Flowers for a Bay Area Yard

With California in a drought, it can be tough finding plants to beautify your Bay Area yard. To help you avoid costly trial and error, I’ve compiled a short list of plants that thrive (and some plants that are challenging to maintain) in my area.

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Pink Cymbidium

Our east porch is full of cymbidium orchids. These have been some of the easiest plants to care for. They require very little water, maybe once/week unless the temperature gets into the 80s.

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Cymbidium porch.

The tree in front of the east porch is a crepe myrtle. It doesn’t have leaves during the winter/early spring, which lets the cymbidiums get full morning sun before and during their blooming period.

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Pink Cymbidium

This is one 5-gallon pot. Cymbidiums can be difficult to find in Home Depot or Lowes. We got some of ours from vendors at the De Anza Flea Market in Cupertino.

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Peach Cymbidium

Cymbidiums come in a variety of colors including salmon-pink, butter-yellow, white and cream. But not blue.

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White cymbidium.

Each stalk has about 6-12 buds.

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Hollyhocks can get very big. Good background plant, or as a dramatic centerpiece.

Another plant that has done well in my yard is the hollyhock. My sister grew this from seeds last year. It died back and either self-seeded or returned this year, twice it’s height. Currently, the main flower stalk is about 10 to 12 feet tall, with others about 6 to 8 feet tall.

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Great in full sun. Requires little care and water.

I can’t remember what this plant is called, but we got it at Home Depot or Lowes. It has thick reddish-green leaves that have a High-Def sheen. I thought it wouldn’t do well in direct sunlight but it thrives in the south yard and has required very little water.

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Lantana requires little water, likes full sun, but needs to be maintained with regular pruning.

This is yellow Lantana. I’ve seen them readily available in Home Depot and Lowes. They’re unfussy. In fact they can spread quite a lot and overtake their neighbors. However, they require little water but regular cutting back.

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Fluffy plant with tiny white flowers. Good in full sun, in border plantings.

Some kind of white annual. Also unfussy, great in borders, good as a true-white flower (not cream or off white). However, it self-seeds and can be a nuisance to get rid of.

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Begonia. My favorite shade plant.

This is a begonia. It is GORGEOUS and one of my favorite flowers. It does well with little water. However, it needs to be protected from direct light. Dappled shade works well, or a porch that’s always sheltered but not too dark. Another thing I learned after wasting SO MUCH MONEY on these plants: they die down then COME BACK. If they seemed happy where you kept them but mysteriously die, you did nothing wrong. Leave them there. Water sparingly. Don’t let the soil get cracked-earth dry or sopping wet. They’ll come back, bigger, the next year.

We get our begonias from the San Francisco Annual Plant Sale, Half Moon Bay nurseries, and the De Anza Flea Market.

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This does well in shade.

Some kind of plant that puts out these purple flowers. I can’t remember what it’s called, but it also does well with little water. Mine flourishes in dappled shade under a tree.

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Hydrangea. Bane of my gardening existence.

The worst plant in my yard. In full sun, if the temperature reaches mid 80s, the leaves wilt and the flowers scorch. They require a lot of water to revive. But over-watering can cause them not to bloom. Also, each variety needs to be pruned a certain way because buds form on old wood in one variety, new wood on another. Prune too late and you get no flowers. Don’t prune and you might not get flowers. So not worth it.

If you really want to keep them, I suggest putting them in an east yard or where they’ll be sheltered by eaves or awnings.


Here are the products I use in my garden. These links click through to normal Amazon pages; you’re just looking at a curated list of products that I’ve tried and recommend. If you purchase any of these items, I may get a small commission, which helps me maintain this website.

 Miracle Gro has been the easiest to use (one dose every 2 weeks!) with great results not just in bloom size and frequency, but overall plant size and health.

I also occasionally supplement my fertilizing with worm tea and worm castings from my worm composting bin in the warmer months, when my worms are more active. This is the bin I use. I’ll cover vermicomposting in another post.

A smaller, less expensive version of the worm bin I use.

My porch plants get at least half of their water from veggie- and rice-rinse water. I rinse our veggies in a colander over a bowl or bucket. It’s more efficient to use a faucet’s sprayer option or separate sprayer, like the one that comes with this faucet. All that rinse water could’ve gone down the drain, but nourished a plant instead!

Hope your garden plans come to fruition!


If you have any questions about this post, or to connect with me, leave a comment below, on Twitter (@JoanWIP), or Facebook.

Hang out in my mental playground! For cheaper than a venti latte, my highly-rated short stories are available on Amazon, Fresh Cuts: Breaking Volume and Fresh Cuts 2: Skinning Volume. #Fantasy #SciFi #Horror #Fables #Fairytales #SelfRescuingHeroines #DiverseBooks.

 Fresh Cuts 2: Skinning has been reviewed as “Smart” “Fresh” “Disturbing” and “the part of Wonderland people don’t talk about”!

 Fresh Cuts: Breaking has been reviewed as “Twisted” “Hilarious” and a “Delightfully perverse collection”!

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