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.