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Ceanothus Dark Star

Wild Lilac
Ceanothus 'Dark Star'

Ribes vibernifolium

Pink Flowering Currant
Ribes vibernifolium

Salvia spathacea

Hummingbird Sage
Salvia spathacea

Symphoricarpos albus

Symphoricarpos albus

Rhamnus californica Mound San Bruno

Rhamnus californica 'Mound San Bruno'

About the Concept Design Series

These designs are simple concepts to provide inspiration and ideas. Check with local nurseries, landscapers or other sustainable garden designers to help choose the best plants for your yard.

Plant List

Sustainable Gardening Resource List

For general installation, understanding of sustainable gardens, and other details, read the factsheets in the Green Gardens Healthy Creeks series. Each of those factsheets provides in depth information to guide homeowners through the process of installing sustainable gardens.


Why We Liked This Garden

Showcase Features:

Finding the right plants to thrive in deeply shaded gardens like this one can be a challenge. The challenge can be more difficult with the added requirement of low water use. This garden successfully uses a simple planting palette to create a rich, green canvas, while accommodating the low water requirements of the existing established oak trees. Color is often hard to include in deeply shaded gardens, but interest can be achieved through variations in leaf texture and color, plant shapes, and garden ornaments. Brightly colored pots or variations in hardscape materials pop out against the green background of shade gardens. Repetition of plant materials was used to create a sense of continuity in this garden. The entryway was constructed using permeable pavers. Set on layers of compacted base rock and leveling materials, these pavers come in a variety of shapes, colors and textures, and have the added bonus of allowing water to seep easily between their joints back into the ground. This reduces storm water runoff and helps replenish groundwater. This garden meets the requirements of the Santa Clara Valley Water District’s Landscape Rebate Program.


Plants from California’s Oak Woodland and Mixed Evergreen Woodland communities have naturally adapted to thrive in low light, low water habitats and are perfect for this garden. Dark Star Ceanothus placed in areas with slightly more light in this garden, add a pop of deep purple flowers in the spring, while the Toyon (HA) provides white flowers in the summer and bright red berries in the winter.

The purple flowering Mountain Coyote Mint (M) and aromatic Yerba buena (Y) intertwine to form a low mat of groundcover, while different varieties of glossy leafed Coffeeberry (REH and RMS) create privacy and screening. The delicate, bright green leaves of the Snowberry (SA) add light to the garden and their white berries stand out on their bare branches deep into winter. A Purple Needle Grass meadow, California’s state grass, was established using plugs (small sized plants grown in trays) to meet the requirements of the Santa Clara Valley Water District’s Landscape Rebate Program. It has been interseeded with Lupine, Clarkia, and California Poppies to add annual color.


This garden requires full to part shade, as in the North facing side of the house, under eaves or overhangs, or under the canopy of dense trees. to their light needs.

Watering Needs:

The perennial plants in this garden have low to very low water needs. Sub surface irrigation has been used on the Nassella pulchra meadow, although some temporary overhead irrigation, such as hand watering or moveable sprinklers, is needed when trying to establish the grass plugs in warmer months. Irrigation should be kept away from the base of the established oak trees.

Construction Notes for Sustainable Landscaping

  • Permeable pavers require the use of specific base and bedding materials. Refer to the manufacturer’s specifications to ensure proper installation.
  • Pavers can be laid out in a variety of patterns to achieve a desired look such a herringbone pattern or running bond.
  • In order to achieve sufficient drainage, the joints between the permeable pavers must be filled with small aggregate, not sand.
  • Protect mature trees during construction if heavy machinery is going to be used by placing a protective barrier around the tree’s truck.
  • Avoid parking heavy machinery on the root zone of the trees or piling construction materials at their bases.
  • The natural grade of the soil should be maintained at the base of the tree.
  • Mulch should not be mounded against the trunks of trees or at the base stems of shrubs.
  • Existing sod lawn that does not include invasive Crabgrass or Bermuda grass, can be removed with a sod ripper and flipped over to create the base of mounds in the garden.