Color in Cotati


Garden Features


Drought Tolerant


Edible Garden


California Natives


Deer Resistant


Drip Irrigation


Pesticide Free


Rainwater Harvesting System


Rain Garden


Sheet Mulching


Smart Irrigation Controller


Urban Homestead


Wildlife Habitat

Lawn be gone! I stopped watering my grass during the 2011-2017 drought, the driest period in California’s history. To learn how to convert my lawn to a drought tolerant garden, I attended workshops at the local nurseries and volunteered with Daily Acts to weed and plant small community gardens. Robert Kourik’s book on drip irrigation installation and maintenance was essential for creating my sustainable gardens. After my projects were completed, I received ‘cash for grass’ through the City of Cotati and the Department of Water Resources ‘Turf Rebate’ programs.

I started with the backyard to test my skills at lawn conversion. I layered the dried grass in the backyard with heavy duty recycled cardboard, soil, and compost and created mounds for more dimension. After agonizing over the final choice of gravel, the new permeable, curving Sonoma Gold path created multiple planting areas that made the once flat space seem much larger. Native and drought tolerant grasses and perennials are watered with drip irrigation topped with fresh mulch each spring to minimize water loss. The plants provide splashes of blue, gray, magenta, chartreuse, apricot, purple, and yellow for hummingbirds, bees, butterflies, and dragonflies. They include Butterfly Bush, Mahonia (Barberis), Penstemon, Yarrow, Orange New Zealand Sedge, Apricot Mallow, Jerusalem Sage, Salvias, and a Bottle Brush tree. Raised beds of different sizes and sandstone pathways enhance the design. Umbrellas and chairs inspired by the flower colors provide shady sitting areas surrounded by ceramic pots filled with succulents and annuals.

The larger front yard was designed by Permaculture Artisans of Sebastopol with my goal to capture and retain rain from my roof. Shallow bioswales were carved into the adobe clay and water was directed from the gutters to small basins within the swales. Bioswales are vegetated, shallow, landscaped depressions designed to capture, treat, and infiltrate stormwater runoff as it moves downstream. Wooden bridges provide easy ‘swale crossings’ and connect to black mulch pathways. I layered the front with more cardboard, soil, and compost and planted both native and drought tolerant grasses, perennials, and trees and moderate water users that are fed by drip irrigation and topped with mulch. Sonoma volcanic rocks and boulders were dispersed throughout the garden to provide habitat for mosses, lichen, snakes, lizards, and spiders. A columnar basalt water feature provides gentle flow for birds and thirsty neighbor cats. A variety of purple, pink, red, orange, burgundy, and rust colored blooms, bark, and foliage abound throughout the spring, summer, and fall. ‘Dark Shadow’ Tea trees and an ‘Eve Case’ Coffeeberry shrub create a privacy barrier in the front. The bioswales are lined with Blue Moor Grass and Blue-eyed Grass, bordered by Lemon Popsicle Poker Plant. A special garden highlight includes a Black Lace Elderberry shrub with pink flower clusters accented by apricot Hummingbird Mint and white Snow Hill Sage bushes. A narrow area on the side of the driveway has two 20-year-old Sonoma County variety Gravenstein apple trees. A separate new bioswale captures rain from my neighbor’s gutter and ‘Howard McMinn’ Manzanita and White Sage provide contrast to the bountiful fruit trees.

Plants in this Garden

Plant Picker

Achillea spp & cvs


Yarrows are variable low-growing, spreading herbaceous perennials with finely divided leaves that inhabit many temperate regions in the Northern Hemisphere. Flattish clusters of flowers form in spring and well into summer and provide an important nectar source for pollinators and insects. Yarrow can help to stabilize slopes and is a good addition to the upper level of rain gardens and swales. Colors include yellow, pink, and red.

California native spp & cvs: A. millefolium (common yarrow), A. m. ‘Calistoga’, A. m. ‘Island Pink’, A. m. ‘Sonoma Coast’, A. m. ‘Terracotta’.

Other yarrows: A. filipendulina (fern leaf yarrow), A. f. ‘Coronation Gold’, A. ‘Moonshine’, A. tomentosa (woolly yarrow).

  • Water: Low
  • Light: Full SunPartial Shade
  • Soil: Most Soils
Manzanita bush

Arctostaphylos spp & cvs

Manzanita, 'Dr. Hurd'

Manzanitas vary from carpet-forming groundcovers to small trees. Manzanitas have varying shades of striking, reddish brown bark and can provide structure to a garden. These plants have evergreen foliage, small white-to-pink, urn-shaped blossoms in late winter to early spring, and then small fruits that resemble tiny apples.

Groundcovers: A. ‘Emerald Carpet’ (1’ x 3-6’), A. ‘Pacific Mist’ (2-3’ x 6-8’), A. nummularia ‘Bear Belly’ (1’ x 3’), A. uva ursi ‘Radiant’ (6” x 4-6’), A. uva ursi ‘Wood’s Compct’ (1’ x 3’).

Shrubs: A. ‘Howard McMinn’ (5-7’ x 6-10’), A. ‘John Dourly’ (3-4’ x 5-6’), A. ‘Lester Rowntree’ (8-10’ x 10-15’), A. ‘Sunset‘ (5-7’), A. bakeri ‘Louis Edmunds’ (8-10’), A. manzanita ‘Sentinel’ (6-8’ x 5’), A. hookeri ‘Wayside’ (3′ x 8′).

Trees: A. manzanita ‘Dr. Hurd’ (10-15′)

  • Water: Very LowLow
  • Light: Full SunPartial Shade
  • Soil: Well Drained
dwarf coyote brush

Baccharis pilularis & cvs

Dwarf Coyote Bush

Flowers are inconspicuous but provide a source of pollen, nectar, and seeds for wildlife. Shrubby varieties can be cut back to maintain a more tidy and compact appearance. Perennial varieties can be divided in fall or early spring. Excellent choice as support for more showy plants in the garden.

  • Water: Low
  • Light: Full Sun
  • Soil: Most Soils

Penstemon heterophyllus

Blue Foothill Penstemon, California Penstemon

Penstemons are a large group of woody or herbaceous perennials with narrow leaves and tubular flowers. Foothill penstemon is a widely known and grown California native with iridescent purple-blue flowers during spring and early summer that are attractive to hummingbirds. The cultivar known as ‘Margarita BOP’ is widely available, reliable, and garden- tolerant. Remove spent flower spikes to encourage more flowers.

  • Water: Low
  • Light: Full SunPartial Shade
  • Soil: Well Drained

Rhamnus [Frangula] californica


Evergreen shrub that has insignificant flowers followed by black berries. Flowers are attractive to pollinators, especially bees, and berries provide a food source for birds. Cultivars commonly sold in nurseries have differing growth habits and are often smaller than the species which grows 5-18’ x 10-18’.

Examples: F. c. ‘Eve Case’ (6-8’ x 6-8’), R. c. ‘Leatherleaf’ (5-6’ x 5-6’), R. c. ‘Mound San Bruno’ (6-8’ x 6-8’) with a dense, mounding growth habit.

Note: California coffeeberry was formerly classified as Rhamnus californica and is now classified as Frangula californica.

  • Water: Low
  • Light: Full SunPartial Shade
  • Soil: Most Soils

Salvia spp


Salvias are a huge group of more than 900 species that include annuals, perennials, and shrubs adapted to a variety of climates and have varying water requirements. Salvias are attractive to hummingbirds, butterflies, and bees, and are generally ignored by deer. Sages that are native to California are generally drought-tolerant, prefer full sun, and little to no fertilizer. Annual pruning in late summer or fall generally helps to keep plants tidy and healthy.

CA native sages:

  • S. apiana, white sage (3-4’ x 4-6’), silvery-white, aromatic leaves with tall flower spikes of white flowers, popular for honey production and in bundles as a natural incense.
  • ‘Bee’s Bliss’ (1-2’ x 6-8’), superb, light gray groundcover with light purple flowers on long spikes; damp conditions can cause mildew which will clear with warm weather and sunny conditions.
  • S. clevelandii, Cleveland sage (3-5’ x 3-5’), medium-sized shrub for hot, dry locations known for pleasant fragrance and deep blue whorls of flowers; popular cultivars include S. c. ‘Allen Chickering’, S. c. ‘Pozo Blue’, and S. c. ‘Winnifred Gilman’.
  • S. leucophylla, purple sage, includes plants with both an upright growth habit, such as S. l. ‘Amethyst Bluff’ (3-5’ x 3-5’) and others with a sprawling form, such as S. l. ‘Point Sal’ (2-3’ x 6’), both of which are from Santa Barbara county.
  • S. sonomaensis, Sonoma sage (1-2’ x 3-4’), groundcover that prefers light shade and will not tolerate damp conditions; cultivars include S. s. ‘Dara’s Choice’, S. s. ‘Greenberg Gray’, and S. s. ‘Hobbit Toes’.
  • S. spathacaea, hummingbird sage (1-2’ spreading), herbaceous groundcover that grows well in dry shade and spreads slowly by underground rhizomes; large leaves have a wonderful fruity fragrance; the only red-flowered native sage.
  • S. mellifera, black sage (6′ x 10′), evergreen shrub that grows well in full sun and well drained soils. Dark green leaves with pale purple flowers in late spring and early summer.

Non-native sages:

  • S. chamaedryoides, germander sage (2-3’)
  • S. chiapensis, Chiapas sage (1-2’ x 3-4’)
  • S. greggii, autumn sage (1-4’ x 1-4’)
  • S. leucantha, Mexican bush sage (3-4’ x 3-6’)
  • S. microphylla, cherry sage (3-4’ x 3-6’)
  • S. officinalis, garden sage (1-3’ x 1-3’)
  • Water: Very LowLowModerate
  • Light: Full SunPartial Shade
  • Soil: Well Drained
sweet smelling Agastache flowers come in many colors this one is magenta red and yellow

Agastache spp

Hyssop, Licorice Mint

Shrubby perennial in the mint family with aromatic gray-green leaves from southern Arizona and northern Mexico. Tubular orange and lavender flowers from midsummer to fall. Can be short-lived in clay soils.

  • Water: Low
  • Light: Full SunPartial Shade
  • Soil: Well Drained
kangaroo paw plant

Anigozanthos spp

Kangaroo Paw

Southwestern Australian perennial with strappy, evergreen leaves and long-lasting, colorful and fuzzy tubular flowers attractive to hummingbirds. Prefers well-drained soils and can be short-lived.
Examples: A. flavidus (2-4’ x 2-3’), A. rufus (1-3‘ x 1-3’), A. ‘Red Cross’, A. ‘Regal Claw’.

  • Water: Low
  • Light: Full Sun
  • Soil: Well Drained
fescue grass

Festuca spp


Large group of mostly cool-season, perennial, bunching or spreading grasses. Bunch grass varieties can be used as a no-mow lawn replacement, help to stabilize slopes, and have ornamental value. Festuca californica (California fescue, 1-2’ wide x 2’) prefers part shade and works wonderfully massed under the dry shade of native oaks. Festuca glauca (blue fescue, 1’ x 1’) is a small, clumping grass with bluish gray-green leaves. Festuca idahoenis (Idaho fescue, 1-2’ wide x 1’) also has bluish gray-green leaves and is more drought-tolerant and longer lived than blue fescue. Festuca rubra (red fescue) grows from rhizomes and has long, fine-textured leaves that lay over to form a pleasing drift effect as a no-mow lawn.

  • Water: Very LowLow
  • Light: Full SunPartial Shade
  • Soil: Well Drained

Leonotis leonurus

Lion's Tail

Evergreen shrub from South Africa with deep green leaves and showy whorls of orange flowers in summer and fall that are attractive to bees and butterflies. Cut back in late winter for renewed growth and to promote flowering.

  • Water: Low
  • Light: Full Sun
  • Soil: Well Drained

Recommended Resources