The Sun House Garden


Garden Features


Drought Tolerant


Edible Garden


California Natives


Pesticide Free


Reclaimed/Recycled Materials


Lawn Conversion


Lawn-Free Landscaping


Wildlife Habitat

When we moved in, the yard was dirt, not soil.

The construction guys had parked their pickups on the yard. Compacted soil, a few straggly apple trees poorly pruned by chainsaw and mostly invasive, non-native plants were what greeted us. I started out by buying plants at Home Depot.

About the Garden:

Slow it, Spread it, Sink it

One problem that required attention was to mitigate the ponding that occurred during rain. We are at the bottom of a slope, huge ponds would form. The solution for this is to have plant roots slow down the water and hold water in their detritus. Mulching for soil health is my favorite technique. Nature doesn’t care for bare soil.

Native Plants, Native Habitat

Louise Hallberg was the inspiration to go native. Her butterfly garden wasn’t neat and tidy. It was healthy and natural and was appreciated by the butterflies. Animals, birds, and insects like to have hiding places. Somehow, I picked up on this and started to incorporate brush piles, thickets and native plants. Then things began to get interesting. There are 2+ acres here. It can be overwhelming to think about removing the weeds and planting a large area. As many of you know, the trick is to break it down into small areas. Since I like hiking and the yard was starting to remind me of natural areas, I constructed trails through the different” rooms” . Following a path is more enjoyable then walking on hard scape.

Let Nature Do the Work

The goal that evolved was to put back the elements that make for a healthy environment for the soil and animals native to this area. The sun shines, plants grow, insects feed on the plants, birds eat the insects, deer and coyotes pass through. Mother Nature is a better designer than I am. Now I am removing human elements from the yard and letting nature do the artwork. The ground, which used to be like cement, is now healthy and soft to walk on. A new secondary goal is to get rid of the lawn mower. Less water use and no gas engines is how our yards should operate. There is a quarter acre of oak wood-land with an ephemeral creek on the property. No water is applied on this slope and yet Heuchera has appeared. That is one of the joys of native gardening, plants appear or spread on their own. I get jazzed to see volunteer Toyons and Madrones starting. Speaking of watering, plants are hand watered for the first year. Supplemental water may be applied prior to heatwaves. Come take a look and borrow any ideas you like.

Plants in this Garden

Plant Picker
Strawberry tree

Arbutus spp & hybrids

Arbutus, Strawberry Tree

Group of evergreen trees and large shrubs with attractive foliage and bark, small urn-shaped flowers, and reddish fruit. Prefer sunny locations and well-drained soil. A. ‘Marina’ (20-30’ – 15-30’) and A. unedo (strawberry tree, 15-30’ x 15-30’) are most commonly planted in California landscapes, either as multi-stemmed or single-stemmed, large shrubs or trees. While the two trees are similar in appearance, A. ‘Marina’ has cinnamon-brown shedding bark, whereas the bark of A. unedo is more brown. A. menziesii (madrone, 20-100’) is native to the west coast of North America, including the foothills of Sonoma and Marin counties. A. menziesii is less common in landscapes as it is notoriously difficult to establish.

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

Aristolochia californica

California Pipevine

Important northern California native habitat plant that is the sole larval food source for the pipevine swallowtail butterfly. This deciduous vine grows naturally along stream banks and in woodlands and performs well under native oaks. Dutchman’s pipevine is relatively slow-growing and takes a few years to establish. Pendulous pipe-shaped flowers bloom in early spring, followed by soft, bright green, heart-shaped leaves. Best grown as a groundcover to provide protection for pipevine swallowtail larvae but will also twine up other plants and structures. The real show comes in late spring as larvae feed on the plant and grow into spectacular horned, black caterpillars with red spots!

  • Water: Low
  • Light: Partial ShadeShade
  • Soil: Most Soils
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
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

Mimulus aurantiacus and hybrids

Sticky Monkey Flower

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

Monardella villosa

Coyote Mint

Coyote Mint is a compact perennial or sub-shrub with aromatic foliage and a sprawling habit. Dense heads of purple flowers form in spring-to-summer that are attractive to butterflies and other insects. The low-growth habit of coyote mint makes it an excellent choice for the front of a border, along the edge of a path, or beneath larger shrubs such as manzanita or ceanothus. Monardella villosa spp. franciscana ‘Russian River’ and Monardella villosa spp. villosa ‘Mark West’ are available selections from Sonoma County.

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

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

Sambucus spp


Fast-growing shrubs and small trees for sun or part shade that attract pollinators from far and wide to large clusters of cream flowers in spring, followed by berries in summer that provide food to many types of birds. Fruit can also be used for culinary purposes. While naturally fairly wild-looking, elderberries can handle being cut back to the ground in the winter or pruned to maintain size and shape.


  • Blue elderberry (S. mexicana [nigra] spp. caerulea, 8-25’) is native from Oregon to Baja California and beyond.
  • Black elderberry (S. nigra, 20-30’) is native to Europe, North Africa, and Asia, and is available in nurseries in the form of many named cultivars. Cut leaf black elderberry (S. n. ‘Black Lace’, 8’ x 8’) has intense dark, fine foliage. Cut leaf elderberry (S. n. ‘Laciniata’, 10’ x 10’) has green leaves, and variegated black elderberry (S. n. ‘Marginata’, 6-12’) has variegated leaves.
  • Water: Low
  • Light: Full SunPartial Shade
  • Soil: Well Drained

Favorite Garden Suppliers

Emerisa Gardens

555 Irwin Lane Santa Rosa

Willowside Middle School Nursery

5299 Hall Road Santa Rosa

We have drought tolerant perennials, many California natives, multitude of succulents, grasses, salvias, abutilons & many beautiful plants to invite beneficial insects, butterflies and hummingbirds into your garden. Check website for upcoming Plant Sales!

Jail Industries Plant Nursery

5299 Hall Road Santa Rosa

The nursery is open year-round and offers an outstanding selection of California native plants, landscaping classics and fruit and veggie seedlings. Guests can shop by appointment or during one of our seasonal events. Appointments are available year-round. Thursdays & Saturdays from 10am till 2pm Scheduling an appointment is easy! Email your name, desired date and time and the number in your party to

California Flora Nursery

2990 Somers Street Fulton

Watershed Nursery

601 Canal Boulevard Richmond

East Bay Wilds

2777 Foothill Boulevard Oakland

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