Oaks and Sages


Garden Features


Drought Tolerant


Edible Garden


California Natives


Drip Irrigation


Pesticide Free


Rain Garden


Reclaimed/Recycled Materials


Sheet Mulching


Lawn Conversion


Lawn-Free Landscaping


Permeable Surfaces


Wildlife Habitat

Partner: North Marin Water District

A Master Gardeners Own Native Garden.

In 2024, we’ve had another rainy winter after years of debilitating drought, and I’m tempted to think that it might be ok after all to put in a thirsty garden, a little thirsty garden, somewhere that would be easy to reach with a hose.  This thought is enticing, but it’s very far from reality. Climate scientists tell us that our Bay Area climate has been water-stressed far more often than it has been water-sufficient.  Drought is not done with us yet.

Besides, I love my drought-tolerant California native plants. For example, the sages in my garden keep bringing me back to reality with their beautiful gray-greens and purples, their various sizes and growing habits, and their unique aromas.  Even pruning them back at the end of the season is a joy, knowing they’ll reliably anchor my garden again in the spring.  

This year I took a chance and purchased a pound of California wildflower seeds.  I have no idea how well they’ll do, but in the fall I scattered them about, mostly in the backyard.  I can see that the phacelias and poppies have already sprouted, and I hope for pleasant surprises ahead.  In addition, I planted California fescues, St. Catherine’s lace, and yarrows on the low mounding backyard terraces that support the lemonade berry and ceanothus bushes.  Those expansive bushes are now in their sixth year here and show no signs of slowing down.  They’ve held up well against winds that took down one of my fences last winter.  I’m counting on them to continue persevering, no matter what the weather, and host the birds and insects that find their shelter compatible.  So far, I must say, we’re all doing fine together.

Plants in this Garden

Plant Picker

Prunus spp


Large group of evergreen and deciduous shrubs and trees that includes many ornamental species as well as others that produce edible fruit.


  • Apricot, nectarine, peach, and plum trees are all classified as having low-water use in Sonoma and Marin counties. Consult local nurseries for available types and specific growing requirements.
  • Carolina laurel cherry (P. caroliniana, 20-30’ x 15-20’) is an upright, evergreen shrub from North Carolina to Texas where it grows as an understory plant. Its small, white flowers in spring are followed by small black fruit. P. c. ‘Compacta’ (10-15’ x 6-8’) is a popular smaller form.
  • Hollyleaf cherry (P. ilicifolia, 10-25’ x 10-25’) is an evergreen shrub from central California to Baja California. Creamy white flowers in narrow spikes in late spring to early summer are followed by fruits that attract many species of birds. Can be used as a hedge or screen, as well as for erosion control.
  • Catalina cherry (P. ilicifolia spp. Lyonii, 30-45’ x 20-30’) is native to the Channel Islands.
  • Water: Low
  • Light: Full Sun
  • Soil: Well Drained

Rhus spp

Lemonade Berry, Sugar Bush

Diverse group of resilient shrubs and trees, including several that are native to California, that provide form, foliage, and habitat value.

  • Lemonade berry (R. integrifolia, 4-20‘ x 4-20’) is native to coastal Southern California and Baja California. This evergreen shrub provides white-to-pink clusters of flowers in late winter and early spring followed by sticky, reddish fruits. Lemonade berry is more suitable for coastal climates, whereas sugar bush will also grow in hotter areas.
  • Sugar bush (R. ovata, 4-10’ x 4-10’) is native to dry slopes away from the coast in Southern California and Baja California. Similar to lemonade berry with more reddish flowers and leaves that are often folded down the center.
  • African sumac (R. lancea, 15-25’ x 20-30’) is an evergreen tree from South Africa with willow-like leaves and graceful weeping habit.

Note: The infamous poison oak was previously classified within the Rhus genus, but has since been reclassified to the more appropriate sounding Toxicodendron diversilobum.

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

Ceanothus spp & cvs

Ceanothus, California lilac, 'Ray Hartman'

Ceanothus is a group of fast-growing, evergreen shrubs that vary from groundcovers to small trees, many of which are native to California. They provide a spectacular display of flowers in spring that will attract a multitude of pollinators. Flowers are followed by seeds that provide food for birds. The clusters of tiny flowers range from white to deep violet. Plants perform best with good drainage and minimal irrigation once established. Some do best in cooler coastal climates, but many thrive in hotter inland climates. Pay close attention to the mature size when selecting ceanothus to ensure that it has sufficient space for its natural form.

Groundcovers: C. ‘Centennial’ (1’ x 8’), C. gloriosus var. gloriosus ‘Anchor Bay’ (2’ x 8’), C. griseus var. horizontalis ‘Diamond Heights’ (variegated, 1’ x 4’), C. griseus var. horizontalis ‘Yankee Point’ (3’ x 12’), C. maritimus (2’ x 6’).

Shrubs: C. ‘Blue Jeans’ (6’ x 6’), C. Concha (6’ x 6’), C. ‘Dark Star’ (6’ x 8’), C. ‘Joyce Coulter’ (4’ x 12’), C. ‘Julia Phelps’ (8’ x 10’), C. cuneatus (8’ x 8’), C. thyrsiflorus ‘Skylark’ (4’ x 6’).

Large shrubs: C. ‘Frosty Blue’ (10’ x 12’), C. thyrsiflorus (20’ x 20’), C. t. ‘Snow Flurry’ (white flower, 20’ x 20’).

Trees: C. ‘Ray Hartman’ (15′ x 15′)

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

Pistacia chinensis

Chinese Pistache

Together with crape myrtle, Chinese pistache is a ubiquitous street tree in Sonoma and Marin counties due to its modest size, attractive foliage, fall color, and ability to withstand heat and drought. May be invasive in riparian areas. P. c. ‘Keith Davey’ is a sexed male that will not produce fruit.

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

Favorite Plants


Lippia Repens

Phylla nodiflora


Lemonade Bush

Rhus integrifolia


White Sage

Salvia apiana


Cleveland Sage (several cultivars, including Allen Chickering)

Salvia clevelandii 


California Bee Plant

Scrophularia californica

Favorite Garden Suppliers

The Watershed Nursery

601a Canal Boulevard Richmond

Recommended Resources

Nature's Best Hope

Written by Douglas W. Tallamy. This book is a fine guide to a homegrown habitat.

The Nature of Oaks: The Rich Ecology of Our Most Essential Native Trees

Written by Douglas W. Tallamy.

Designing California Native Gardens

Written by Glenn Keator and Alrie Middlebrook

Gardening Tips


Birds Love Native Plants

California native plants, wherever you can put them!  If you love birds, these are the plants that will encourage, nurture, and shelter them.


Start with your soil!

which will probably need some help. Contact your local Master Gardeners for ideas on how to improve it.


Visit other gardens for inspiration.

Every year I find great inspiration from visiting other people’s gardens – seeing what works and what hasn’t, talking to the gardeners who are actively creating their beautiful gardens. With the climate changing as rapidly as it is now, we need all the information we can find.