Shrub Selection

Q. I love your column and appreciate that you invite questions.  I want to grow a thick but attractive shrub on the shady side of my house.  It receives very little sun there and is somewhat damp.  Do you have any suggestions?

I live between Fremont and Del Monte off of Montecito in Monterey, if that gives you an idea of the weather.

I like tea trees and they do well in my front yard, but there’s more sun there.  A friend recommended Dodonea, which I’m not thrilled with, but it would be okay.  I don’t know about Abutalon, it might need more sun.

If you could suggest something, I would be most grateful.

A. The Dodonaea is an interesting option, but it’s a tropical plant that appreciates more sun than you seem to have in this spot. Here’s a link to a description of the Purple-leafed Hop-Bush, from San Marcos Growers:

The Abutilon also prefers full sun. It’s attractive but may be more open in structure than you are looking for.

I prefer to recommend California native plants, as you might already know. A very good California native shrub is the Ceanothus (California Lilac), which would do well in your garden. I have a list of over twenty Ceanothus species that are shade tolerant. I could narrow down that list to a few options for your situation, based on the mature size that you would want for a plant in this location.

Let me know what height and width you have in mind for this plant.

Q. Wow!  You’re wonderful!  Thank you so much!  I agree that natives are the best, but I forget that.  Not quite there yet.  The ideal height would be around 7 feet tall.  It would be along a fence, so the width of the area I want to cover would be about 30 feet.

In my rush, I had forgotten to check what the Ceanothus looked like.  Of course, having grown up on the Peninsula, I am very familiar with it.  It’s flower is soapy, as I recall from having smashed them as a child.  This is a beautiful plant, full of color!  I love it!   With the dimensions that I gave you, do you think it would work, where would you recommend I buy it, and do you ever recommend gardeners?  Thank you!

A.

I reviewed the lists of such shrubs in a couple reference books, and searched through the inventories of some likely sources: San Marcos Growers, Suncrest Nursery, Las Pilitas Nursery and Yerba Buena Nursery. They all list several Ceanothus plants, but most are sun-loving, and the shade tolerant varieties tend to be low-growing. The remaining candidates might or might not be in stock at present.

So, on a recent visit to Native Revival Nursery, I found two varieties of Ceanothus thrysiflorus that might meet your needs. Both are listed as being shade-tolerant and capable of growing to 10 feet. When grown in partial shade, I would expect that they would not reach their maximum height, but would top out closer to the seven feet you have targeted.

These plants are in stock  at Native Revival Nursery (2600 Mar Vista Drive, Aptos).

They have both varieties in 5-gallon size for $24.99 each. The Snow Flurry is also available in 1-gallon size, for $9.99.

Blue Blossom grows to six feet wide, so for a 30-foot screen you would need five plants.

Snow Flurry grows to 8-12 feet wide (perhaps 8-9 feet wide in the partial shade), so you would need four plants.

You could mix the blossom colors, too!

Best wishes. I hope this helps.

Q. What a wonderful resource you are!  Thank you for these ideas and attachments.  I have written to the nursery and let them know that I’d like to buy three Blue Blossom and two Snow Flurry.  Thank you so much for your help!

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