Accepting two givens -- that 2014 is a drought year for California and that lawns are the largest water-guzzlers in any home garden -- gives Berkeley, El Cerrito and Kensington residents an even greater reason to discover the advantages of native plant gardens at an upcoming tour on May 4.

The free, self-guided Bringing Back the Natives Garden Tour features 35 locations in Alameda and Contra Costa counties selected as models of using indigenous vegetation.

They range from large hill parcels to small lots in the flats, but all share the same characteristics of being pesticide-free, water-conserving, providing habitat for wildlife and containing 60 percent or more native plants.

The garden of Nancy Warfield and David Gray Garden in El Cerrito requires minimal watering.
The garden of Nancy Warfield and David Gray Garden in El Cerrito requires minimal watering.

This will be the tour's 10th year and founder and organizer Kathy Kramer says registration has been brisk for the 6,000 slots. She encourages those interested to preregister on the tour website, bringingbackthenatives.net, in order to receive the tour guide and tickets for entrance into the gardens.

Along with the gardens themselves, more than 40 talks will be offered throughout the day with topics ranging from sheet mulching your lawn to dealing with clay soil and planting to attract wildlife.

To celebrate the tour's 10th anniversary, a Music in the Gardens component has been added so tour goers can ramble along garden paths while enjoying music, from Appalachian and Renaissance to a cappella singers, folk music and more.


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Various East Bay nurseries will also be participating in a two-day Native Plant Sale Extravaganza on May 3 and 4, offering a good selection of native plants and knowledgeable staff on hand to answer questions.

The Native Here Nursery in Tilden Park will participate in the sale and host talks on losing your lawn and a question-answer period with landscape professionals. The Possum Family Singers will provide music.

Regardless of the gardens toured, participants should walk away with an idea how to select and care for California native plants, lower their water bill, design a low maintenance garden, attract wildlife and garden without pesticides.

Kramer recommends using the website to preview the gardens.

"If people take the time to look at the garden descriptions and their locations and the photographs and plant list, they can make good choices about which gardens are going to help provide them with the best advice for their own gardens," she said.

There are two El Cerrito locations and one Kensington garden on this year's tour.

Nancy Warfield and David Gray wanted to replace a sloping lawn that funneled rainwater toward their El Cerrito house with a low-maintenance, tidy, gopher- and deer-resistant garden.

This was accomplished using a raised bed of moss rock boulders that directs rainwater into a small wetland, and a dry creek bed filled with Mexican pebbles.

In spring, colorful California wildflowers brighten the garden while sages help keep deer away. Two garden talks will address coming to terms with clay soil and how to build a dry-stacked stone wall.

Nalani and Anna Heath-Delaney also removed their El Cerrito lawn and replaced it with a sinuous path leading past raised garden beds filled with attractive drought-tolerant natives grouped by their similar water needs.

Plants within the garden include various grasses, California lilac, Western redbud, flowering currant, sages, and native grape. A demonstration on the design and function of the garden's drip irrigation system will be repeated twice during the day.

In Kensington, Seibi Lee and Joel Schoolnik removed juniper, bamboo and ivy and had the yard landscaped to provide structural access to all parts.

The sunny front garden now boasts an Arizona flagstone stairway and circular landing while in the back, stacked moss rock retaining walls border a decomposed granite pathway leading to seating areas in the shade of an oak tree.

A talk on designing a hillside garden and a woodwind trio will fill out the day.

When the tour first began native plant gardens were rare. Ten years later, the concept is more accepted.

"With between 5,000 to 7,000 people on the tour every year, that means more than 50,000 people have been exposed to native plant gardens," Kramer said.

IF YOU GO
Bringing Back the Natives Garden Tour, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. May 4, is free (donations requested). Preregistration at bringingbackthenatives.net is required,
  • Native Plant Sale Extravaganza is May 3 and 4 at Native Here Nursery, 101 Golf Course Drive in Tilden Regional Park in the Berkeley hills. Garden talks from 10:30 a.m. to noon. "Lose your lawn the Bay-Friendly Way" at noon. Music in the Garden noon to 3 p.m.
  • Spring "Mow No Mo" on how to remove your lawn on April 26 in Pleasant Hill and May 24 in Livermore. Cost $30, limit 30 participants. Register at www.bringingbackthenatives.net/select-tours.