Mill Valley Hillside Garden


Garden Features


Drought Tolerant


California Natives


Deer Resistant


Drip Irrigation


Pesticide Free


Lawn-Free Landscaping


Wildlife Habitat

This hillside garden in Mill Valley is nestled between hills on the way to Muir Beach.

There are no fences and a pathway through the property where schoolchildren and wildlife walk through to get to the next road. The homeowners wanted a drought tolerant, deer-resistant garden with a design of year-round color. They also wanted to see birds, bees, butterflies and hummingbirds visiting the plants and trees.

The Gardener on this project is Alison Blume of Blume & Dean Landscape Design based in Novato. CA. She focuses on designing sustainable gardens that are drought tolerant, low maintenance and include many California Native Plants.

Choosing Plants

Privacy & Wildlife Habitat

For some screening the tall native Myrica Californica (Pacific Wax Myrtle) shrubs are pruned once a year. Their small flowers attract butterflies and their berries later provide food for birds that love to play within the branches.

There are evergreen coffeeberry shrubs under the oaks to feed local birds.

Many of the pollinators such as the Sticky Monkey flower (Diplacus aurantiacus) and Salvias provide nectar and seeds.

Drought Tolerance

The garden consists of several drought tolerant Mediterranean shrubs and plants that need a prune one to two times a year. They are evergreen and some have long blooming small flowers like the Westringia Blue Gem, lavender and the Cistus Rose.

Most of the plants are arranged in groups of 3, 5 or 7 for a consistent pattern along the garden path.


The native nectar plants include:

  • Salvias
  • Yarrow
  • Sticky monkey flower
  • groundcover Ceanothus
  • Verbena de la Minna
  • Arctostaphylos (manzanita pt. Reyes, Howard McMinn)
  • fragrant Yerba Buena
  • Ribes Sanguineam
  • Matilija Poppy (Romneya Coulteri)
  • Trichostema lanatum woolly blue curls
  • Coyote mint pigeon point (groundcover)
  • vibrant Flannel Bush (Fremontodendron Californicum).

Planning For Regional Seasons

The native groundcovers like Arctostaphylos emerald carpet and pacific sun provide year-round color and texture and add green in the Winter when many of the perennials go to sleep.

The native and ornamental grasses have deep roots perfect for hillside soil retention.

The variety of long blooming colorful salvias include Salvia Allen Chickering, Salvia Clevelandii, Salvia rigens, Salvia elegans, Salvia Waverly they are scattered throughout the garden to keep visiting hummingbirds fed.

Throughout the garden and in pots are succulents in varying colors and a popular bright green sedum.

Irrigation, Drainage & Dry Seasons

Drip Irrigation

The drip irrigation runs 2 to 3 times a week during the dry season for 8 minutes. The system is turned off during the Winter rainy months.

Hardscape & Drainage

The new hardscape pathway leads to a sitting area under a native oak. The path is permeable with square bluestone stepping stones surrounded by light-colored small Mexican pebbles. This pathway allows for water to flow slowly to the garden groundwater and keep the water on the land longer.

Fire Resistance

In between some of the plant groupings there are rocks and small boulders for soil retention, to cover bare spaces, act as a firebreak and provide habitat for salamanders and lizards.

As the fire experts recommend, I’ve created a “Zero Zone” by surrounding my house with a five-foot bed of river pebbles and removing all flammable materials away from the perimeter. It’s simple, it looks pretty good, and it’s both fire-resistant and drought-proof.

Plants in this Garden

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
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

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

Favorite Plants


Ribes sanguineum

Gardeners searching for easy, adaptable, and versatile shrubs should consider Ribes. They put on a good flower show, offer shelter and food for birds and other wildlife, and easily fill in those barren spots in the garden—as an understory plant or tall groundcover. Once established, they require minimal care other than a little water and occasional pruning


Heart's Delight

A coastal Marin County selection introduced by Phil Van Soelen, of California Flora Nursery, this produces long, drooping racemes of deep rosy pink blossoms. It is best with light shade in inland gardens.


King Edward VII

Large, vivid, bright red flowers appear in spring on stiff, upright stems. Drought tolerant once established, it flowers best in full sun but also grows well in part shade.


Verbena Lilacina De La Mina

This adaptable mounding perennial is a selection from Cedros Island. It produces mounds of delicate green foliage and has dark purple blossoms with lavender streaks and the blossoms are lightly scented. Though there are more flowers in the spring, this plant has blossoms throughout most of the year which attracts butterflies throughout the year. This small shrub grows to about about 2′ high and spreads to about 4′. It does best in well drained soils but will tolerate clay soil provided it isn’t over-watered. This is a very attractive and versatile plant for any flower border, butterfly garden or plant it in containers on a patio. To maintain a dense form shear lightly in summer, and remove spent flowers. The butterflies will flock to your garden! De la Mina Verbena was selected by Carol Bornstein and introduced by the santa Barbara Botanic Garden. Grows best in loamy, medium draining soil. Prefers sun in coastal sites, and part shade in inland sites. Selected for the garden; introduced by santa Barbara Botanic Garden.


Coffeeberry Mound San Bruno - Frangula Californica

The California Buckthorn is also called coffeeberry because its berries contain seeds which look like coffee beans. It is a fairly common plant native to California and southwestern Oregon. It is a dense evergreen shrub growing to 6-15 feet tall, with dark red branches. The leaves are an attractive dark green with reddish tint, 1-3 inches long, with a curl under at the edges.. The plant is prized more for its fruit, a berry 10-15 millimeters in diameter, which turn red, then purple and finally black over the summer. It is valued by birds. This plant is beautiful and easy to grow. It tolerates a wide variety of soil types, and likes either full sun or part shade. It is is OK with light summer water up to 2x per month. Coffeeberry has a dense form and is easy to prune. It makes a great and fire resistant hedge. There are six subspecies, some of which are restricted to certain parts of its range or certain growing requirements. There are also a number of horticultural varieties including ‘Eve Case’ and ‘Mound San Bruno’.

Favorite Garden Suppliers

Cal Flora Nursery

2990 Somers Street Fulton

Emerisa Gardens Nursery

555 Irwin Lane Santa Rosa

Marin Landscape Materials

7596 Redwood Boulevard Novato

American Soil & Stone

2121 San Joaquin Street Richmond

Pini Hardware

1535 South Novato Boulevard Novato

Recommended Resources

Blume & Dean Landscape Design