As California's drought continues, despite some welcome rain, and rumors of further water restrictions keep swirling, thirsty green lawns are becoming less attractive to home owners, businesses and institutions alike.

Kathy Kramer, organizer of the East Bay's annual Bring Back the Natives Garden Tour -- coming May 4 and featuring more than 40 drought-resistant gardens from Fremont to Martinez -- says she's been fielding an increasing number of inquiries about low-water native plants.

"That's the great thing about natives -- they have been here for thousands of years. They are used to our seven months of dry and then wet (weather)," Kramer says.

But she acknowledges that lots of people worry that a native-plant garden won't look as good as their lawn.

Nalani Heath-Delaney looks at some of the native plants in the yard of the home she shares with wife Anna Heath-Delaney in El Cerrito, Calif. on Tuesday,
Nalani Heath-Delaney looks at some of the native plants in the yard of the home she shares with wife Anna Heath-Delaney in El Cerrito, Calif. on Tuesday, April 8, 2014. (Kristopher Skinner/Bay Area News Group)

"Whenever I teach a class about natives, I start by asking if people think they are weeds," Kramer says with a laugh.

Well, if these plants are "weeds," they are amazingly beautiful ones. From the bright gold of the state's signature poppy to the purple flowers of woody salvias to the green, glossy leaves and blossoms of nearly every color imaginable on monkey flower plants, there is lots of variety in the California flora that thrives throughout the Bay Area with little or no irrigation.

In the South Bay, nearly 60 gardens -- spanning from Los Gatos and Saratoga to Palo Alto, Stanford and Portola Valley -- will be featured in the annual Going Native Garden Tour April 26-27.

Madeline Morrow, whose garden is one of those included, says, "There are lots of tough natives with yellow flowers..., a number with white flowers. There's pink flowers, red flowers, and California has some of the most beautiful true blue flowers around and, oh, all of the shades of violet."

Those interested in seeing some of the most attractive drought-friendly Bay Area natives will have an opportunity with one or both of the upcoming tours.

In addition to gardens in many settings, shapes, sizes and styles, each free, drive-yourself tour features talks on native plants as well as plants for sale. Some of the display gardens were designed by professionals, others conceived and created by homeowners.

Taking a tour is often a gardener's first step in exploring and embracing natives, says Morrow. That's how she first discovered some of the many options for Bay Area native gardens while considering which would look best on her property.

The area has "gardens that are very shady," Morrow says. "You see the beautiful ferns that grow under redwoods. We also have a lot dry gardens ... where plants bake in the sun."

Natives even include some lawnlike alternatives that are less thirsty than conventional turf, says Kramer. East Bay tourgoers can see one such option in Joe Maffei's Oakland garden, which encompasses a small bunch grass lawn that requires far less water than a traditional one. After planting it, Maffei noticed an increase in the number of birds flocking to his garden.

For Renate Kempf of Mountain View, seeing more wildlife in her garden has been a bonus since she planted California natives. When she first moved to this state and discovered gorgeous wildflowers on hikes, Kempf says she knew she eventually wanted some of those in her own yard. After planting the natives, the insects and birds attracted by them have made the garden more beautiful than ever, she says.

"I see a lot more bumble bees and song birds. Sometimes in the summer, I walk through the neighborhood, and my yard is the only one that has crickets," Kempf says. "It just makes me happy to share my beautiful space with other critters."

Through the upcoming tour, Kempf and many others will share their native gardens with the public, too.

Those interested in the April 26-27 Going Native Tour in the Santa Clara Valley and on the Peninsula can register until well into the tour's second day. The deadline is 3 p.m. April 27; go to www.gngt.org, and afterward you will receive the addresses of the gardens via email.

Registration for the East Bay's May 4 Bringing Back the Natives Tour, however, closes more than a week ahead of the event, on April 26. That's so a beautiful, informative, 80-page tour brochure can be sent via the USPS to those planning to attend. Learn more, and register at www.bringingbackthenatives.net.

Going Native Garden Tour

When: 10 a.m.-4 p.m. April 26-27
Where: Some 60 gardens from Los Gatos to Portola Valley; focus is on the Peninsula April 26, on Santa Clara Valley April 27 (though some gardens in each area are open each day); see general garden locations at http://gngt.org/GNGT/Gardens.php?year=2014
Admission: Free, but registration required at www.gngt.org; registration closes 3 p.m. April 27; after registering, you will receive addresses for tour gardens via email


Bringing Back the Natives Garden Tour

When: 10 a.m.-5 p.m. May 4
Where: Featuring more than 40 gardens in the East Bay from Fremont to Martinez; see general information on garden locations at www.bringingbackthenatives.net
Admission: Free (suggested donation $15 for those who can afford it); register by April 26 at www.bringingbackthenatives.net, booklet with garden addresses, maps and details will be sent to you via USPS