At just about anytime of the year, Pamela Chesavage's front-yard garden is blossoming with flowers or mint or tomatoes and artichoke plants — all grown with relatively little water or care.
It's an unusual garden space that evolved out Chesavage's passion for native plants and her preference to cook and eat fresh food.
The South of Midtown Palo Alto resident said the space was once 100-percent dedicated to native plants that required no watering on her end. Over the years, she incorporated more and more edibles, which she maintains with water-conserving soaker hoses and thick mulch that minimizes evaporation.
"I don't water my natives at all and they are incredibly happy. I always seem to have something blooming in my front yard," she said. "I don't do a lot of maintenance — just some cleanup in the fall and edible planting and weeding in the spring."
Chesavage's garden is among 53 landscapes throughout San Mateo and Santa Clara counties that will be open to the public next month as part of the Going Native Garden Tour organized by the California Native Plant Society (CNPS) Santa Clara Valley Chapter and the UCCE Master Gardner Program of Santa Clara County, which is held annually to encourage residents to be better stewards of the environment. This year's free, self-guided tour, held Saturday, May 4, and Sunday, May 5, features attractive, habitat-haven, water-wise, low-maintenance and mostly chemical-free, bird-, butterfly- and other pollinator-friendly native gardens. Of the gardens, 12 are new to the tour, including Palo Alto's Gamble Garden, which is participating for the first time in the event's 17-year history.
"Hopefully, the variety of plants in my front-yard and backyard gardens inspires others to replace their thirsty, only-nice-with-fertilizer-and-weed-killer-lawns," Chesavage said. "Even if you plant a combination of edibles, natives and other low-water plants, it's so much better than a lawn for the birds, bees, butterflies and for your health."
Tour coordinator Penny Pollock said the tour is aimed at helping gardeners find ways to incorporate native plants into their own landscapes using ideas and information from the event. Many of the local gardeners will lead native gardening talks or have plants for sale. Many of the gardens are wildlife and butterfly habitats as certified by the National Wildlife Federation, she added.
Pollock said the gardens on this year's tour range from small to large, including a 1.6-acre garden in Monte Sereno that has evolved from a space filled with invasive species to a meadow with native grasses and wildflowers growing among oaks and other native trees and shrubs.
Cynthia Typaldos' smaller native garden that she planted at the Midtown Palo Alto home she rents to create a wildlife-friendly habitat also will be on the tour.
"There is a small wildflower meadow in the back, which is full of pollinators all spring and summer," she said. "The garden attracts a wide variety of bugs; the bumblebees, especially. In the back, there is a lovely elderberry that was planted by a wild creature about four years ago. It's taller than the house now. In front, there is an upright coyote bush, also planted by a wild creature next to the coyote bushes that I planted. I love the serendipity of this."
Typaldos said squirrels also have helped in the development of her garden, which is almost 100 percent native, by planting buckeye seeds throughout. She will be providing seedlings to tour-goers on Sunday, when her garden will be open for viewing.
All gardens on the Going Native Garden Tour, no matter the size, are required to have a minimum of 60 percent native plants and not contain any plants listed on the CAL-IPC Invasive Plant Inventory. Other features considered before gardens are included on the tour are garden design, number of edibles and water conservation methods, including rain barrels, rain gardens, pervious pavement and downspout diversion to retain roof runoff.
The tour is made possible by financial contributions from the Santa Clara Valley Water District, Bay Area Water Supply and Conservation Agency, Santa Clara Valley Urban Runoff Pollution Prevention Program, Lyngso Garden Materials, California Nativescapes and donations collected from participants.
Melissa McKenzie is a freelance writer. She can be emailed at [email protected].
What: Going Native Garden Tour
When: 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., Saturday-Sunday, May 4-5.
Where: Santa Clara and San Mateo counties. A list of participating gardens and map is made available to registrants two weeks before the tour.
Info: To register, go to gngt.org.