Gardeners and plant lovers alike are abuzz over the return of the Growing Natives Garden Tour, which went virtual the last two years due to the pandemic.
About 40 local private home and public gardens landscaped with California native plants will be open to the public for free, in-person tours from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Saturday, April 2, and Sunday, April 3 (advance online registration is required to participate and get tour maps with addresses). Saturday tours will include properties in Redwood City, Mountain View, Los Altos, Palo Alto, San Mateo and Sunnyvale. Sunday tours will shift south to Santa Clara, Cupertino, Campbell, Los Gatos, San Jose, Morgan Hill and Gilroy. There are also four virtual-only gardens this year.
"Garden owners are very enthusiastic, and volunteers are really happy to be back in person," says volunteer Cynthia Gingrich. "I think there's a renewed interest in what native plants provide to the biodiversity of California."
From native wildflowers like lupine and poppies to plants like manzanita and buckwheat, the gardens featured on the tour have a majority of California natives that are water-wise, low-maintenance and use minimal or no chemicals. These serve as habitats for birds, butterflies, and bees. Gardens that are deemed certified wildlife habitats need to have food, shelter, water and cover for young, Gingrich says.
"In the Bay Area and Santa Cruz Mountains, we have an incredible number of open space preserves and county parks, and that's still not enough," she says. "We have to bring the natives back into our gardens because we have too many non-natives and invasives in our gardens and streets and even in parks … The ivy and mustard and oxalis, sure they're beautiful, but they push out the native species and don't provide the nutrients and nourishment that the native wildlife needs."
This year's gardens range from just over 1,000 square feet to a couple of acres and vary in maturity, with one garden only a few years old. Visitors will be allowed to tour a garden and often can speak with the homeowner or a volunteer (most of whom are UC master gardeners) to learn more about the process of installing a native garden. Some of the gardens are public, including the gardens at San Carlos City Hall, Highlands Elementary School in San Mateo and Bol Park in Palo Alto.
Whether it's a homeowner or a renter with an abundance of outdoor space or a small patio, the tour shows that there are small steps people can take to help native wildlife.
"When you have a postage-sized yard in Sunnyvale, you can't necessarily plant a whole field of lupines, but you can grow wildflowers in pots if you have an apartment balcony," Gingrich says. "You can do a small part that will make a difference."
To register or find photos and videos of the gardens, visit the Growing Natives website.
Bee haven, San Mateo, April 2: This sunny San Mateo front yard features colorful flowers year-round, including wooly blue curl, California fuschia and monkey flower. A small lawn in the back is surrounded by fruit trees and natives, including manzanita, sage brush and buckwheats, and a raised garden bed offers vegetables in the summer. Year-round blooms attract many varieties of birds and native bees.
San Carlos native plant garden, April 2: Stop by the city of San Carlos' native plant garden at City Hall on Saturday to ask docents about its plants and features. The garden, designed by the UC master gardeners, has different areas of focus: One is for hummingbird-attracting plants, for example, while the area next to the benches features drought-tolerant plants such as monkey flower and white sage.
Shady Glen, Redwood City, April 2: Creeping Oregon grape and hummingbird sage can be spotted in the front of this garden designed and installed by the homeowner. In the back, artificial turf is surrounded by perennials such as huckleberry and sages. Bird baths, flowers and berries attract birds.
Matadero garden, Palo Alto, April 2: This half-acre garden in Palo Alto was installed eight years ago, when a new home was built on-site to include rooftop solar panels and hardscape for rainwater catchment. The garden includes drought-tolerant shrubs like manzanitas and buckeyes, as well as old oak trees and other established plants.
Middlefield native and edible gardens, Palo Alto, April 2: This front yard native garden was designed and installed by the homeowner, a master gardener who propagates plants in her small backyard greenhouse. Native wildflowers line the path, and a mound made up of perennial and annual vegetables sits in the center of the yard. The homeowner will also allow tours of her backyard edible garden, which includes fruit trees, beehives, a large vegetable garden and chickens.
Foxborough garden, Mountain View, April 2: A redwood habitat, fruit trees and natives including manzanita and coffeberry can be found at this Mountain View garden. Benches and solar-powered fountains make for an inviting spot to watch birds and butterflies.
Miguel garden, Los Altos, April 2: Spot ceanothus, California gooseberry and wooly blue curl among other natives in the front garden, which features a stone bench and a dry creek bed for capturing rainwater. In the back you'll find a small bamboo grove with a Japanese lantern, succulents and cacti, plus more natives like bunchgrass meadow close to the house. Birds enjoy the flowering plants, and lizards like hanging out in the desert area and in rock wall crevices.
Hummingbird haven, Los Altos, April 2: A seasonal dry creek in the front yard channels stormwater and is decorated with gum plant, coyote mint, wildflowers, and lilac verbena, among other plants. Both lawns were replaced by meadows accented by a variety of plants, including California poppies, coyote mint and lilac verbena. The backyard also has a variety of fruit trees and a raised vegetable garden.
Low water cottage garden, Campbell, April 3: Find manzanitas, sulfur buckwheats and baccharis "Twin Peaks" among a meandering path of interlocking paving stones in this 4,700-square-foot garden. A pervious concrete driveway helps keep rainwater on-site. Berries, flowers and seeds provide food for native wildlife.
Round's Hill, Monte Sereno, April 3: Hike uphill to see a nearly 2-acre garden with meadows of annual wildflowers so abundant they're visible overhead in the spring. Numerous native grasses, flowers and shrubs thrive here, and wildlife including deer, rabbits and coyotes are among the visitors. The homeowner designed and installed the garden and has been tending to it for 24 years.
Julia Brown writes for TheSixFifty.com, a sister publication of Palo Alto Online, covering what to eat, see and do in Silicon Valley.