California native plants can thrive poolside or pondside, next to a vegetable garden, in range of lawn sprinklers, in a rain garden, covering the ground near fruit trees, in a flower border that gets regular water or under a birdbath.
The best choices are plants that come from riparian, or streamside, areas, though some common natives tolerate a surprisingly large range of conditions. For a small garden, use barriers or containers to keep some of these plants in check.
With regular water, certain otherwise well-behaved natives expand their territory. If you already grow these plants in drought-tolerant conditions, don’t start watering them unless you want to propagate them.
Yarrow, for instance, takes full to part sun, tolerates drought, yet also does well – and spreads faster – where it gets regular water. Its creeping stems create a good ground cover, kept low if you snip the flowering stems.
I leave the flowers to attract beneficial insects to my vegetable garden, where yarrow mingles with low-growing light-pink- or purple-flowered seaside daisy and fragrant-leaved yerba buena in different areas alongside vegetables and berries.
Hummingbird sage is similarly adaptable. One of my plants has filled a large pot and cascades over the edges. Another one has gradually filled a garden bed. I enjoy the fragrance of the leaves, released when I touch them, and the hummingbirds enjoy the magenta flowers. As a bonus, if the plant spreads where you don’t want it, you can harvest its leaves and dry them for a delicious tea.
For the back of an informal border or the edge of a natural pond, add bursts of yellow in late summer to fall with western goldenrod. It will bloom more with more sun, and it needs to be contained if it gets regular water in a small garden. Goldenrod makes a good border for an edible garden because it attracts beneficial insects.
Brighten a shady or part-sun corner that gets some moisture with the red flowers of western columbine. Hummingbirds will find them! Left to go to seed, goldfinches will feed on them. Scarlet or red monkeyflower and yellow-eyed grass also add spots of vibrant color to moist areas.
On a larger scale, willows are the archetypal streamside vegetation. For a boggy or poorly draining spot, try a small willow, such as the shrubby Del Norte willow. Western spicebush, red-twig and brown-twig dogwood, fragrant thicket-forming native roses, western mock orange and fragrant western azalea also thrive with some water and provide food, forage and shelter for insects and wildlife. Golden currant is particularly picturesque with its flower-packed branches arching over a streambank.
For a pond itself, stream orchid is easy and needs consistent moisture to bloom. Its flowers have muted hues of yellow, brown and purple. Keep it in a pot to control spreading and so that you can move it when it goes dormant from fall to early winter.
Often used in modern landscapes for its architectural form, horsetail can grow in standing water but can colonize drier areas of the garden as well. I grow horsetail in a container, and I still need to weed around it periodically to keep it from spreading.