Friday, January 30, 2009

California Native Plant of the Month: Arctostaphylos pajaroensis

Somehow, December rushed by too quickly, and now January is almost over. So, lest we suddenly have a Native Plant of the Quarter, I give you (drumroll) Arctostaphylos pajaroensis (Pajaro manzanita).
A beautiful small shrub that's been blooming in my front yard since early January, the name of this manzanita points to Pajaro in Monterey County. Usually, manzanitas from closer to the coast tolerate a little extra shade and water but won't perish immediately if it heats up a bit. And the one in my front yard, which I planted 2 years ago (replacing a smoke bush that obstructed the view, regardless how fiercly I pruned) is no exception.
So, what's special? Well, first the beautiful dark reddish bark. Then the green leaves, which stay green year round. The white and rose bell-shaped flowers really brighten my rather dull front garden. I completely replanted everything this fall, and all the plants are small and just sit there. (I do hope they are all growing roots like crazy instead of preparing to dry up and croak for good come spring). And finally, what's really special is the rust-colored new growth. Here's what Las Pilitas says: "A rare manzanita, the red color on the new growth is so vibrant that everyone that sees this plant in our garden inquires about it." A worthy native plant of the month indeed!



Wednesday, January 28, 2009

California Floristic Province

In an earlier post, I briefly mentioned the California Floristic Province. It's described by Wikipedia as area that includes 70% of California as shown in the picture to the right (also from Wikipedia)
The California Floristic Province is a world biodiversity hotspot as defined by Conservation International, due to an unusually high concentration of endemic plants: approximately 8,000 plant species in the geographic region, and over 3,400 taxa limited to the CFP proper.
Now, hotspot sounds like a great thing. But it really means two things: We have a lot of plants, and they are in great danger. A feature in National Geographic, which you can read here, explains the problem: "All Mediterranean climate regions are beautiful places with great climate where people want to live. California has protected 20 percent of its land—a percentage second only to Alaska. but most reserves are set aside based on scenic values (in high elevations) and lowest economic impact, not on saving the most biodiversity. In fact, only a tiny percentage of the areas where California's hotspot species live is protected."
Locally, we do have conservation success stories. For example, Edgewood Park was set aside as a natural preserve very recently, against strong lobbying of a group that wanted to build a golf course there (50 million gallons of water anyone?). Bay area residents cherish that natural preserve for hiking and looking at wildflowers. It's a great place to take kids in the spring. And there's hope that good management can keep the California natives there alive against the encroaching non-native grasses.
A less happy story (so far) is the Pipe-vine Swallowtail butterfly (Battus philenor), whose larvae feed exclusively on Aristolochia californica (California Dutchman's pipe). That butterfly used to live on the San Francisco Peninsula, but died out. To bring back the butterfly, many native plant gardeners include this vine in their gardens. Eventually, we could bring larvae from the east bay, where the species can still be found, and enjoy this special creature right where we live.
What can that mean for us gardeners? For me, it means the choices I make can change things, even if only in a small way. I choose natives to support the creatures that live here, or even those I'd like to see again. And I choose beautiful plants so others might get inspired to do the same.
On the left, just for fun, is an Aristolochia californica photo from Wikipedia. I'll have my own photo for the next bloom day; my Aristolochia is just starting to bloom. Now I just need the butterflies.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Garrya Elliptica or Bust


This is the third time I'm trying to grow Garrya elliptica, Silk Tassel Bush. I admire its wavy, leathery leaves and luxuriant growth, and of course the pretty dangling whitish catkins that give it its name. But I haven't managed to make it feel welcome in my garden yet. The first one I planted years ago, at the edge of our redwood grove, to create a a bit of a privacy screen by the road. I was a rookie then indeed. Watering involved dragging a hose 50 feet through the redwoods. It didn't get enough water. So next time I planted it closer to a hose bib, and I put a gopher basket below and I watered it well. It just sat there and died. I think that location was just too baking hot and sunny.

I really want to grow a Garrya. Or maybe 20.

They are indigenous to my coastal region though I haven't seen one around here. So they fit the mission of habitat restoration in the larger sense. And they are gorgeous.

What I've learned: I need to give a Garrya a bit extra water - it says so on all the pages, Las Pilitas web site, Wikipedia, etc - and put it in a place where it has some shade. And here's a clue: if you do an image Google, most of the sites are in the U.K.

Yesterday I went to a private suburban home in Santa Clara with my pruning class, taught this week by the excellent and skilled Michael Young of Urban Tree Management. And behold - a 15 foot tall luxuriant hedge of four or five Garrya elliptica that generously accommodated 25 pruning students eager to practice on its leafy boughs. I wish I had taken a picture.

Where was it growing? Right next to a neighbor's regularly watered lawn, with some afternoon sun and shade the rest of the day.

I returned from the trip with booty! Tips enough for 20 cuttings. I had some nice moist potting mix ready - a bit richer mix than the seedlings, just because I didn't have much sand or Perlite left. I potted them up with a dab of rooting powder on each. Where to put them so I can baby them and keep them well coddled? Well I decided on my bathroom floor for now. I'll see if I can rig up a plastic tent for them to keep their environment moist and as unchallenging as possible, while their little rootie-tooties can wiggle and grow. Come on babies! Grow for mama!

Friday, January 23, 2009

Desert Island Plant Challenge

Shirl from Scotland has all garden bloggers to her desert island plant challenge. We can each take along three plants along that we really don't want to live without. Of course, even if the temperature were benign and food were not a problem, I'd still feel \seriously deprived with just 3 plants. With 8000 plants in the California Floristic Province, one of the biodiversity hotspots on this planet, 3 seems just not enough (even if only a portion of those plants are well suited for garden environment). But, regardless, here are my three choices.
First, a bit of color: California poppy (Eschscholzia californica). I have those beauties in my back yard, where they bloom from spring into fall and reseed wildly. It's so much fun to watch the native bees get drunk on the pollen and then tumble out of the blossoms. They thrive on neglect, I regularly see them between the tram rails in San Francisco.
Next, I want some fragrance, and I'll pick Salvia clevelandii (cleveland sage), a native shrub that grows to 4-5 feet high and at least as wide. Well, to be frank, it might grow twice as wide if you let it. I'm assuming the desert island has good to excellent drainage, I've already watched 3 Salvia clevelandii "Winifred Gilman" drown in the clay in spring. The species (rather than the Winifred Gilman cultivar) seems to survice and thrive, though. I like nothing better than coming outside on a summer evening and brushing against the leaves. That smells like California to me.
I'd also like a tree, and really struggled with that choice. Here was a chance to have a sleepless night: A Blue oak? California redbud? Manzanita? But then I remembered I'm not actually going. Much relieved, I picked Sambucus mexicana (blue elderberry). The white blossoms are visited by many insects in the spring, and the blue berries are a favorite of the native birds. You can even make jam from them. Sambucus is fine with some shade but seems to thrive in the sun with no water in the wild (the plant books say it's found near streams, but I've seen them on top of the mountains).
P.S. I don't yet have photos of those plants yet, though I have them all in my garden. The poppy and the salvia photo are from Wikipedia and the elderberry pictures are from CalPhotos, where you can look at many more photos of California Native plants. All elderberry pictures I'm showing here (thumbprints are allowed with attribution) are by Keir Morse.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

And more birds...

Town mouse's post inspired me to show some recent bird pictures. On the last day of 2008, I took an early morning walk down into our chaparral area and other parts of the garden. The sun had just risen, and the bushes were atwitter with birds...

Like bushtits (Psaltriparus minimus). Here's another of this acrobatic little fellow....


Here's a Bushtit on a Toyon (Heteromeles arbutifolia)


I'm pretty sure this is a Lesser Goldfinch (Carduelis psaltria) but am not absolutely sure - his head looks dark.

Hard to capture color on a hummingbird. We have almost 100% Anna's hummingbirds (Calypte anna) here. They are very numerous. Many neighbors feed them - I'm not sure if it's good to do that or not, but it's great fun, and my dad is very consistent in keeping his three feeders filled.


Fox sparrow (Passerella iliaca) or pine siskin (Carduelis pinus) or what? I'm not sure. They are sitting in a eucalypt of undetermined species. It's pretty though.


And here are enjoying a morning chat while they drink. Lesser goldfinch sneaking in among them, perched on the right.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Welcome to the baths!

While I remain lamentably ignorant about the birds in my garden -- something I hope to remedy -- I have a gut feeling that bird feeders here in the temperate climates are unnecessary if not a bad idea. Instead, I choose plants with seeds and, more importantly, native plants that attract insects, the best food for baby birds. I feel differently about bird baths. There's no rain for many months in the summer, and even now in the rainy season we've just had a three week dry spell. I'm suspicious of the run-off from lawns, full of herbicides and fertilizer. So I have some water sources in my garden.
On the left is a large concrete fountain (the kind you buy in the hardware store) left by the previous owners. Mr. Mouse installed a solar pump, so we -- birds and humans -- enjoy the sound of a burbling stream when we need it most. And word has gotten around in the bird community, the fountain is popular with the finches, Gold-Crowned Sparrow, and Black-Capped Phoebe.
The hanging bird bath I bought last year seemed a long shot, though the price was right. It came with a picture of several birds clinging to the chain and sitting at the edge. "Yeah, right," I thought, but hoped for maybe one or two visitors every now and then. Turns out the picture was correct! The finches (Gold Finch and House Finch) love this bird bath. They use it mostly for drinking, and it's often quite crowded there in the morning.
On the shadier side of the garden I have my succulent standing bird bath, which is a concrete bird bath that came with the house but had a crack. I solved this problem with a plant saucer and some dirt and succulents. I often add a few flat stones so the bath is easier to access for smaller birds. The succulent bath is preferred by California Towees, Robins, and the occasional jay. In spring, when every bird appearantly wants to look great, I sometimes feel as if I'm the maid for the birds, filling the bath several times a day.
Some birds seem to favor my little water garden, shown in this post, though the barrel is really too steep. Still, I saw a chickadee sitting on one of the leaves just last week. Daring but effective.
Finally, here's a picture of the plant saucer I put in the front as a ground-level bird bath. Right now, the plants in the front are still fairly small and there's little danger of a cat hiding behind them, so it's probably fairly safe. And the birds don't seem to mind the foot traffice and cars shown in this not very artistic photo. In fact, in the last two weeks I've felt as if I had the only open bird bar for miles around, and everyone came by a few times a day for a drink (or a bath).




Saturday, January 17, 2009

Is it time to water? Use your moisture meter!

While the rest of the country is freezing, California has had unseasonably warm temperatures (low 70s where we are). We also haven't had a good rain for about a month. So, many gardeners are either just turning on their irrigation, or lying awake at night wondering whether it's time to turn it on. I try to resolve the question by measuring soil moisture. I use this approach for shrubs and perennials. Annuals need to be sprayed during the rainy season, trees need deep watering.
I know that experienced gardeners just stick their finger in the soil and know what's going on, but I don't trust myself. Besides, my fingers are short. You can buy moisture meters at garden centers, usually they are in the house plant section. They are easy to use and easy to break. It's best to take along a stick or long screw driver to make a hole to stick the meter in. So, today I explored my front garden.
First a salvia, which was moist enough. I have a good layer of mulch on top of the front garden, so the rains from last month are clearly still doing some good.

Then I started with the native buckwheat, which at first looked a bit dry (left picture). But when I stuck the moisture meter in all the way, it became clear there was enough moisture in the soil (right picture).


So, I'll monitor that area of the garden, because the top 2 inches or so are obviously dried out. Finally, I went to an even sunnier spot in the garden, and found that the area was really dried out. The photo didn't even come out all that well because of the sun.

I went for my watering can and went around, watering each plant for a bit until I'd used up the 2 gallons. In 3 days, I'll test everything again. Or maybe, if I'm lucky, it will actually rain.

Here are some tips for using the moisture meter:
  • Make holes with a stick to avoid breaking the meter.
  • Stick the meter in all the way to make sure the soil is moist.
  • Stay close to the root ball. Your garden clay may still be moist while the nursery mix the plant is in has dried out.
  • Wipe off the meter after each plant for more accurate results.
  • Before you decide to water, ask yourself what that plant expects that time of year. Some plants are fine when they're almost dry in summer, others need water.
  • Listen to the birds and enjoy the smells of your garden while you test (and, maybe, water). It's a great excuse to spend some time outside...

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Garden Blogger's Bloom Day -- Slim Pickins

I had to take close up shots to make it look like I have a lot of flowers hereabouts - things are pretty quiet here, not to say downright scruffy. Town mouse's garden is looking very lovely right now even though it's only January.

I've been trying without much success to grow Pink Flowering Currant, Ribes sanguineum glutinosum. Which is a pity because I wanted it to be a thematic plant all over the place. The only theme it's playing is "I don't wanna live here any more." I've tried it in sun and shade both. Well here's a picture from the most successful one which has squozen out a couple blooms.

On the other hand my Ribes indecorum, White Chaparral Currant, is covered in pretty little white clusters. Plus it has been deer proof, whereas they have nibbled on the sanguineum.


A last lone couple of blooms liven up the Mimulus "Trish" bush. I really love the salmon color.


And I haven't been able to cut down my Pitcher Sage, Lepechinia calycina, because it keeps putting out new blossoms, then the big long stalks fall over. I've usually cut it to about 12 inches by now.


The ceanothus plants are starting to bud out. We lost a couple nice indigenous trees this year, and I want to try to propagate some others before they all go. I think this one is either Dark Star or Joyce Coulter, not sure.


The indigenous Arctostaphylos (crustacea) are not yet blooming. Here's a spreading cultivar that is finally starting to spread - "Pacific Sunset" - closeup, then the plant, which is about 2 or 3 feet across now.


Garden Blogger's Bloom Day -- California Natives

Contrary to popular opinion, the roses and the lilacs don't bloom in the central California coastal regions in January. Instead, if we're lucky, we get rain, and I get moss on my bird bath as in this picture.
In sunny areas, both in the wild and in native gardens, the Manzanitas (Arctostaphylos) are starting to bloom. Pete of East Bay Wilds posted an amazing collection on his Flickr site here. In my garden, only Arctostaphylos pajaroensis has started to bloom. But it's quite a show, with pretty pink flowers set off against the reddish bark.
This particular plant is one of the rare Manzanita species that is supposed to grow to 4-5 feet, an ideal height for its spot in a sunny part of the front garden.
When I replanted the front garden in October, I bought some woolly blue curls (Trichostema lanatum) and some Santa cruz island buckwheat (Eriogonum arborescens). Both have been blooming non-stop ever since. This is actually worriesome, they are supposed to grow roots and not waste all their energy on blooming, so I snipped off the blossoms -- with some regret -- right after I took these pictures. You can guess which one is the Wooly blue curl. It's one of the most spectacular California natives, but hard to grow (another of the perfect drainage plants). But I just had to try.
Eriogonum is easy to grow and attrative year round, with green foilage and white to pink blossoms in summer which fade to orange to brown.
Finally, I just had to include this picture of blossoms of the non-native tea trea (Leptospermum laevigatum). Tea trees are natives of Australia, do well with very little water, and are beloved by birds for the blossoms, the seeds, and the shelter. I've never heard that they are invasive, so my tea tree, planted by the previous owner, stays to the enjoyment of both birds and humans.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

A delightful day of this and that and the other and this again and...

But my seed flats are unchanged. My cuttings are wilting.

My ever patient partner knocked up a few more temporary shelves on our upper deck where they'll get more morning sun. I don't know whether to give up on the cuttings. I don't feel like giving them a lot more effort. The seeds might come along.

I also planted a couple clumps of Redwood Sorrel (Oxalis oregana) at the foot of some redwoods and put a bunch of chicken wire around them. When I get a bit more organized I'll put in a little deer fence (chickenwire corral) and maybe try some other redwood habitat plants that deer eat there - like wild ginger (Asarum caudatum). Maybe a balance between growth and munching will emerge after a few years.

Other than that, did a bit of weeding, buried a drip irrigation pipe that was a hazard to those crossing the path, and also dug up soil to dry for testing in my Soils class, and trimmed back some culinary sage that I never use but it looks nice. I took the soil from the mixed evergreen forest part of our property, the slope down behind our house on the north side. It looks really nice, dark and crumbly. So different from the powdery sandy soil on the chapparal side.

Oh and I took some pictures of what's blooming which I'll put up soon, for the bloom day, which I understand is a tradition but I'm not very clear about it yet.

Yesterday was pruning class, with Kevin Raftery (review and contact info), a pruner of deep wisdom and long experience. He walked us around campus and pruned things as he went. I came home and practiced on a clump of junky ornamental fruit trees that maintain their membership in the garden by stabilizing the top of a steep sunny slope. I'd like to replace them but am not sure what with. I am a pruner of little wisdom and less experience but I'm working on it. It's difficult with trees that are so badly out of shape as these ones, though.

Lovely to potter around on a sunny day in early California spring.

My little water garden

When I bought the half-barrel for my little water garden two years ago, I had no idea what an adventure the project would be. Of course, I did it all backwards. First, I bought a water lily and some oxygenating plant at an amazing place in San Jose. The nice lady there assured me that I could not grow plant in a barrel that had held wine, she'd tried it. So I tried to find some fabric to line the barrel with and, after the requisite three trips to the hardware store, I decided on a preformed plastic half-barrel that goes inside the oak barrel.
Next, following the instructions from a book, I dug a hole. I wanted two thirds of the barrel in the ground so the water would not heat up to much on warm days. After a day of digging in clay the hole was finally deep enough and I put sand at the bottom to allow the barrel to find a horizontal resting place. I needed more sand because the plastic barrel was not as tall as the half barrel, but after a weekend of work I had a barrel full of water and could put my water lily in there. I added the oxygenizers, which promptly died, but bought some more. Then I called the Santa Clara Water District who, at that time, had a program to bring mosquito fish to your house. Finally, I installed a small solar pump to circulate the water.
I enjoyed the sound of the water, the beautiful water lily, and my little fish all summer, and was a little sad when everything went dormant in the fall.
The next year, with more information about native water plants, I bought Mimulus guttatus (seep monkeyflower) and Sisyrinchium californicum (yellow-eyed grass), both native but readily available at the local nursery. Both did fairly well. Sisyrinchium has elegant little yellow flowers, and Mimulus spread a little bit and bloomed for most of the summer. And of course I still had the water lily.
Today, I started the water garden clean-up project. For now, I've left the water lily but I divided the two natives, and I was actually amazed how much the Mimulus had spread. Of course I'm nervous that I've killed it in the process -- some plants don't like to be disturbed -- but that's the beauty of gardening: If you make a mistake, or two, it's not really such a big deal. So, I like to be a little reckless. I used the clay from my back yard rather than some fancy stuff carted in from who knows where in plastic bags (and then carted in my car to my house) and I'm not going to worry about the Mimulus. Who know, with luck, I'll have twice as many this spring.
And here's a Mimulus photo from Wikipedia.

Friday, January 9, 2009

Going Native Garden Tour 2009 Registration Opens


Registration for the Going Native Garden Tour opened today. Here's what the web site says:
"Since 2003, the Bay Area's pioneering native garden tour has showcased gardens featuring California native plants. This community-based tour is free of charge to the public upon successful registration. Each tour features about 45 gardens, most of them private home gardens, which are open on tour day for viewing by the public in a do-it-yourself, open house format."
Town mouse has had her garden on the tour for 3 years running, and has really enjoyed the opportunity to share the garden, talk about native plants and waterwise gardening, and answer questions. Each garden has a greeter and one or more docents, and a small number of dedicated volunteers all the other work (garden selection, website, handing out materials, ordering and distribution T-Shirts, PR--it makes me tired just to imagine it).

This years tour is Sunday, April 19, 10am - 4pm.

Here are a few pictures from last year's tour, taken in the winter before the tour. The web site has a lot of additional information, including links, plant lists (print before you visit!) and the sign-up. There are also pages for each garden with additional pictures.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Real gardeners...

I am so impressed with Country Mouse's propagation work. Floating row covers! Hand-collected seeds! A real gardener indeed.
My propagation experience, so far, has been decidedly mixed. A few years ago, before I went native, I took a propagation class with the Master Gardeners of Santa Clara County. It was an excellent class, and I came home inspired. Started lots of little seeds in little peat pots. Had them in the oven with the light on for an extraordinarily long time (Mr. Town Mouse did not approve). Finally transplanted the survivors, and ended up losing almost all, somehow. Too wet, too dry... Actually, a few Black-eyed Susan Vine survived, but I've since found out that they just reseed themselves quite reliably.
Last year I scattered pretty seeds from the Theodore Payne Foundation throughout my garden. But Judith Larner (and Country Mouse) are right: you're really providing especially expensive and tasty bird seed.

This year, I put the seeds in small pots and covered them with chicken wire, as mentioned in an earlier blog posting. And, while that may be hard to see in the picture above, I now have some little plants. Probably more in each pot than I need, but I hope nature will sort that out. Who knows, I too may become a real gardener. On the flip side, my monkeyflower cuttings, some of which I took several months ago, don't look too impressive. I keep telling myself they're just growing roots, but I'm not so sure...

I've had better results, though, with some Heuchera maxima (coral bells). Some of those are ready to transplant soon. So, maybe I am a real gardener after all.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Eat the view!

Gardenrant posted another plea for a white house kitchen garden, and I've added this blog to the supporters. Yes, there are many other much more important things Obama needs to do, BUT THIS ONE IS ACHIEVABLE. When I'm planning a new project, I like to include at least one thing I know I can get done. Obama, here's your chance.
Supporters can vote:

Real Gardeners Propagate

I have this notion that real gardeners have secret ways to engage with the cycles of nature and bring forth new life, and it's so very deep and mysterious and wonderful - that I've always been afraid to start. Well, over a winter break this year I got going finally.

To get some basic ideas, and to support the cause - I started helping out the Santa Cruz CNPS propagation group, once a month. I've learned a lot and had a great time doing that. I hope to be more involved with the California Native Plant Society ongoing, and, if time permits, other worthy groups such as Alrie Middlebrook's California Native Garden Foundation.

I also read up a bit - Judith Larner Lowry's book, The Landscaping Ideas of Jays, definitely inspired me to get going.

My goal is to propagate and plant the natives that grow here endemically. I gathered seeds from Foothill Needle Grass (Nassella lepida), Sticky Monkey (diplacus aurantiacus), and California Fuschia (Epilobium canum I think) and planted those.

But I also planted seeds from nursery stock and cuttings from some really pretty nursery-bought Sticky Monkey (mimulus "Eleanor" and mimulus "Trish"). Among many different natives I planted in the fall of '07, the penstemons and Shasta Sulphur Buckwheat really put on a great show spring and summer of '08.

“Margarita BOP” (Or maybe Penstemon azureus)

Umbellatum 'Shasta Sulfur'

I'd been preparing a bed in the "south garden" (a flat sunny area on the ridge top by our house) for a few months. I cleared it, watered it, cleared it, watered it, cleared it, cleared it, cleared it. - I'm sure some weed seeds will remain but I can say I did due diligence for sure. As Ms Larner-Lowry advised, I even got floating row cover to keep the critters off while the seedlings hopefully germinate and sprout. She said she did an experiment, planting without the cover, and the birds ate every seed.

The fencing is just to keep our rat terrier off the seeds as he runs through. It was used to enclose the front entrance beds, which I've left open now, to see how deer resistant those plants really are.... (BTW, you can see some of our neighbor's garden in the background - they love fruit trees, South African plants, and palm trees.)

To try out another method, I made a mix from fairly equal parts organic potting mix, coarse sand, and perlite, and planted seeds and cuttings in flats and pots:

My partner knocked together some shelves out of old closet doors. That's a native grape in the big pot, btw, and some wild Toyons behind the pool fence. Looks nice and sunny but in fact the area is shady and cold except for late afternoon.

I consolidated them and wrapped them up in plastic to help keep them warm and moist - but made a real mess of it. I can't get in to water and check them. I'll try again or maybe look for a better solution. I've been showing my partner pictures of cold frames, for example :-). But I think I might also just move them up to a deck area with morning sunshine.


Will I get plants? Will I be able to pot some and plant some and share some with neighbors? Time - and enough water, warmth, and the deeply mysterious operations of nature - will tell.

Monday, January 5, 2009

Containers in the shade

When I redid my front yard, I included a garbage enclosure. That means I now have a nice shade spot of concrete to "garden" in. My plan is to plant a few beautiful ceramics pots with natives. I'll get blue pots to create a "theme", and the next step will be getting container mix and the plants.

And again it's a question of Location, Location, and Location. The area gets full shade, from the house and the neighbor's 30 feet pittosporum hedge except for about an hour around noon, when it might get sun (or not). So, we have bright shade (nothing above the area) but not part-shade.

The ever-changing, sometimes challenging, but always inspiring site of Las Pilitas nursery has a page about shade with the oh-so-true comment "Many species that like full sun will grow in shade but may not flower much". Actually, I'd make that "Many species that supposedly do well in shade do not flower in shade". Such as Sisyrinchium bellum (blue-eyed grass) and Styrax officinalis californica (California snow-drop bush).

Their page about full shade has some suggestions, which include several Heuchera (coral bells), Iris, Lepechinia fragans (pitcher sage), Mahonia, ferns, and currents. They also list Yerba Buena, which would be pretty cascading over the edge of some pots, and a few other plants. They include Salvia spathacea, which I just transplanted from a shady area because it never bloomed, and Viola pedenculata. Well, I moved a few years ago and one of the reasons were some native violets that reseeded like crazy, were stunning for 3 weeks in spring, and were ugly, dry, and indestructable the rest of the year...

Still, not bad. A pitcher sage, some Heuchara, maybe a Mahonia, and a few ferns. The next step will be looking these up in my native gardening books and get more data. Of course, I'll also take suggestions...