Author: L. A. Peluso Designs

Blooms, California Native Plants, Native Gardens, Naturalistic Gardens, Pollinators

Now Blooming in My Garden, San Jose, CA

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Above: California Wild Lilac and Santa Barbara Daisy, both low in water use.

Lupinus succulentus 'Rodeo Rose' California native hybrid

Lupinus succulentus ‘Rodeo Rose,’ a California Native Hybrid Lupine which self sows–even in gravel, this year also sowed itself in the container above–how convenient!


Rosmarinus officinalis, quite happily blooming in an 18″ container, beloved by bees and amazingly similar in bloom color and form to our California Native Wild Lilac above and below.

Above: A bee enjoys a potted California Wild Lilac before its friends arrive. California Wild Lilac is a favorite of local and European bees throughout California. It is evergreen and can be long-lived if it is not watered during the summer.

All this beauty and spring has just sprung! TTFN!



Landscape Design, Low Water Plants

Landscape Rebate Garden Featuring Lavender, San Jose, CA

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Landscape Rebate Garden San Jose CA Lavender Dymondia Apricots Germander

This garden design by L. A. Peluso Designs, located in the neighborhood of Willow Glen, San Jose, qualified for a landscape rebate from the Santa Clara Valley Water District. The homeowners, originally from the south of France, wanted to feature lavender in a big way, to evoke their memory of a favorite villa. As a result, this low-water design called for six different lavenders allowing for extended bloom time and subtle color variety:  Lavandula x intermedia ‘Grappenhall,’ Lavandula x intermedia ‘Provence,” Lavandula x intermedia ‘Super,’ Lavandula x intermedia ‘Grosso,’ Lavandula angustifolia ‘Munstead,’ and Lavandula angustifolia ‘Blue Cushion.’

Landscape Rebate Garden San Jose CA Dry Creek and Lavender Apricot Germander Gaillardia

Gaillardia grandiflora ‘Goblin,’ also known commonly as Blanket Flower, adds a complementary pop of hot color. Autumn Royal apricot is visible in the upper left corner of the photo.

Landscape Rebate Garden San Jose CA Lavender Dymondia Apricots Low Water Landscape

Autumn Royal and Blenheim apricot trees provide a bounty of fruit for an extended period of time, and surprisingly, still qualified as low-water plants for purposes of the landscape water rebate! (You can have your rebate, and eat it, too!–Sorry, we couldn’t resist). Shown here in the background on the right is the Blenheim apricot. Dymondia margaretae fills in between flagstones.

Landscape Rebate Garden San Jose CA Lavender Creeping Thyme Wooly Thyme Low Water Landscape

Thyme begins to fill in as groundcover (Creeping Thyme and Woolly Thyme).

Landscape Rebate Garden San Jose CA Lavender

Landscape Rebate Garden San Jose CA Lavender Dymondia Apricots Germander Blanket Flower Creepting Thyme

And….voila! 🙂

California Native Plants, Landscape Design, Native Gardens

Park-Like Garden Setting

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This California native plant garden located in Menlo Park, California, and designed by L. A. Peluso Designs, has turned into a peaceful, park-like setting and features many favorites, such as Sunset Manzanita, Deer Grass, Salvia clevelandii, and Stickey Monkey.

Flagstone Path Meanders Through California Native Plant Garden, Menlo Park, CA
Flagstone Path Meanders Through California Native Plant Garden, Menlo Park, CA
California Native Plant Garden, Menlo Park CA
California Native Plant Garden, Menlo Park CA
Closeup of California Native Plant Muhlenbergia rigens Commonly Known as Deer Grass
Closeup of California Native Plant Muhlenbergia rigens, commonly known as Deer Grass
California Natives Salvia, Deer Grass, Salvia clevelandii, Mimulus aurantiacus, Sunset Manzanita, Ceanothus 'Ray Hartman' Surround Bird Bath
California Natives Salvia, Deer Grass, Salvia clevelandii, Mimulus aurantiacus, Sunset Manzanita, Ceanothus ‘Ray Hartman’ surround bird bath
Sunset Manzanita and Deer Grass, Ceanothus 'Ray Hartman' Standard Tree Form
Sunset Manzanita, Deer Grass, Ceanothus ‘Ray Hartman’ Standard Tree Form
Landscape Design, Low Water Plants, Modern, Naturalistic Gardens

Lush and Low Water Modern Garden Design Hanchett Park

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Lush and Low Water Modern Garden Path Hanchett Park San Jose CA Dymondia Groundcover Olive Tree Lomandra longifolia 'Breeze'

This front garden was designed for a historical home located on a palm-lined street in the quaint neighborhood of Hanchett Park in San Jose, California. The fabulously flexible clients reduced their old lawn for a much smaller, low-water native sod lawn, and added low-water groundcovers, such as Ground Morning Glory (Convolvulus mauritanicus) and Silver Carpet (Dymondia margaretae), in addition to a water-wise no-fruiting olive tree as a focal point. The color palette selected leaned toward silver/blue/white to repeat the house colors.  The energetic homeowners did an amazing job installing this garden themselves, with the help of the owner’s brother.

Plant selections included in this garden are Lavandula intermedia ‘Provence,’ Lavandula stoechas ‘Otto Quast,’ Rosa floribunda ‘Iceberg,’ and Salvia clevelandii ‘Alan Chickering,’ Achillea millefolium, Carex divulsa, and Cycas revoluta (Sago Palm).

An unusual selection unfortunately not pictured close up, but much beloved by the lady of the house, is Aristea inaequalis which is both lovely and tough, and available through Annie’s Annuals & Perennials.  Lomandra longifolia ‘Breeze’ and many of the other plants found in this garden were ordered for the client through Capitol Wholesale Nursery.

Lush and Low Water Modern Garden Path Hanchett Park San Jose CA Ground Morning Glory Fan Aloe Carex Divulsa Yarrow

Lush and Low Water Garden Hanchett Park San Jose CA Dymondia Groundcover Ground Morning Glory Sago Palm Yucca 'Color Guard' Carex divulsa Lomandra longifolia 'Breeze' Silver Brocade Artemisia

California Native Plants, Low Water Plants, Native Gardens, Naturalistic Gardens

No Supplemental Irrigation Required For Native Garden Design

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From Left to Right: Ceanothus 'Yankee Point,' Western Redbud, California Wild Rose, Ceanothus 'Dark Star'

The garden above was created as a private test garden in San Jose, California, and features California native plants in a wild, naturalistic design, according to the client’s wishes. Featured in the photo from left to right are Ceanothus ‘Yankee Point,’ Western Redbud, California Wild Rose,* and Ceanothus ‘Dark Star.’

There was no tilling or soil preparation for this site (other than weed clearing), and no fertilizers were added to the soil prior to or after planting in the late spring of 2010.

Planting holes were dug no larger than the plant containers to encourage the roots to grow through native clay soil. During planting, no attempt was made to loosen the soil around the rootballs and the soil surrounding the rootballs was not disturbed except to briefly and lightly brush the soil with gloved hands. Six inches of redwood mulch was added to the site to suppress weeds and retain moisture. Surprisingly, the mulch has not needed replenishing!

Below, blooming California Native Wild Lilac ‘Ray Hartman’ blooms spectacularly above California Native Ceanothus ‘Diamond Heights’ Variegated Carmel Creeper underplanted as groundcover.

Blooming California Native Wild Lilac 'Ray Hartman' and California Native Ceanothus 'Diamond Heights' Variegated Carmel Creeper Below as Groundcover

Immediately after planting, each plant was watered in for approximately 15-20 minutes, thoroughly and deeply saturating the rootball and surrounding area. Following the initial watering (during their first summer), plants were watered every few days if needed, tapering off to watering twice a week in the cooler weather of fall, at which time plants were watered once a week until winter rains arrived consistently enough to rely upon. Since the plants’ first year in the garden, there has been no supplemental irrigation to this site! Pruning and weeding is performed just twice a year, making this garden fairly low maintenance. Weeds are hand-pulled to avoid the use of pesticides which would harm the environment and creatures (including humans) enjoying it.

Amazingly, these plants bloom beautifully and reliably each spring. Native butterflies, birds, and lizards are happy in this habitat and iridescent native bees frequent the garden. Photos were taken in the Spring of 2017.

*California Wild Rose (Rosa californica) can be utilized as a barrier to intruders as it spreads freely by runners when happily situated, forming a dense thicket over time if left unchecked, so plant with caution!

California Native Plants, Fall Color, Low Maintenance Plants, Low Water Plants, Naturalistic Gardens

Lawns Converted to Naturalized Living Space


In this landscape design, I encouraged my clients to take advantage of a lawn landscape rebate program and the result was an extra living room in the front yard! The lawn made way for a meandering path and seating area beneath some mature trees.

Although the landscape rebate program has been suspended due to the funding cap being reached, many incentives to replace lawn with less water-thirsty alternatives remain, including the satisfaction of knowing you are doing your part to reduce water usage and the consequentially making it easier to meet your state mandated water reduction target each month.

Below is a photograph of the yard shortly after installation.

Dwarf plumbago groundover

The primary plant used to replace the lawn and create a similar low-level visual plane is drought-tolerant groundcover is Dwarf Plumbago (Cerastostigma plumbaginoides) which is filling in nicely approximately a year later (below). We created a cozy reading alcove for two under an existing red maple.

Outdoor living room replaces lawn in naturalized setting

Dwarf Plumbago offers seasonal color in the fall and lovely blue flowers (close-up below).

Ceratostigma plumbaginoides (Dwarf Plumbago) Drought-Tolerant Groundcover

Other drought-tolerant plants added included Lamb’s Ears (Stachys byzantina) and Blue Lavandin ‘Provence’ (Lavandula x intermedia ‘Provence’) seen below nestled into the client’s existing David Austin Rose ‘Lady Emma Hamilton.’

David Austin Rose 'Lady Emma Hamilton'; Blue Lavandin 'Provence' (Lavandula x intermedia 'Provence'); Stachys byzantina (Lamb's Ears)

Below, Vitis californica ‘Roger’s Red (Wild California Grape Hybrid), to be trained along an existing fence, provides fall color and has already provided some tasty treats.

Vitis californica 'Roger's Red (Wild California Grape Hybrid)

An existing Mexican Feather Grass (Stipa tenuissima), although lovely, is considered invasive (UC Master Gardener Program Statewide Blog), so it was replaced with Lamb’s Ears for a completely different contrast with the existing Japanese Maple (L-R: before and after seen below).

Rosa Cl. Cecille Brunner (Sweetheart’s Rose, Climbing Cecille Brunner), which is actually a low-water user once established, compliments the existing Lady Emma Hamilton rose and brings a similar color to another part of the yard’s side fence (close-up below).

Rosa Cl. Cecille Brunner (Sweetheart's Rose, Climbing Cecille Brunner)

The client’s previous back lawn area is now a naturalistic and fragrant plant palette including Salvia officinalis (Garden Sage), Erigeron karvinskianus (Fleabane), Eriogonum gigantum var giganteum (St. Catherine’s Lace), Dymondia margaretae (Dymondia), Achillea millefolium californica (California Yarrow), Arbutus unedo (Strawberry Tree), Cistus Grayswood Pink (Grayswood Pink Rock Rose), and Salvia clevelandii ‘Winnifred Gilman’ (Winnifred Gilman Cleveland Sage).

White-flowered Erigeron karvinskianus (Fleabane) and Cistus 'Grayswood Pink' (Grayswood Pink Rock Rose)
White-flowered Erigeron karvinskianus (Fleabane) and Cistus ‘Grayswood pink’ (Grayswood Pink Rock Rose)
Salvia clevelandii 'Winnifred Gilman' (Winnifred Gilman Cleveland Sage) blooming in foreground and Eriogonum gigantum var giganteum (St. Catherine's Lace) blooming in background
Salvia clevelandii ‘Winnifred Gilman’ (Winnifred Gilman Cleveland Sage) blooming in foreground and Eriogonum gigantum var giganteum (St. Catherine’s Lace) blooming in background.

The fragrance from the salvias in this part of the garden can be enjoyed through the kitchen and dining windows, as well as from within the garden itself.

The added fragrance and seating areas entice the client out to the garden. In addition to using much less water than before, both the front and back yard have increased visual interest now that the lawn is gone. The client is out there more and enjoying their new living space!

Blooms, California Native Plants, Fall Color, Low Water Plants, Native Gardens, Pollinators

California Native Garden Plants – Fall Color


Tired of planting the “same-o, same-o flowers” for fall color? Mums are wonderful, it’s true, but how about a less thirsty change of pace? Try these California Native plants needing less water:

Helianthus annuus (Delta Sunflower or Common Sunflower)

Helianthus annuus (Delta Sunflower or Common Sunflower)

St. Catherine's Lace or Saint Catherine's Lace

Eriogonum giganteum (St. Catherine’s Lace) in the spring with a happy bee! And, below in the fall, a close-up of this buckwheat’s back side and rusty fall color. It turns pinkish in-between! I’ll have to remember to add that photo next year.

St. Catherine's Lace or Saint Catherine's Lace

Eriogonum giganteum (St. Catherine's Lace) fall color

Lollipop Flower

Helenium puberulum (Autumn Lollipop or Lollipop)* *Warning – Poisonous if ingested*

Bees flock to any of the above bloomers. Here is one now:

What are your favorite fall-blooming natives (California or otherwise)?

Blooms, Hummingbird Plants, Low Maintenance Plants, Low Water Plants, Succulents

Now Blooming in My Back Yard

Echeveria 'Encantada' in Bloom

Stuffed in a wood planter box and blooming for weeks now on very little water just once a week, is succulent Echeveria ‘Encantada’. A show-stopper, measuring 21″ across at the base of the rosette! USDA Zone 9b.

Here is the “Before” pic taken months ago:

Echeveria 'Encantada'

“Encantada’s” name (in Spanish) fits. Are you as “delighted” and “enchanted” as I am with this beauty? Bonus: This is a hummingbird magnet and takes little maintenance. Gotta have it? You can order through your local nursery or online here:

Succulent Gardens

Altman Plants

Oasis Water Efficient Gardens

L, L

Garden Maintenance, Native Gardens, Naturalistic Gardens

Maintaining Native Gardens – Keeping Your Native Garden Enjoyable for All


butterfly-17057_1280 monarch

High expectations ~ instantly set while being bombarded by hundreds of picture-perfect garden images on media sites, when browsing through brilliant garden magazine photo shoots, and while watching gardens pop up in the blink of an eye on garden DIY shows. The realities, of course, are different. Gardens don’t have to be highly manicured or flawless to be successful and gratifying! Benjamin Vogt, owner of Monarch Gardens, explores ways to change our perspectives on maintaining naturalistic native gardens. Check out his article (in which I’m proud to be featured!) on here.


BEE Entertained!

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Bee Gardens are easily designed as water-wise gardens and are a great way to help support the dwindling bee populations. Read this wonderful article about our buzzing buddies, featured on the front page by fellow California Native Garden fan, Debbie Ballantine. Spoiler alert: The last photo features one of my native garden designs!


BEE Entertained!

1 Comment

Bee Gardens are easily designed as water-wise gardens and are a great way to help support the dwindling bee populations. Read this wonderful article about our buzzing buddies, featured on the front page by fellow California Native Garden fan, Debbie Ballantine. Spoiler alert: The last photo features one of my native garden designs!

Garden Centers | Nurseries

8 Design Take-Aways | A Visit to Flora Grubb Gardens


Really great garden centers are designed to inspire our desire. Some are so thoughtfully planned out we enjoy visiting them over and over regardless of whether we have a shopping list in hand.  It makes sense to look at why we find them appealing places to linger. We’d like our own garden to be just as enticing, right?

I recently had the pleasure of visiting one such nursery, Flora Grubb Gardens of San Francisco, with my daughter and her camera. Following are just some of the design tips you can take away with you from a visit to a well-loved gardening mecca like Flora Grubb.

BOLD COLOR  |  The succulent wall hanging below is one of Flora Grubb Gardens’ visitors’ favorite focal points. I suspect its popularity has just as much to do with the vivid chartreuse paint on the corrugated metal wall it hangs on as it does with its well-designed succulent plantings. The wall color in the background serves as a matte to frame the succulent artwork. Painting a garden wall is an easy way to pump up the garden volume at home.


Colorful pot, colorful shelving, colorful leaves—a sure-fire recipe for constant color in the garden.


Color created with foliage rather than flowers is a design technique that is durable and dependable. Generally speaking, it’s also less effort to maintain compared to the continual chore of dead-heading spent blooms.


The bright bench below is heated—perfect for cat-napping!  Note how stunning the greenery is in contrast to the bench’s modern lines and saturated color—no flowers necessary to complete this scene.


Scroll through the above photos again and if you hadn’t already done so, you’ll notice a theme to the color scheme throughout.  Orange, rusty reds, and chartreuse work well with the rustic flavor at Flora Grubb and also tie the different rooms together, adding continuity to the design.

TAKE A SEAT | Another view of the succulent wall-hanging includes more colorful elements, this time in the form of movable seating.  As opposed to fixed or built-in seating, movable seating is affordable, flexibly functional and can move with you to your next home.  One famous study suggests visitors prefer seating they can move to fixed seating, so if you select movable seating for your garden, you have the added benefit of making your guests feel more relaxed and comfortable in your garden.


GARDEN LARGE | Flora Grubbs Garden Center feels and appears much larger than it is because its footprint isn’t revealed all at once. Garden rooms are slowly revealed sections at a time as one meanders through the available space.  Areas just beyond are partially visible through taller plantings, creating intrigue, and encouraging the visitor to move forward, yet at the same time, the twisting and turning paths slow the guests down enough to “stop and smell the roses.”  This can be achieved in a smaller garden by using something as affordable as a folding screen to divide up space and create two separate garden rooms.


This garden “room” has a colorful truck that functions as both a garden wall divider and a patio. If you look closely you can see the flatbed holds a table set for tea! One could use the design of the slatted wood side panels on this truck to create a garden room divider, hanging plants on both sides, doubling its functionality and increasing gardening space.


PUMP UP THE VOLUME | Use garden room walls to draw the eye upward and increase the feeling of spaciousness.  Height creates volume. Here, a highly-textured wall hanging and colorful chairs hung on the wall draw the eye upward. The wall doubles as storage, the chairs double as artwork!


TEXTURE and FORM | In addition to the lovely color scheme and varied plant heights in the amazing container garden below, the different textures and forms add great contrast and interest. The same design principles hold true for any size garden!


A miniature case study in design, full of different forms, from short and round to vase-like, to upright  and columnar; while at the same time full of different textures, from smooth to bumpy to downright prickly and even fuzzy in appearance!


Note the varied gravel size and color. Even this container garden has meandering paths!


An appealing display of succulents contrasts different leaf forms, textures, and colors, including lighter shades and darker colors, creating drama.  The color scheme below could be applied on a larger scale.


WHIMSY | Doesn’t have to be as obvious as a garden gnome, although gnomes are cute.  Charm can be subtle, too, as seen here in this table that holds a garden which is also its permanent centerpiece.


A close-up elevation view of the table’s succulent centerpiece.


SURPRISE! | You won’t see this coming. It’s interesting to watch people turn a corner at Flora Grubb and get their first look at this ever-changing design. Surprises make for memorable gardens. Plan a surprise in yours and enjoy your guests’ reactions.


Of course, many of us don’t have space to park a car in our garden, but you can get a similar effect by using smaller parts.  A hubcap or grill could be mounted on a fence or wall and planted.


MAKE THAT CHANGE | Plan something new for guests to admire. Great gardens are always changing and never finished. Here’s a peak at the treasures I couldn’t leave without to add to my own garden.

Below is Graptoveria Debbie x Between Graptopetalum and Echeveria.


Here is Opuntia microdasys albaspina (Angelwings).  These appear soft to the touch, but resist the urge to do so or you may need your credit card to remove the needles.


The little guy below in the bottom left corner is Sedum hispanicum v. purpureum (Blue Carpet).  It works well between pavers.


It’s important to note the majority of plants featured in this post (with the exception of some annuals), are low-water users, fitting in nicely with low-water use garden designs here in drought-stricken Cali.

Next time you visit your favorite nursery center and find yourself not wanting to leave, make note of your surroundings as a take-away plan—you’ll increase the value of your time and money, both well spent!

Photos by Melanie R. Peluso | Copyright 2014


Changing Expectations…

“Changing Expectations for Life in the California Garden,” is about the new aesthetic in California gardens in response to environmental concerns.

Here you’ll find gardening tips, landscape design news, info on upcoming industry events, current projects, new plant selections, and more!