By now many Bay Area gardeners have caught on to the benefits of growing California native plants in their gardens. They recognize the common sense of a low maintenance, low water-need garden that attracts wildlife, doesn't require pesticides and brings the wild lands look into personal spaces.

On Sunday, May 5, native plant pros and newcomers alike can widen their knowledge and meander through native plant gardens on the ninth annual "Bringing Back the Natives Garden Tour," a free self-drive tour to 40 gardens scattered across Alameda and Contra Costa counties.

There's something for each lot size and budget, from expansive hillside parcels to small lots in the flats; and from gardens designed by professionals to those where homeowners have completed the steps from beginning to end. Garden styles vary from restoration gardens using local native plants to those with species from throughout California.

The process to participate in this free tour is easy. Registration is through the tour website (www.bringingbackthenatives.net) and organizer Kathy Kramer recommends doing that early in order to receive the garden guide. The next step is to check out the gardens you want to visit.

"Look at the photos of each garden, read the descriptions and look at the plant lists," Kramer said. "Make good decisions about what gardens to visit and print out the plant lists to take with you."

The tour represents an opportunity to learn as well as view. Throughout tour day, more than 50 free talks will discuss how to care and select California natives, lower water bills, attract bees, butterflies and birds, and even how to design your own garden.

Kramer said more than 6,000 people are expected on this year's tour, which will include four Tri-Valley native gardens.

"I hope this tour encourages people to consider including native plants in their garden," she said. "They belong here in California and they provide a sense of what California is."

if you go
What: Bringing Back the Natives Garden Tour
When: 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Sunday, May 5
Where: Forty Contra Costa and Alameda county gardens that are pesticide-free, water- conserving, provide habitat for wildlife, and contain 60 percent or more native plants. Garden addresses mailed to registrants in April
Cost: Admission is free (donations accepted), but space is limited and registration is required; registration will close when tour reaches capacity, or April 27, whichever comes first
Details, registration: Visit www.bringingbackthenatives.net