant, while others have moderate water requirements and may need extra watering in the heat.
The common name “baby blue eyes” is often used in reference to individual Nemophila species because of the flowers, which are often blue. These plants can grow successfully in most temperate climates and because they are annuals, they can be grown outside their native climate zone with relative ease, although the growing season may be shorter. In hot climates, it is advisable to provide deeper shade and more water, while in cool climates, more sun will help the plants flourish successfully.
Nemophila can make an excellent bedding or border plant, particularly in wildflower gardens, where the slightly untidy growth habit will fit in well with other plants for a natural appearance. These plants can also be used as groundcover under trees and shrubs, and they are suitable for container gardening. Seeds can be sown directly on the ground or sprouted in a greenhouse if the weather is unusually cold or there are concerns about birds eating the seeds before they have a chance to germinate. When growing in the greenhouse, people can use peat cups to make planting their Nemophila a snap, as the seedlings in the cups can be planted just as they are.