Liz Calhoun's Los Altos yard is part hot sun and part shade, but that hasn't stopped her from filling every inch, including the driveway, with low- or no-water easy-to-grow flowers.
No picky pansies or wilted impatiens in sight. She appreciates natives, allowing a buckwheat bush to grow wide and tall (nearly 8 feet across by about 6 feet tall) with its delicate whitish gray flowers. She also knows when which plants flower and what colors to add to areas of her garden that are too green.
Calhoun, a master gardener with the University of California, said making your garden colorful with blooms is deceptively simple. You can have rainbow of colors, textures and shapes, flowers that climb, clump, spread, tiny or large.
The biggest obstacle to growing flowers in our area, Calhoun said, is the clay soil. The soil itself is nutritious enough, she said, it's just hard to plant in because it doesn't drain well.
"Clay is packed tight, so tight it 's waterproof," she said.
The best thing you can do to fix that, she said, is to add lava rock or pumice, which you can buy in bags at nurseries or large hardware stores.
Adding the pumice makes bigger particles opens up the clay allowing water to flow to roots better, she said.
Another important thing with flowers is to figure out if they need sun or shade. Just because the tag says "partial sun," that doesn't mean a plant can handle full bright reflected sun from a pool cover, for example.
Calhoun has a 14-page spreadsheet with information on her flowers' likes and dislikes. If they have dry leaves, they need less sun. If they seem anemic they probably need more sun.
Bees, butterflies and hummingbirds are attracted to flowers, so pick and choose by what you want to see more of. Calhoun has several milkweed plants with small bright orange flowers to attract monarch butterflies.
Calhoun recommends morning glories, but make sure not to plant the perennial version or it will take over your yard, she warned. Sunflowers are easy and bright, as are coneflowers, and day lilies.
Many plants will flower several times a year, in spring and again in summer and fall, and then their blooms will need to be cut back. Cutting back can often spark new growth, she said, and allowing the flowers to go to seed will let the plants spread.
Include plants with fragrance (many are more potent at night). One she recommends is a tobacco relative called nicotiana. If you need ground covers, you can choose some with small flowers such as California fuschia or yarrow.
Make sure to include a mix of annuals -- those that bloom once -- and perennials -- those that bloom more than once or year-round.
Annuals: Alyssum, coneflower, cosmos, marigolds, morning glories, nasturtium, nicotiana alata or Nicotiana sylvestris, snapdragons, sunflowers, sweet peas, violas and zinnias.
Perennials: Abutilon, columbine, daffodils, lavender, rudbeckia, salvia and verbena.