Longtime Audubon Society member Nancy Wenninger wanted to attract more birds to her garden. Since installing a garden devoted to native species, she has seen more than 90 species of birds there.
"They are drawn to my garden by the diversity of plant heights, the water features and the native nectar-, seed- and fruit-bearing plants" said Wenninger, of Walnut Creek.
The steep back garden is a luscious mixture of ferns and currants, coral bells, redwood sorrel and other shade-loving natives. Wenninger said she "prefers the subtle tastefulness of natives," as opposed to introduced plants. And she loves the wildlife habitat they provide.
Registration is now open for the free Bringing Back the Natives Garden Tour, which will take place Sunday, May 4, 2014, from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. at various locations -- including Wenninger's garden -- throughout Contra Costa and Alameda counties. Participants in this free, self-guided event can choose from 35 showcase native plant gardens and buy plants from a dozen native plant nurseries. More than 50 talks will be offered throughout the day. Registrants can learn how select and care for California native plants, lower their water bills, design a low-maintenance garden, attract butterflies, birds and bees and to garden without using pesticides.
Over the last 40 years Al Kyte, a fly-fishing author and teacher, has converted his typical suburban lot in Moraga into a parklike landscape. Kyte's low-maintenance garden illustrates how a typical suburban lot can be transformed into an area with a natural, woodsy feel.
"I wanted to attract wildlife," said Kyte, echoing Wenninger's motivation. "Removing the lawn and planting native plants, which provide food, shelter and nesting areas for wildlife, really brought in the birds." He, too has seen more than 90 species of birds, including thrashers, tanagers and black-throated gray warblers, in or above the garden.
Visitors are invited to access the front garden by walking between two 15-foot vine maples, up a dry stream bed and through a manzanita-based chaparral that remains attractive throughout the year.
In the back garden, trails wind through open areas of wildflowers that give way to tall shrubs and small trees such as shore pines, mountain mahogany, and madrone, and finally to tall conifers. A 25-foot-long stream tumbles down through offset falls into a fish and turtle pond.
In the Kyte garden, birds are attracted by baths and feeders, nesting houses, a shallow stream riffle, brush piles, dust bath areas and abundant plant cover. As 96 percent of birds rely on insects to feed their young, no pesticides are used in this -- or any -- of the gardens on the Bringing Back the Natives Garden Tour.
Jonathan Espalin, from Calvin Craig Landscaping, designed Ursula Bartels' Lafayette garden, replacing the formerly lawn-centered landscape with lush, mostly native plantings. "In the front garden," Espalin points out, "a thousand square feet of turf was removed. In its place are plants that provide year-round visual interest; these plants were selected because they'll also attract birds and butterflies."
The tranquil back garden, which formerly consisted of a lot of lawn and ivy, is the showstopper at the Bartels' home. Now, under the ancient oaks, woodland plants such as ferns, coffeeberry, flowering currant, yerba buena, and coral bells create a lush feel. Inviting stone pathways, benches, fire ring, and a patio define the outdoor living space and create areas for entertainment and relaxation.
"This new garden provides habitat for everybody," reports Espalin, "It was designed to be inviting to wildlife and people both. There doesn't need to be a compromise. Visitors are welcome to stroll along the seasonal creek, then drop down in one of the many seating areas and enjoy this garden; they won't want to leave," he adds.
Walnut Creek gardens