Diablo Views: My back yard will soon see the return of the natives | May 8, 2009 | Danville Express | DanvilleSanRamon.com |


Danville Express

Column - May 8, 2009

Diablo Views: My back yard will soon see the return of the natives

by Dolores Fox Ciardelli

Rain was coming down in a light spray Sunday but that didn't dampen my spirits. My husband and I went on the fifth annual Bringing Back the Natives Garden Tour. What a fine idea, to go au naturel in one's garden. We want to bring back the natives after years of trying to coax our imported Kentucky blue grass through every summer - feeding it, watering it, even begging it to grow. Last summer when water rationing began, we admitted that our environment isn't hospitable to lawns and there must be a better way.

The self-guided tour featured 49 gardens throughout Alameda and Contra Costa counties. These gardens not only conserve water, they are also a habitat for birds and butterflies, according to the thick, informative guide we were mailed free on request. Visit www.BringingBackTheNatives.net.

The drizzly weather was fine for checking out the gardens and seeing the different plants and learning what works where. The homeowners were friendly and ready to share their experiences about going native in their gardens. Even the people on tour wanted to talk about their love of native plants. Everyone walked around in their rain slickers and sturdy shoes with their notepads, cheerfully jotting down the names of different plants, helpfully posted on little sticks.

Many of the locations featured garden talks, and we stopped to hear a designer speak on "Creating a new native garden." He started out by extolling the virtues of going native - they need little water and no pesticides - but he didn't really need to because we were already there for that reason. As my mind wandered and I looked around at the crowd it occurred to me that this might be a good place for a single person to meet a like-minded partner. A woman, for instance, could keep her eye open for a guy without a wedding ring who looked about the right age, and how easy it would be to strike up a conversation about natural habitats and native species and California ecosystems. It might even lead to planning a garden together, which of course would encourage the birds and the bees. If the relationship ended, you'd still have a great garden.

We went to three homes - two in Walnut Creek and one in Pleasanton. There were not any in Danville, Alamo or San Ramon. My main concern was that everything looked so gosh darn pretty wet and under a gray sky. I kept trying to imagine what might happen to the pretty green leaves and delicate blossoms under the searing sun of July and August. Our yard gets challenged every summer and parts of it fail.

We landscaped our back yard seven years ago and the plants around the perimeter of the lawn are doing well. Correction: The plants the deer don't like are doing well. The others are gone. Nevertheless the deer keep checking back to see if we've replanted or just in case the old plants have decided to send up new sprouts. Which makes the deer either very optimistic or very hungry. Or maybe our yard is just part of their itinerary. After all they didn't eat the garden in one season. First they ate their favorites, then their second favorites, and on and on for seven years. What is left is "deer resistant." I know better than to say "deer proof."

Anyway the plants around the edge of our grass are fine. It's the grass itself that screams for help. So, we thought, why not put replace the grass with native plants? Once we began to research the project, our neighbors' beautiful lawns - and our sparse one - began to look unnatural and wasteful, and going native seemed like a no-brainer.

A consultant at the Pleasanton site explained that our yard has a chaparral climate and showed us a chapter in her book that explained what to plant and how to care for it. She told us that chaparral plants like to grow on mounds of soil for proper drainage. I can see it already - the struggling lawn in our back yard replaced by graceful little hills with hardy, low maintenance native plants that will thrive, rain or shine. Perky little birds and graceful butterflies will hover. And perhaps someday we'll be part of the tour.

--Dolores Fox Ciardelli can be e-mailed at editor@DanvilleWeekly.com.


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Posted by Hal Bailey
a resident of another community
on May 8, 2009 at 7:03 am

Dear Dolores,

We enjoyed the same tour last Sunday including homes in Orinda, Moraga and Walnut Creek. Plants like Manzanita are used in our neighborhood as bushes and ground cover and many new landscaping efforts are including the grasses shown on the tour. Also, much of the flowering ground cover is planted in full sun with very good display in July and August.

The difficulty for much of the native plants is they are the natural food source for deer and our neighborhood has a large resident population. Before starting such a native garden, check with experts at the Orchard's Nursery in Lafayette or refer to the Sunset garden book for description of deer-resistant growth.

Also, the tour was promoting a native planting guide, as a book, produced by EBMUD. EBMUD can provide more information and the book is available at Amazon.com.


Like this comment
Posted by EBMUD
a resident of another community
on May 8, 2009 at 1:06 pm

Dear Dolores,

EBMUD response:

Plants and Landscapes for
Summer-Dry Climates

EBMUD's beautifully photographed 336-page book features more than 650 native Californian and Mediterranean plants suited to the climate and microclimates found throughout much of California and the West. Over 500 color photos show plants in garden settings that blend well with natural surroundings and reduce reliance on water.

The book is available on our website at www.ebmud.com <Web Link; .

Soft Cover - $34.95, plus tax (free shipping)

Hard cover - $49.95, plus tax (free shipping)

EBMUD customers: A $5.00 discount per book will be applied when your order is mailed within the EBMUD service area.

Hal, as a community courtesy