Shady areas have proven to be one of the most challenging areas to grow plants in the water-wise garden. There are plenty of moderate and high-water plants to choose from, but for those wishing to reduce their irrigation, the options are often limited. This has probably led to the demise of many a shade-dwelling lavender or sage, the victims of misguided attempts to grow low-water, full-sun plants where they cannot get the light exposure they need for healthy growth.
Plant adaptations to shade boil down to two things: maximized light-capturing abilities, and the efficient use of energy. This has resulted in physiological differences between shade-lovers and sun-lovers; it would be wise to take advantage of this in the garden, rather than to fight it. The extra challenge of dry shade makes it difficult, but not impossible, to have a beautiful landscape full of interesting textures and colors.
Within the shade community, there are varying degrees of tolerance. Plants requiring some sun to thrive but able to do well with partial days spent in the shade are called “shade tolerant.” These are plants you might find labelled “part shade”; providing 4-6 hours of sun will help them do their best. Plants labelled “full shade” are likely to be shade-loving (sciophilous), and might burn if exposed to more than a few hours of sun a day, especially in the afternoon.
The following plants are recommended for their hardiness in our climate and ability to thrive on a few deep soakings a month once established. Those marked with an asterisk* provide forage for wildlife, either directly (pollen, nectar, nesting material), or indirectly (habitat for insects eaten by birds, etc).
Part shade (4-6 hours of sun)
Agapanthus (Agapanthus spp and hybrids)
*Bush anemone (Carpenteria californica)
*Chaparral currant (Ribes malvaceum)
*Common yarrow (Achillea millefolium)
*Douglas iris (Iris douglasiana)
*Hummingbird sage (Salvia spathacea)
*Idaho fescue (Festuca idahoensis)
*Rosy buckwheat (Eriogonum grande rubescens)
*Santa Barbara daisy (Erigeron karvinskianus)
*Seaside daisy (Erigeron glaucus)
Full shade (less than 4 hours of sun)
*Island alum root (Heuchera maxima)
*California pipevine (Aristolochia californica)
*Coffeeberry (Frangula californica)
Corsican hellebore (Helleborus argutifolius)
*Creeping Oregon grape (Mahonia repens)
Daffodils (Narcissus spp)
*Evergreen currant (Ribes viburnifolium)
Japanese holly fern (Cyrtomium falcatum)
Lenten rose (Helleborus x hybridus)
*Pigsqueak (Bergenia crassifolia)
*Snowberry (Symphoricarpos albus)
*Spicebush (Calycanthus occidentalis)
*Western columbine (Aquilegia formosa)
*Woodland strawberry (Fragaria vesca)