Established native oaks can succumb to fungal root diseases if they're watered during the summer months. That's what Cara and Tim Hoxie of Orinda, CA, discovered before they relandscaped their front yard. Their coast live oak, underplanted with lawn, was struggling.
The solution: Create a large decomposed granite patio beneath the tree's canopy, then landscape with unthirsty plants nearby. (Since deer regularly grazed on the Hoxie's property, the plants needed to be deer-resistant too.) The garden is mostly green, but perennials and annuals add seasonal color, and a sedge adds beautiful texture ― it's backlit by the sun much of the day.
Now, nearly two years after the redesign, the oak is recovering nicely and the resident deer are coexisting with the plants.
Trees, shrubs, and grasses: African boxwood, Aster x frikartii, Berkeley sedge ( Carex tumulicola), breath of heaven, evergreen dogwood (sold as Cornus omeiense 'Summer Passion'), and rosemary.
Annuals and perennials: Bacopa, catmint, Erysimum 'Bowles Mauve', true geraniums ( Geranium species), hellebores, Iceland poppy, lobelia, narcissus, Shasta daisy, sweet William.