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Looking to go native?

Going Native Garden Tour inspires gardeners who want to save water, cut down on maintenance

The distinctive aroma of native plants to gardener Jim Evans recalls memories of his youth, hometown and vacations to the Channel Islands off the coast near Ventura. In his front yard, the scent emitted by the mallow and purple sage allows him to relive treasured experiences on a daily basis.

Evans will share his enthusiasm for his native garden by opening his home to visitors on April 17. His Todd Street garden in Mountain View will be among the 70 gardens in 10 Peninsula cities on this year's Going Native Garden Tour, sponsored by the California Native Plant Society.

"This is a great opportunity -- a one-day event for the general public to see native plants in private gardens, learn about them and also buy them for their own gardens," Arvind Kumar, board member of the California Native Plant Society, said.

The tour takes place during California Native Plant Week, April 17-23, which is devoted to encouraging citizens to "undertake appropriate activities to promote the conservation, restoration and appreciation of California's native plants," he said.

The British have been growing native plants for nearly 200 years; then the Spanish and the Italians, he added.

"Our plants are known worldwide. We want them to be well known and grown in California as well," Kumar said.

Evans has already gained an in-depth knowledge of California native plants and is eager to showcase his front and back yards for the Going Native Garden Tour for the sixth year in a row.

Evans' interest in gardening took root in childhood when he would ask his mother for small plots of land to grow vegetable gardens.

"I loved nurturing something living, making it healthy and watching it mature. It was a very concrete satisfaction," he said.

His passion for gardening has endured and today he maintains a raised-bed vegetable garden in his back yard of cauliflower, peas, with tomatoes and basil forthcoming. Introduction to native plants only strengthened his love of gardening.

He discovered the existence of native plants in an article in the local paper after purchasing his home on Todd Street. He learned that native plants offer an ease of maintenance, although pruning requirements vary with season. A gardener can spend an average of eight hours a season pruning.

The most beneficent aspect of native plants is their minimal watering requirements, Evans said. He waters only once a month for a half hour: "The average American uses about 120 gallons a day of water for all purposes. My family uses about one-third that amount and I'm certain it's due to our native plants."

Recognizing the advantages of native plants, Evans hired designers and landscapers to renovate his front and back yards.

His back yard is a rectangular space with smaller interior geometric partitions of squares and circles aligned along a central axis. The garden merges private and public spaces, he said. The more private space to the left, a quiet corner with two chairs, is an ideal setting for reading during the day or intimate conversation during the night. A long teak table to the right seats more people and is a larger social space, he said.

Connecting both spaces is a red tulip-shaped fountain encircled by sprightly native grass. The fountain is a nice middle ground for mingling guests who desire some quiet but also a connectedness to the larger party, Evans said.

The "social table" of elegant teak has a cream-colored shade sail overhead. Enclosing the table and the entire central space of the garden is a ledge of Arizona flagstone.

"The flagstone creates a natural seating for guests," Evans said, noting that it was a design aspect he had specifically requested. The earth-tinted Arizona flagstone, also echoed in the groundwork, harmoniously unifies the garden in tones of orange, brown and beige punctuated by various shades of green native plants.

But there is more diversity in color than meets the eye at first glance.

"One of the features my family and I wanted for our garden was as much color possible throughout the year," Evans said, mentioning that natives bloom at different intervals during the year and currently sprouting are the discreet Wooly Bluecurls in the back yard. In the front yard, the purple sage, Cleveland sage and Dara's Choice are preparing to bloom.

"The Hummingbird sage, California iris and poppies are already blooming," he said, certain that when April 17 arrives, his garden will be flowering at its finest.

What: Going Native Garden Tour

When: Sunday, April 17, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Where: 24 gardens in Santa Clara and San Mateo counties, including nine in Palo Alto, one in Menlo Park, one in Portola Valley, one in Los Altos, four in Mountain View

Cost: Free

Info: Go to Going Native Garden Tour to register and get complete list of gardens on tour; registration closes April 17 at 3 p.m. or when tour fills.

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