Gardening advice please

Plant advice, really. I live in San Francisco, which is zone 10B according to the government, or zone 17 according to Sunset Magazine. Our house faces NW on the front, and SE (obviously) on the back. These are zero lot line houses, so there are no side yards.

The front area is very small. 4 years ago we planted a Peppermint Willow tree, which is growing well, about 8 feet from the front of the house. Right by the house is a brick planter, about 10 feet long (across the front of the house), 2.5 feet wide (front to back) and about 2 feet deep, although there is just dirt below it so it’s as deep as it needs to be. I’m having trouble growing what I want there.

Whenever there is sun this planter gets afternoon sun starting at around 1:30 pm and lasting anywhere from 3 to 8 hours, depending on how long the day is. The tree filters the sun a little, but not much; it’s not directly in front of the planter.

I tried to grow a rhododendron and it wouldn’t grow and finally died. I’ve tried to grow jasmine, and it is just sitting there, not growing, gradually declining. I successfully grow some plants with big purple spear-shaped leaves that sprouted huge stalks every few months, but it got huge and ugly and I tore it out. I then dug out all the soil down to the bottom and replaced it with commercial garden soil. Our hot water boiler has an output that drips slightly acidic water near one end, but it only seems to affect a few inches of soil.

I would dearly like to grow something with flowers, fragrant flowers for preference, but we don’t get freezes here and a lot of flowering shrubs seem to need a freeze. I would also like it to be relatively care-free, perhaps a twice-yearly trim, and of course regular watering.

tl;dr version: what flowering or decorative shrubbery can I grow in zone 10B with partial afternoon sun alternating with cloudy days in varying ratios?

Ornamental pepper plants are tough as nails. But they do need sun. Morning sun is best. But I could see them doing well if they get a good start.

Get a Sunset Western Garden Book and look up plants that can take your conditions. It has lists. Also take a look around your neighborhood and see what grows there that you like. In San Francisco it is so foggy that you can often grow shade plants in full sun. You might try camellias, for example. Although they don’t smell much.

Rhodies are very particular as to soil acidity and moisture, and that may be where you went wrong. You could try Star Jasmine (Trachelospermum, not related to true Jasmine) which is a viny ground cover, profusely flowers, with a scent which some people enjoy, and is very hard to kill.

Does it have drainage? When your other plants failed, was the soil dry, or wet? If the drainage isn’t good, you’ll need to take that into account in choosing plants. Alternatively, in such a small volume, it could get hot in there.

Having said all that, as long as it isn’t a bog through lack of drainage, I’d try marguerite daisies. very hardy, pretty when they flower, don’t need watering (much).

We have a similar climate to California. Lots of flowering plants here, and we don’t get any freeze.

What would I do to improve drainage, if that were the problem? (It’s night now and I don’t want to go out and check)

Is it brick? It should have holes drilled into it, holes where water can drain out. You say there’s dirt underneath - is that dirt that is connected to other dirt, or is it paved around and about? Water needs to drain away, somewhere.

Yes, the planter is brick, and inside the planter is dirt all the way down. It’s possible that the dirt under the new garden soil is pretty compacted, however; I didn’t really check it. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a brick planter with drainage holes in it.

Have you ever seen one with anything decent growing in one rather than some sad specimen? :smiley: They are added by builders, not by gardeners. There should be some drainage, but unless you look for the drainage holes or weep holes, it isn’t something you’d normally notice.