West Side Elementary Gardens


Garden Features


Drought Tolerant


California Natives


Rainwater Harvesting System


Reclaimed/Recycled Materials


Sheet Mulching


Lawn Conversion


Lawn-Free Landscaping


Wildlife Habitat

The West Side Elementary School campus is lucky enough to include several thriving garden areas. While the student garden has been established for a number of years, primarily used for garden classes and experimental garden projects (currently lush and frequently visited by Swallowtail and Mourning Cloak butterflies), there are three newer garden areas.

The school resides on Mill and Felta Creeks within the Russian River Watershed where the Coho salmon are known to spawn. Students have access to the creek via the outdoor classroom, where the Department of Fish and Wildlife and other organizations utilize a fish study area. .

Bird feeders, bird baths, nesting boxes and owl boxes are present on campus and utilized by the local wildlife. A large mural of the Russian River Watershed is also in progress as the latest edition to the garden and environmental education at West Side Elementary.

Pollinator Rock Garden

In front of the office is a student-planted pollinator rock garden established recently to replace a water-wasting lawn. This project was a practical experience for the kids: creating a drought-resistant area, which includes – salvias, ceanothus, poppies etc.

Trees & Low Water Areas

In addition, a side lawn was sheet-mulched by students and developed into a low-water use picnic area where three redwood trees were planted, several plums and two red japanese maples.

Nearby is the redwood tree shade plant demonstration area and also a row of approximately 26 mature rose bushes which bloom prolifically several times a year. Bouquet-making is a favorite student activity.

CA Native Garden & Rainwater Catchment

Behind the 4th, 5th, and 6th grade classrooms is the West Side Native Garden which straddles the jogging/walking track. Here, the kids transformed a weedy neglected area into a sage-lined path, complete with many examples of California native plants: Wild Lilac, Manzanita, Elderberry, Western Redbud, Pine, Salvias, Milkweed, Redwood, Sagebrush, Rush, etc.

Students have created identification signs and continuously tend, study, and enjoy the native area. In addition, West Side Elementary also has a water catchment system where rainwater can be utilized to water the native garden when necessary. Students learn how native plants typically need less water than imported plants as natives are adapted to the long dry summers of Sonoma County.

Plants in this Garden

Cercis occidentalis

Western Redbud

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
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
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

More About Favorites:
Choosing favorite is so hard!

  • Western Redbud  – Cercis Occidentalis
  •  Ceonothus – Wild Lilac (Frosty Blue, Ray Hartman etc.)
  • Salvias (So many to love!)
  • Sages (Salvia apiana etc.)
  • Manzanita – Arctostaphylos

Favorite Garden Suppliers

Cal Flora

2990 Somers Street Fulton

Emerisa Gardens

555 Irwin Lane Santa Rosa

Cloverdale Nursery

216 South Cloverdale Boulevard Cloverdale

Prickett's Nursery

12950 Old Redwood Highway Healdsburg

King's Nursery

1212 13th Street Santa Rosa

Gardening Tips


California Natives Adjust Well

At West Side we have been experimenting with replacing lawn with sheet mulch and drought-tolerant plants. There are so many wonderful natives to choose from and they tend to adjust well to the dry summers and “show” beautifully in Spring.