Answer: California native plants are probably your best bet for easy-care, drought tolerant plants. Your zip code places you in the Coastal Sage Scrub category in terms of choices for your garden. Some common plants can include California Sagebrush (Artemisia californica), Cliff Buckwheat or California Buckwheat (Eriogonum parvifolium or Eriogonum fasciculatum), California Aster (Corethrogyne filaginifolia), Golden Bush (Isocoma menziesii), Coyote Brush (Baccharis pilularis), Encelia (Encelia californica), Black, Purple, or White Sage (Salvia mellifera, S. leucophylla, or S. apiana), Fuchsia-Flowered Gooseberry (Ribes speciosum), and Monkey flower (Mimulus aurantiacus).
Here are a few details:
California sagebrush is an evergray shrub, three to four foot high. This sage brush is native to much of central and southern California and is part of the 'sage' in coastal sage scrub. Artemisia californica likes full sun, near coast, west and even north slope inland and little or no water after established. Although it doesn't seem to care if it has clay or sand, this sagebrush hates being wet in the summer.
California Buckwheat,Eriogonum fasciculatum var. foliolosum, as above but an interior form that is hardy to -10 and more drought tolerant. This form is considerably more flexible, lower, more drought tolerant, and more floriferous than the straight species We've had customers remove rose bushes to plant this one as it has more flowers for longer with less care and watering. The buckwheats are very important butterfly plants and one of the pillars of their communities. The flowers, leaves and seeds are all used by all the smaller animals.
California Aster, the original common name was California Corethrogyne. (Lessingia filaginifolia, Aster filaginifolia, Aster tomentellius, Aplopappus haenkei, Corethrogyne tomentella, Corethrogyne filaginifolia tomentillia, Corethrogyne californica tomentellus) Corethrogyne is a compact to leggy perennial, depending upon cultural conditions, and genetic constitution, somewhat suffrutescent near base of plant, with one-inch wide, pretty, violet flowers with yellow centers, mostly summer deciduous after flowering.
Baccharis Pigeon Point' grows into a one foot tall by twelve foot wide dark-green groundcover. This is the preferred form of Dwarf Coyote Brush for slope stabilization and landscaping in almost all areas. Plant from gallons six to ten feet apart for a two year or so fill-in.. If you plant close together they grow over each other and you end up with a higher groundcover. 'Pigeon Point' doesn't lose its bottom and seems to stay low and clean for at least ten to twelve years.
Encelia is a perennial shrub, 3-4 ft. high, good large scale ground cover with 2 inch daisy, Native to Santa Maria to San Diego. Not frost tolerant, will recover from 27 deg. F. but will die to ground, at about 20 deg and you'll lose the plant. Beautiful cut flowers.
Black Sage is a three foot evergreen shrub with white to light blue flowers in March to July. This sage is native to sunny dry slopes in the coast ranges from San Jose to Baja. It likes sun, tolerates some shade.. Salvia mellifera is native on gravel-sand to adobe clay in full sun to part-shade.
Purple sage is a three to six foot evergreen shrub with flowers that are light purple in May-Jul.. Purple sage has leaves that are white tomentose(kinda fuzzy grey). This sage occurs on dry slopes where it is native from Santa Maria to Baja. Needs sun, no water after established (grows rank otherwise to eight feet). We have had no damage in containers at 8 degrees F. and slight damage in the ground at 0 deg..
White sage is a two to five foot evergreen perennial. The flowers emerge in summer and are white with a little lavender.
Fuchsia flowering or fuchsia flowering gooseberry is a four foot nearly evergreen shrub with red fuchsia-like flowers in Jan.-May. This gooseberry has spiny stems and fruits(currants do not)and glossy dark green leaves. (The fruits look like red jewels.) Fuschia flowered gooseberry likes shade to sun, no water to ocassional watering with good drainage, but will tolerate clay soils.
Monkey flower grows to about 3' in height and produces 1" orange flowers.
As for a design, the best approach is simply to plant the tallest specimens in the back of the bed and the smaller ones towards the front. When planting, make sure to give each plant ample room to grow to its average width without crowding. This will ensure each plant has adequate air circulation to help it avoid disease problems and will keep each plant from having to compete with the others for soil moisture and nutrients.
Best wishes with your new garden!
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