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Rod Chisholm opens the shutters to the tree house he built on top of an old apricot tree stump at his home he shares with his wife Kathy Chisholm in Concord, Calif., Thursday, April 10, 2014. The Clayton Historical Society is sponsoring the 22nd annual Clayton Gardens Tour on Saturday and Sunday, April 26-27 and their garden will be part of the tour. (Susan Tripp Pollard/Bay Area News Group)

Derived from the nutrient-rich soil these local green thumbs have created, visitors to a handful of area gardens can get a taste of ecologically life-sustaining practices to take back to their own landscapes.

For the first time, Clayton Historical Society and Museum's 22nd annual garden tour is featuring the new Bumblebee Farm and Garden, with its two-thirds of an acre that epitomizes a go-green, environment-friendly ethic, with its collection bins for rainwater, and permaculture-designed, organic plantings of flora, including myriad fruits, vegetables and flowers.

It features Concord's first approved grey water collection system and the raised beds are crafted from recycled materials.

"We want you to experience our Shangri-La," says Robb Kingsbury. "We all need sanctuaries, especially in our fast-paced world."

"It's about building your community up more," his wife Nadine Findley says of their outreach, joining five other gardens on the tour.

Both Kingsbury and Findley have family farms in their childhoods, living for years in the Pacific Northwest where he was raised, and then returning to her California roots in 2008.

"Gardening is something inherent to me," says Findley.

They moved to their newly constructed Clayton residence with its then-barren clay soil in 2011, and commenced amending, mulching and bringing in "truckload after truckload of organic soil," she notes.


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The proverbial garden as metaphor has brought them lessons about change, natural intangibles for success, be it the southern exposure location or the painstaking, post-dusk care. And things are always a work in progress, she adds.

Gardening enthusiasts who take the tour can see that building an earth friendly environ does not need to take much space.

"You can take any size or space and turn it into your own sanctuary," says Joyce Wells, who along with her husband Jim Barry, are sharing their special spot, with its sloping, soothing water feature and koi pond with those who take the tour.

Both properties had started with a blank canvas, including digging into that seemingly impermeable clay soil.

"It's definitely evolved over time," says Wells of the 19 years they have been cultivating their outdoor scape that backs up to open space. "It's definitely been a continual, renewable plate to draw on."

Their life lessons drawn from creating this small garden space include learning to live in concert with other critters -- including near-miss close-up encounters with rattlesnakes.

Wells tries to take a "cycle of life" approach, even when gophers took to her prized roses, and is always striving for that desired state of peaceful coexistence.

"We've learned that we're just a part of nature," says Wells, a longtime equestrian and hiker -- who until reinstalling a deeper pond -- had to protect her fish from raccoons and a swooping blue heron.

"I have a live-and-let-live philosophy, until they invade my space," she says. "When the dangerous ones are on my front porch, I take objection."

if you go
WHAT: 22nd annual Clayton Gardens Tour
WHEN: 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Saturday and Sunday, April 26-27
WHERE: Self-guided tour starts at Clayton Historical Society and Museum, 6101 Main St., and continues at residences in Clayton Valley
COST: Tickets are $30 and can be picked up, along with map, on the day of the tour
INFORMATION: Call 925-672-0240 or visit www.claytonhistory.org