Coastal sage scrub permaculture🌻🐝

Problem statement

I live in the Burlingame "Terrace", which is in the coastal sage scrub plant community. I'd like the plants growing around my home to reflect this community and/or produce food.

The permaculture discipline provides handy phrases like guild (recreations of plant communities found in nature) and companion plants (symbiotic or mutually supportive), and concepts like a seven-layer garden and soil building.

I've found Gaia's Garden by Toby Hemenway a concise introduction. Paul Stamets, a hero, is a fan of permaculture and proposes a Stametsian Model with an eighth layer for fungi.

Las Pilitas Nursary is a rich source of native plant and permaculture information. CNPS also enables us to search shade plants by zipcode. Oaktown nursery and Bay Natives are my favorite sources of native plants.

So, the challenge is: build a California coastal sage scrub guild.


Here are the plants I've tried:

Latin name Common name Layer Health* Sun* Water* Notes
Achillea millefolium californica California yarrow Herb 5 3 & 5 1 Loves the sun. No water required. Spreading and flowering, but more slowly in part-shade.
Allium triquetrum Three-cornered leek Herb 5 1 1 Pre-existing. Non-native. Self-propagating. Curious to try a native Allium like Allium unifolium
Agapanthus praecox orientalis Lilly of the Nile Shrub 5 1 1 Pre-existing. Non-native. Prolific in the front yard in shade
Aquilegia eximia Serpentine columbine Shrub 4 3 2 The columbine's health steadily declined after planting, dropping leaves and never flowering. Transplanted to pot with potting soil and more sun and care and it rebounded. Recently transplanted back.
Arctostaphylos densiflora "Sentinel" Manzanita Sub-canopy 🤞 4 1 Yerba Buena nursery has a good description of A. densiflora "Sentinel". Planted summer 2018.
Armeria maritima Sea thrift Ground 🤞 4 2 Planted Spring 18. Visibly wilts without regular water.
Artemisia douglasiana California Mugwort Herb 4 2 1 Died back completely last summer, but resprouted and grew vigorously after spring rain, and is remaining green this summer
Asarum caudatum Western wild ginger Root 3 1 2 Leaves look good, but growth is slow and it hasn't flowered. I suspect it needs more water
Avena sativa Oat Ground cover 🤞 3 1 Planted Spring 19. From Botanical Interests' "Soil Builder Peas and Oats" seed pack. Hoping to rehab soil previously under brick patio. Observed lots of hulls on the surface after planting. Guessing from birds or squirrels.
Asclepias syraca Milkweed Shrub 🤞 4 1 Planted Spring 19. From Botanical Interests seed pack. Hoping to attract butterflies. I've scattered milkeed seed before. Hopefully some sprout this time.
Borago officinalis Borage Ground cover 🤞 4 1 Planted Spring 19. From Botanical Interests seed pack. Hoping the bees like it.
Brugmansia arborea Trumpet flower Sub-canopy 4 2 1 Flowering and leaves look good. Suspect more sun needed
Callistemon rigidus Bottlebrush tree Sub-canopy 5 3 1 Pre-existing. Non-native. Flowers profusely year-round. Great for bees and wildlife.
Citrus tangerina Tangerine tree Sub-canopy 2 3 1 The tree produces inedible fruit and its leaves are chlorotic and sparse :( I suspect it used to get insufficient sun. An arborist mentioned citrus trees are "hungry", so this one may just need fertilizer. There's a lemon tree in the front yard that looks great, for comparison
Camellia japonica Camelia Sub-canopy 5 2 1 Pre-existing. Non-native. Two camellias on the property outside dripline. One in good health, but one suddenly whithered. Suspecting gophers although they left the other alone.
Ceanothus x pallidus "Marie Simon" Pink Ceanothus Shrub 2 4 1 Planted summer 2018. Not looking vigorous. Hoping it's just winter dormancy.
Ceanothus "Ray Hartman" Tree Ceanothus Shrub 3 4 1 Planted summer 2018. Leaves look healthy, but squirrels have broken off many of the branches.
Chlorogalum pomeridianum Soap plant Herb 5 3 1 Spring 18. Inspired by native uses.
Claytonia sibirica Candy flower Herb 5 1 2 Leaves and growth look great. Flowering. Neighboring ginger
Collinsia heterophylla Chinese houses Shrub 🤞 2 1 Planted Spring 18. Flowering!
Dicentra formosa Bleeding heart Shrub 5 2-3 2 Planted three. Died back completely after summer, but resprouted and spread vigorously after Spring rain
Dietes iridioides African iris Shrub 5 1 1 Pre-existing. Non-native. Flowers and seeds readily.
Epilobium canum "Catalina" California fuscia Shrub 5 5 1 Planted summer 2018
Eriogonum fasciculatum California buckwheat Shrub 4 5 1 Planted summer 2018. Looks good, but slow growing. Looks good, but slow growing. Think it'd appreciate a full sun.
Eriogonum giganteum St. Catherine's Lace Shrub 4 4 1 Planted summer 2018. Looks good, but slow growing. Think it'd appreciate full sun.
Eriogonum latifollum Seaside buckwheat Ground cover 4 5 1 Planted summer 2018. Looks good, but slow growing. Think it'd appreciate a full sun.
Eschscholzia californica California poppy Shrub 4 5 1 Gopher favorite, but some survived to bloom this year!
Festuca californica California fescue Ground 🤞 5 1 Flattened by tree-fall.
Ficus carica "Violeta de Bordeaux" Fig tree Sub-canopy 1 4 1 Planted summer 2018. Died due to lack of water, which is weird since I've seen figs growing in parched fields.
Fragaria californica Wild strawberry Ground 5 3 1 Spreading and leaves look good. Flowering for the first time after 2019's wet Spring.
Frangula californica (Presidio SF) Coffeeberry Shrub 4 5 1 Planted summer 2018. Looks good, but slow growing.
Hedera helix English ivy Vine 5 4 1 Pre-existing. Non-native.
Helianthus californicus California sunflower Shrub 1 4 1 Planted Spring 18. Died back in the 2018 winter.
Heracleum maximum Cow parsnip Shrub 4 1 2 Planted two. Both died back, but returned strong with spring rain, esp the wet Spring of 2019.
Holodiscus discolor Cream bush Shrub 4 2 1 Leaves look good, but slow growing
Horkelia californica California horkelia Ground 4 3 1 Hasn't flowered or spread, but doubled in size after Spring rain
Hydrangea macrophylla Hydrangea Shrub 1 2 1 Pre-existing. Non-native. A tall shrub growing in shade when I moved in. Declining health perhaps due to low water or sun
Iris douglasiana Douglas Iris Shrub 4 2 1 Planted two. One died. The other's leaves look good, but it hasn't flowered. There's another iris nearby that's flowering, for comparison.
Ligustrum japonicum Japanese Privet Sub-canopy 5 1 1 Predates me. Healthy/invasive.
Lonicera hispidula California honeysuckle Vine 1 4 1 Planted Spring 18. Devoured by goffer.
Lupinus arboreus Yellow bush lupine Shrub 4 4 1 Planted in pot in sun. Flowering! Transplanted, then eaten by gopher.
Lupinus variicolor Varied lupine Shrub   1 1 Planted in shade by compost pile. Demolished by slugs
Mimulus aurantiacus Bush monkeyflower Shrub 3 1 1 Planted in shade. Leaves and growth look good, but waiting for flowers
Mimulus aurantiacus Bush monkeyflower Shrub 4-5 2-5 1 Flowers profusely.
Monardella odoratissima Mountain coyote mint Herb 4 3 1 Planted spring 18. Foliage smells wonderful. Flowering, but slow growing/compact. Bumblebees like it. Died at the end of Summer 2018, perhaps due to under-watering or gopher.
Nandina domestica Heavenly bamboo Shrub 5 2-5 1 Pre-existing. Invasive
Oxalis pes-caprae Sourgrass Herb 5 2-4 1 Invasive, but in the spirit of permaculture I'm trying to learn from it. Makes me want to try a native oxalis like Oxalis oregana
Papaver heterophyllum Wind poppy Shrub 5 5 1 Planted Spring 18. Lots of flowers. Hopefully it reseeds.
Pisum sativum Pea Ground cover, roots 🤞 3 1 Planted Spring 19. From Botanical Interests' "Soil Builder Peas and Oats" seed pack. Hoping it builds the soil and and IIRC remediates juglone from the walnut tree. Observed sprouts after rain.
Pittosporum eugenioides Tarata Sub-canopy 5 3 1 Predates me. Healthy. Looks like a volunteer.
Pittosporum tobira Mock orange Sub-canopy 5 5 1 Flowering and leaves look good
Prunus cerasifera Purple leaf ornamental plum Sub-canopy 3 5 1 The tree leaves and flowers regularly, but has dying branches. Arborist advised removal due to ill health.
Plantago subnuda Tall coastal plantain Herb 1 4 1 Eaten by slugs when watered, deciduous/dead when unwatered :(
Penstemon heterophyllus ("Margarita Bop") Bunchleaf Penstemon Herb 3 4 1 Planted summer 2018. IIRC, it was fine,but died back as an annual.
Romneya coulteri Matilija poppy Shrub 5 5 1 Transplanted(!) Fall 17. Plant another in summer 2018 in a shadier location, but it's leafing!
Rudbeckia californica California coneflower Shrub 5 4 1 Planted in a pot. Slug favorite
Salvia spathacea Hummingbird sage Shrub 5 5 1 Flowering and spreading!
Sanicula crassicaulis Snakeroot Shrub 4 2 1 Planted Spring 18. Inspired by Sawyer Camp trail (north end). Died back in Summer, but re-leafed after Spring rain.
Satureja douglasii Yerba buena Ground 4 3-4 1 Doesn't mind dry clay soil, but grows best in bright/direct sun. Expanding dramatically after Spring rain.
Silene laciniata ssp. californica Northern California Indian pink Shrub 1 4 1 Planted Spring 18. Never took. Always looked dehydrated. Died.
Sisyrinchium bellum Blue-eyed grass Ground 5 4 1 Planted 3 Spring 17. Flowering! What a charmer! Planted 3 more Spring 18. Gopher ate one, so apparently they're not immune.
Solanum xanti Purple nightshade Shrub 4 2 1 Planted Spring 18. Strong growth Spring 19.
Stachys bullata Wood mint Herb 2 3 1 Slow growing. Inspired by Sawyer Camp trail (north end).
Symphyotrichum chilense California aster Shrub 4 4 1 Leaves look good, but slow growing. Suspect more sun needed. Transplanted to sunnier spot Winter 2018 and it does look better.
Taraxacum officinale Dandelion Herb 5 3 1 Self-propagating. Leaves look good. Flowered.
Trichostema lanatum Woolly bluecurls Herb 1 4 1 Planted summer 2018. Never took. Died.
Vica faba Fava bean Ground cover, roots ? 3 1 Planted Spring 19. From Botanical Interests seed pack. Hoping the nitrogen fixing builds the soil and IIRC might remediate juglone from the walnut tree. Found one seed, sprouting, on the surface after planting, perhaps dug up by squirrels, but not eaten.
Wyethia angustifolia Mule ears Shrub 3 3 1 Spring 18. Appeared to never take, but then reappeared Spring 2019 after the rain!
Latin Common Layer Health🤞 Sun Water Comments. This is a row template

* Numeric ranges:


Spring 2019

Fat worms, even in unexpected places, like a gravel pile on black plastic under the English ivy.

Salamanders common in moist places, esp under wood.

Bees doing relatively well. Two of three hives survived the winter.

Stropharia mycelium thriving in an area I thought was the sunniest and driest (though it does get a lot of shade) in the back yard. Matalija, Arctostaphylos and Eriogonum growing nearby don't seem to mind.

Flock of robins eating English ivy seeds. Saw goldfinch for the first time. Juncos, towhees, brown creepers, house sparrows, chestnut-backed chickadees, crows common.

Rats and gophers common.

Saw a cat once hunting for rats 🐈


Thoughts? Suggestions? Hit me up @erikeldridge


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