- Author: Christine Casey
Most of the Haven receives full sun throughout the day, so garden visitors often ask, “What can I plant in the shade for bees?” Thanks to a generous donation from the California State chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution we'll soon be able to answer. These funds will be used to install two new displays at the Haven: a dry shade garden under one of our valley oaks and a moist shade garden under our Mexican elderberry. Look for these when you visit this spring.
Here's what will be planted in the dry shade garden, listed in order of bloom time. Because the dry shade garden will be planted under a valley oak, I'll be using California native plants that need minimal summer water.
- Baby blue eyes (Nemophila menziesii): early spring-blooming annual that grows to 6 inches tall. Plant from seed the previous fall; will germinate and grow on normal winter rainfall. Stops blooming after a few days of hot weather.
- Chinese houses (Collinsia heterophylla): early spring-blooming annual that reaches up to 15 inches in height. Plant from seed the previous fall; will germinate and grow on normal winter rainfall.
You'll also see both of these in the Grower's Grove area of the garden as part of a wildflower mix used for mason bee (Osmia spp.) forage in almonds.
- Evergreen current (Ribes viburnifolium): Forms a dense groundcover up to 3 feet tall; cannot tolerate full sun. Dainty burgundy flowers in mid-winter. Red stems and fragrant foliage add to this plant's interest. Good low-water substitute for ivy.
- Golden current (Ribes aureum var. gracillimum): Sprawling shrub that can reach 10 feet tall and wide, but my experience is that is stays under 6 feet in the Central Valley. Small yellow flowers in mid-winter will develop into yellow-orange fruit. Good low-water substitute for forsythia.
- Ceanothus ‘Centennial' (Ceanothus foliosus x C. thyrsiflorus var. griseus): Every California bee garden needs ceanothus! Other shade-tolerant ceanothus in the Haven (in order of bloom) are ‘Valley Violet'; ‘Ray Hartman'; and ‘Skylark'.
- Creeping barberry (Berberis aquifolium var. repens): Forms a dense groundcover up to 2 feet tall and will grow in heavy shade. Leaves are pink to burgundy in winter but green up during the growing season. Yellow spring flowers are followed by blue berries.
- Coral bells (Heuchera spp.): I've planted both the cultivar ‘Rosada' (pink flowers) and the species Heuchera maxima (white flower). Both have stalks of small flowers reaching up to 12 inches borne in early spring. Plant these in masses for full effect. Foliage will burn in full sun.
- Valley oak (Quercus lobata): Grows quickly as a young tree to a height of nearly 100 feet when mature. Prefers alluvial soil (what we have at the Haven) where its deep roots can reach groundwater; excessive summer irrigation can cause root disease. Oaks are important habitat plants in California. Like most wind-pollinated plants, it is valuable to bees because it produces large amount of pollen.
- Coyote mint (Monardella villosa): About 12 inches tall, coyote mint does well at the front of a border where its purple flowers appear from spring to fall. Cut back in winter to keep it from becoming leggy.
- Snowberry (Symphoricarpos albus laevigatus): This woodland shrub grows about 4 feet tall and wide; its pink summer flowers are followed by white berries. Will grow in dense shade.
- California goldenrod (Solidago californica): Another bee garden workhorse that bears yellow flowers on 2 to 4 foot stalks from summer through frost; flowers best in full sun but will work in shade gardens. May spread too aggressively with regular irrigation.
- California fuchsia (Epilobium spp.): The Haven features the cultivar ‘Catalina', which grows about 3 feet tall. These valuable bee and hummingbird plants provide flowers from mid-summer through frost.
- California fescue (Festuca californica): This cool-season grass is at its peak in late spring, drying to tan by the end of the summer. Flowers rise another 1 to 2 feet above the 2-foot foliage.
- Deer grass (Muhlenbergia rigens): More typically used in full-sun settings, deer grass will grow in shade but remains smaller and doesn't assume the dramatic “pin cushion” shape.
Both grasses provide overwintering habitat for beneficial insects; bumble bees may nest under them. I've seen honey bees gathering pollen along the full length of deer grass flowers!