Small Pollinator Habitat

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Garden Features

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Drought Tolerant

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California Natives

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Drip Irrigation

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Pesticide Free

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Rainwater Harvesting System

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Lawn Conversion

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Wildlife Habitat

Partner: CNPS

In the heart of Santa Rosa, a small lawn conversion reshaped the landscape into a haven of native California drought-tolerant plants. The traditional, water-intensive lawn has given way to a burst of creativity that not only conserves precious resources but also contributes to the local ecosystem. A focal point of this little front yard oasis is a small rock fountain, its gentle trickle drawing in a diverse array of wildlife. The soothing sounds of water also provide a calming backdrop to the vibrant colors that now adorns the front yard.
This design goes beyond aesthetics; it embraces the principles of ecological balance. A myriad of flowering plants, carefully selected for their drought tolerance and native to California, are strategically scattered throughout the landscape. These blooms attract various pollinators, creating a dynamic dance between the garden and the local fauna. Bees love the sages and the California Aster, hummingbirds appreciate the Fuschia, and various critters appreciate the water source during the drier summer months. All this creates a living picture of biodiversity.
Another aspect of the garden I appreciate is the thoughtful curation of plant species that ensures something always seems to be in bloom. Throughout the year, the landscape transforms, offering a continually changing tapestry of colors and scents. From the delicate blossoms of spring to the resilient flowers that endure the summer heat, the garden celebrates the cyclical nature of California’s climate.
Nestled within this botanical haven is a lovely sitting area, inviting the family and neighbors to engage with the natural beauty surrounding them. This communal space serves as a meeting point, fostering connections among residents. As the sun sets, the vibrant hues of the flowers give way to the warm glow of the sky, creating an enchanting ambiance for evening conversations. The once underutilized front yard has transformed into a shared sanctuary where the community can gather, appreciate nature, and forge meaningful connections.
By exclusively featuring native, drought-tolerant plants, the design reduces the need for excessive irrigation, contributing to water conservation efforts. It is an example of transforming a once mundane front lawn into a living canvas that celebrates the unique flora of California while providing a welcoming space for shared experiences. This small front yard can be a model for other homeowners who don’t necessarily have a lot of space to work with. Even a modest lawn conversion can stand as a testament to the power of thoughtful landscaping in fostering biodiversity, conserving resources, and building a sense of calmness.

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CNPS Table

Plants in this Garden

Zauschneria [Epilobium] spp

California Fuchsia
Organization

Group of highly variable, semi-evergreen subshrubs and herbaceous perennials distributed over a wide geographic area, including California. Epilobiums bloom in late summer with tubular flowers providing a food source for hummingbirds migrating south and are also attractive to bees and butterflies. Epilobiums range from low-growing groundcovers to upright plants of several feet. Flower colors include orange-red, white, pink, and salmon. Most can be pruned back in late autumn to maintain a more compact form and be rejuvenated for the following year.

Low-growing examples: E. ‘Schieffelin’s Choice’; E. canum ‘Calistoga’, a selection from Phil Van Soelen from California Flora Nursery from the Palisades east of Calistoga; E. canum ‘Cloverdale’, a selection from U.C. Santa Cruz Arboretum from along the Russian River north of Cloverdale with exceptionally orange flowers; E. c. ‘Everett’s Choice’, E. c. ‘Summer Snow’ with white flowers, and E. septentrionale ‘Select Mattole’, a somewhat redder flowering selection that is more shade-tolerant.

Upright examples: E. c. ‘Bowman’s Hybrid’ (2-3’), E. c. ‘Catalina’ (3-4’), E. c. ‘Liz’s Choice’ (3’) selected by Milo Baker Chapter CNPS Fellow Liz Parsons, E. c. ‘Marin Pink’ (2’) with pink flowers.

  • Water: Low
  • Light: Full Sun
  • Soil: Well Drained
  • Foliage: Evergreen
  • Leaf Color: Gray GreenGreen
  • Flower Color: OrangePinkRedWhite
  • Blooming Season (s): Fall

Mimulus aurantiacus and hybrids

Sticky Monkey Flower
Organization

The orange, tubular flowers of sticky monkey flower can be enjoyed in many locations throughout Sonoma and Marin counties in spring and summer, a testament to how well this plant is adapted to hot and dry conditions. The slightly sticky leaves benefit from light pinching and pruning to maintain an attractive appearance and support for the beautiful flowers. Many hybrids provide color variation. Do not confuse this plant with the red-flowered scarlet monkey flower (Mimulus cardinalis), an herbaceous riparian plant that requires regular water to thrive.

  • Water: Very Low
  • Light: Full SunPartial Shade
  • Soil: Sandy
  • Foliage: Evergreen
  • Leaf Color: Green
  • Flower Color: OrangeRedWhite
  • Blooming Season (s): SpringSummer

Satureja [Clinopodium] douglasii

Yerba Buena
Organization

Yerba buena is Spanish for “good herb” due to its medicinal qualities as a tea. This trailing herbaceous perennial has a minty fragrance and is native from British Columbia to Los Angeles County. Prefers a woodland setting with light shade and well-drained soil.

  • Water: Low
  • Light: Full SunPartial Shade
  • Soil: Most Soils
  • Foliage: Evergreen
  • Leaf Color: Green
  • Flower Color: Lavender
  • Blooming Season (s): SpringSummer

Cercis occidentalis

Western Redbud
Organization

Western redbud is an ornamental, multi-trunked and deciduous, large shrub or small tree with year-round interest that provides a California native and very low-water alternative to the moderate-water Cercis canadensis. Magenta to rosy pink blossoms that resemble pea flowers cover bare branches in late winter to early spring. Apple green, heart-shaped leaves emerge to accompany the flowers. Over the summer, the leaves become more leathery and bluish green, and seed pods mature and remain into the winter months.

  • Water: Very Low
  • Light: Full SunPartial Shade
  • Soil: Most Soils
  • Foliage: Deciduous
  • Leaf Color: Green
  • Flower Color: Violet
  • Blooming Season (s): Spring

Muhlenbergia spp

Muhly Grass, Deer Grass
Organization

Large, showy, clumping, warm-season grasses native to the Southern United States, Mexico, and Central and South America. Can be grown in masses but require sufficient space for the mature size and form to develop. Arching plumes of flowers on long stalks provide significant ornamental value to these low-maintenance and drought-tolerant grasses.

Examples:  Pink muhly (M. capillaris, 2-3′ x 2-3’) with feathery pink flowers; pine muhly (M. dubia, 2-3’ x 2-3’) with light purple flowers; Lindheimer muhly (M. lindheimeri, 3-5’ x 4-5’) with creamy yellow flowers that provide a pronounced display; and the California native deer grass (M. rigens, 3’ x 3-4’).

  • Water: Low
  • Light: Full SunPartial Shade
  • Soil: Well Drained
  • Foliage: Herbaceous
  • Leaf Color: Green
  • Flower Color: CreamPink
  • Blooming Season (s): SummerFall

Juncus patens

California Grey Rush
Organization

California gray rush is a go-to species for the summer-dry rain garden. It will thrive in moist conditions and its roots will help stabilize soil and filter stormwater runoff. It is also tolerant of extended periods of drought. Clumps of stiff, upright foliage provide an interesting contrast among other perennials. ‘Elk Blue’ is a widely available selection from Mendocino County. Its bluish gray foliage is shorter than the typical gray rush.

  • Water: Low
  • Light: Full SunPartial Shade
  • Soil: Well Drained
  • Foliage: Herbaceous
  • Leaf Color: Gray Green
  • Blooming Season (s): SpringWinter

Penstemon heterophyllus

Blue Foothill Penstemon, California Penstemon
Organization

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
  • Foliage: Deciduous
  • Leaf Color: Green
  • Flower Color: Blue
  • Blooming Season (s): Spring

Ribes spp

Currant, Gooseberry
Organization

Currants (without spines) and gooseberries (with spines) are grown for their graceful growth habit, attractive foliage, wonderful displays of pendulous flowers in winter-spring that are attractive to hummingbirds, and colorful fruit that provides a food source for birds. Most of the species listed are deciduous, going dormant in the summer months.

Examples: Some of the species suitable for California gardens, preferably with partial shade, are native to the Western United States:

  • aurem, golden currant (5-10’ x 3-6’), deciduous with small clusters of delicate yellow flowers and sprawling habit.
  • malvaceum, chaparral currant (4-8’ x 4-6’), deciduous with early clusters of pink flowers, a slightly vase-shaped habit, and more drought-tolerant than most species.
  • sanguineum var. glutinosum, pink-flowering currant (5-12’ x 5-12’), deciduous with maple-like leaves, a vase-shaped habit, and long pendulous clusters of pink, reddish, or white flowers in the spring; many available cultivars such as ‘Claremont’, ‘Tranquillon Ridge’, and ‘White Icicle’.
  • speciosum, fuchsia-flowered gooseberry (4-8’ x 6-10’), deciduous with spiny, arching stems and bright red fuchsia-like flowers along the stems in the spring that are attractive to hummingbirds.
  • viburnifolium, evergreen currant or Catalina perfume (2-4’ x 5-7’), evergreen groundcover that works well under oaks and can provide erosion control to slopes.
  • Water: Very LowLow
  • Light: Full SunPartial ShadeShade
  • Soil: Well Drained
  • Foliage: EvergreenDeciduous
  • Leaf Color: Green - Dark
  • Flower Color: PinkRedWhite
  • Blooming Season (s): SpringWinter
  • Fruit Color: BlackBlueRed
  • Bark Color: Brown