Every year, more and more Bay Area gardeners are going native, removing water-guzzling lawns and replacing them with California native plant species, plants that are inherent to Bay Area natural landscapes, attract wildlife and give off a feeling that's typically California. Even the state Legislature has jumped on the go-native bandwagon, declaring the third week of April as California Native Plant Week.

The ninth annual Bringing Back the Natives Garden Tour on May 5 will showcase 40 gardens in Alameda and Contra Costa counties. This self-conducted tour is the ideal way to pick up gardening pointers or get an introduction to an earth-friendly style of gardening.

Throughout the day, more than 50 free talks will fill gardeners' notebooks with tips on how to care and select California natives, lower water bills, attract bees, butterflies and birds, and even design your own low-maintenance garden.

Registration and a preview of the gardens are available on the tour website.

Tour founder Kathy Kramer recommends early registration to receive the garden guide in the mail and to decide which gardens you want to visit. "Go on to the website and look at the photos of each garden, read the descriptions and look at the plant lists," she said. "Print out and bring the plant lists to see which plants are doing well."

The website also contains the names of landscape designers familiar with native plants and a list of nurseries that sell natives, including those participating in the Native Plant Sale Extravaganza on May 4 and 5. Included are Berkeley sellers Native Here Nursery and Oaktown Native Plant Nursery.

New to the tour this year are five select tours, offered in April and May, for those who want to further explore a specific topic. One of the five, on April 14, is a tour of do-it-yourselfer gardens in Richmond, Albany and Berkeley. "This is a good year for people interested in designing and installing their own gardens," Kramer said.

Donna Bodine’s El Cerrito woodland garden combines slow-growing perennials and shrubs with seasonal wildflowers and bunchgrasses.
Donna Bodine’s El Cerrito woodland garden combines slow-growing perennials and shrubs with seasonal wildflowers and bunchgrasses.

Other tours instruct gardeners on how to sheet-mulch and remove a lawn, install a drip irrigation system, and how to garden with nature in mind.

With 11 gardens participating in Berkeley and El Cerrito, careful selection is key.

Donna Bodine's El Cerrito woodland garden combines slow-growing perennials and shrubs with seasonal wildflowers and bunchgrasses. Native rose, coyote mint and pitcher sage provide fragrance while bees and birds are attracted to fescues, rushes, bee plant and gilia.

Irene Kiebert and Michael Fisher chose to restore their El Cerrito garden with local plants, most of which were propagated from seeds collected in the El Cerrito wildlands, to bring back the birds and bugs. Their garden flourishes with California goldenrod, snowberry, buckeye and fuchsia, as well as silver lupine, yarrow and manzanita.

Nancy Warfield and David Gray replaced their lawn with low-maintenance, gopher- and deer-resistant plants using a raised bed of boulders to direct water to a small wetland. In spring, the baby blue eyes, poppies and Chinese houses add color. Garden talks there will focus on how to deal with clay soil and how to build a dry stone wall.

In the Berkeley hills, two gardens are on the tour. There are 17 coast live oaks in the lovely hillside garden of Mary Ford and Rob Lewis, along with blooming Douglas iris, baneberry, monkey flower and snowberry. All the plants in the oak woodland come from a local gene pool, making this truly a local native plant garden.

Mardi and Jeff Mertens wanted to attract wildlife, so they created a garden of more than 100 native plant species, including a bunchgrass meadow of purple needlegrass, fescue and sedges; a boulder-strewn creek bordered by willows and dogwoods; and shaded areas with sword fern, currant and sage. A garden talk will discuss how to create a sanctuary for bees, butterflies and hummingbirds.

Kramer notes that every year people volunteer gardens they created after being inspired by a previous tour. As more gardeners turn to natives, it appears that Kramer will always have new tour gardens as well as established old-timers to display the longevity and "rightness" of using native plants.

If you go
  • Bringing Back the Natives Garden Tour is 10 a.m.-5 p.m. May 5.
    The tour is free, but donations are requested.
    To see locations and register for the tour visit www.bringingbackthenatives.net.
  • Select Tours: Exclusive, Guided Tours of Inspirational Native Plant Gardens, offered in April and May. $30 per person/tour (choose carefully -- there are no refunds or exchanges); www.bringingbackthenatives.net/select-tours.


    Native Plant Sales
  • 10 a.m.-5 p.m. May 4 at Native Here Nursery, 101 Golf Course Dr, Tilden Park, Berkeley. Garden talk at 11 a.m. will feature "Selecting Local Natives for Your Garden" by John Danielsen followed by "Treasure Hunt."
  • 10 a.m. - 5 p.m. May 4 and 5 at Oaktown Native Plant Nursery, 702 Channing Way, Berkeley.