My husband and I rub elbows while gardening on our Oakland city lot, constantly looking for somewhere to put just one more plant. The small dark corners get planted simply because we have run out of other available spaces. Fortunately the plant palette is diverse, offering a never-ending exploration of our California native flora. The following have done very well in our yard, adapting to the tiny plots (or pots) where we plant them. They generally need supplemental water only to extend the flowering period, or to keep things looking green, when nature is turning tawny. Most are visited by pollinators, and require little care other than an annual clean-up.
Grey rush (Juncus patens) The most shade and drought tolerant of the rushes, grey rush is a workhorse in the native plant garden. Grey rush forms dense evergreen grass-like clumps, with tough networks of roots that hold their own against weeds.
Nettles (Urtica dioica) For the real native plant connoisseur I recommend the perennial native nettles. Here you can have food, medicine and a security system all in one. The stinging hairs and proclivity to self-seeding may have you cursing, but after you’ve tried cream of chanterelle and nettle soup there is no going back. To top it off, it’s a host plant for Red Admiral caterpillars.
From the dense shade of redwood forests to the dappled edges of oak woodlands to the seasonal shade of deciduous riparian forests there are many different combinations of light, moisture and substrate. This list is a very small sample of the California native species which grow in wild shaded areas. By weaving them into your landscape you increase biodiversity and add resilience to the web of life.