Sunday, May 2, 2010

Bringing Back the Natives Garden Tour 2010

So today was the "Bringing Back the Natives Garden Tour" here in the East Bay.  I debated about whether to go or not.  I've been the last 3 years and have seen quite the mixed bag of gardens.  But I drove out to Castro Valley to pick up a new kitchen table this morning and, on my way home, was going to pass two gardens in the Oakland hills I was interested in seeing, so I decided to stop by.

And I'm really glad I did.  Both were larger gardens touching some open space and so are not your typical home gardens, but they are perfect places to showcase the beauty of California natives.

The first garden I saw was the Baird/Harper garden, sitting on 5 acres overlooking East Bay regional parks and open space.  The views were amazing and property had an amazing variety of California natives, most of them native to the East Bay.  The oak/bay woodland above the driveway was full of different natives and was very lush.  There was a narrow trail winding through it, so it gave the effect of hiking in an ideal, lush part of the East Bay.  (Part of it received some irrigation).  There were ferns, iris, wood mint, wood rose, miners' lettuce, yerba buena, lots of scrophularia, and many other plants.  This area is nice for someone who enjoys a more wild look.
The area around the pool had a more controlled garden design.  It incorporated exotics and some Ca natives, including various Pacific Coast Hybrid irises and a really beautiful ceanothus with dark purple flowers.  There was also this heuchera that looks like it's blooming from a Festuca idahoensis.
I also went down to a dry creek bed they are trying to get under control.  They pulled out a bunch of weeds and then planted some sword (?) ferns.  I then hiked down the hillside to a small creek.  This area had only limited, if any, work done on it.  There were still a lot of natives to be seen, and of course some weeds, including the hemlock they were battling above.

The second garden I saw was actually two adjacent yards owned by sisters, Sue and Cherie.  If the first garden had an lush wild look, these gardens had more of a pleasant, tamed wildness to them.  I could easily see sitting just enjoying this yard for a long, long time.  These houses are just down the street from where my partner grew up, and I spoke for a while with one of the sisters.  She was very friendly and welcoming, and she knew Mike's parents.  Here are some pics from her front yard.
The yards are under some incredible oak trees on a slope overlooking Butters Canyon (a tributary of Peralta Creek).  The neighborhood has a land trust, the Butters Canyon Conservancy to try and preserve as much of the creek as possible.  They have been buying some of the undeveloped lots to keep it as open space.  Hopefully I'll have another post soon on their efforts.
There was wild ginger and various other understory plants, but what really impressed me about these yards was the Western bleeding hearts (Dicentra formosa). I was wowed by a big patch at the front entrance, but then I saw a patch in full sun between to paved walkways.  And then I saw the bleeding hearts on the slope under the oaks.  It's one of my favorite plants and they were just stunning.  It is a truly beautiful garden.  (Some bleeding hearts front and then back, yard that is.)
I also went to a third garden, the UC Native Bee Garden where my cousin is helping doing research.  I'll post more about that next time.

And be sure to click on the links above for more pics of the gardens.


  1. Always nice to see some people still want to have native gardens rather than the standard grass and Home Depo flowers. I remember when the second garden was much less designed. Nice to see the change.

  2. Thanks for sharing some of the other gardens. I was volunteering in the afternoon and only had time to stop by two others, the UC garden being one of them. Your cousin is so nice- we chatted for a few minutes in between crowds of adoring fans.
    That oak is incredible! And I love the Heuchera optical illusion.

  3. Lovely gardens, and I should probably have that weeds sign screen-printed on the back of a T-shirt so my neighbors know why I'm always hunched over on the hillsides doing battle on behalf of our native plants. Glad to see I'm not alone in my struggles.

    That oak tree is phenomenal looking. I wish we had even one oak here that looked half as healthy as that.

  4. Ah, yes, we did want to see the 2 sisters' garden but alas, it was already 3:30 when we left Berkeley. Maybe next year.

    We had a great time, though, and that Bee Garden was very inspiring.

  5. Life on the edge of wilderness seems to have some great opportunities. I like how the first garden seems to emerge from the landscape. At best my garden can emerge from the neighbor's junipers and ivy...

  6. @Christine: My cousin mentioned she met you. I think I had forwarded her one of your blogposts at some point. She said you were really nice as well. She also gave me a mini private tour (interrupted often by people nearby with questions) so I'll be blogging about all I learned about native bees soon.

  7. Bleeding hearts are a sentimental favorite of mine. I'm looking forward to reading more about the bees. I'm trying to do more to attract them this summer. :)