With habitats as distinct as marsh and desert, plus all the smaller shadings of soil types, exposures and altitude, there must be major differences in the uses of native plants in the garden. Added to these are a huge range of actual plant types...large trees, like certain oaks, maples and bays, that will grow to dominate any landscape, providing understory habitats for many other, smaller planats, as they do in the wild. A number of foliage shrubs, like the wax myrtles (Myrica) and coffeeberries (Rhamnus) are useful individually or in groups of any size, including shrubby borders and screens. Many dazzling flowering shrubs - the wild lilacs (Ceanothus) are perhaps the most loved and appreciated - make bold and decorative displays anywhere. Around the shrubs and under the trees can go a vast array of beautiful herbaceous perennials and subshrubs. The smaller buckwheats (Eriogonum), heucheras and iris are some of the showiest and most familiar, but there are many more. California has grasses and bulbs galore for making meadows. For woodsy settings there are many exquisite native ferns and flowering plants like wood sorrel (Oxalis oregana) and wild ginger (Asarum). And there are plants for rock gardens and rock walls, pools and streams, and virtually any other setting the gardener might conceive.
There are features of the California landscape that present a certain visual "flavor" and seasonal progression, quite distinct from that of the subtropics and moist forests that provide so many of our garden plants. Many dryland plants have small leaves for water conservation, giving them finer textures than more familiar exotics. Colors are often muted, and include many shades of grey, related to protective coats of hairs (another water-conserving feature). Flowering plants tend to make their displays from late winter - when they offer cheery relief from the bare-bark shades of many exotics - to late spring, when the soil dries and hardens. Summer and fall tend to be times of rest, though there are plenty of exceptions, especially among streamside plants.