Going native | March 30, 2018 | Palo Alto Weekly | Palo Alto Online |

Palo Alto Weekly

Real Estate - March 30, 2018

Going native

Garden tour celebrates beauty and importance of native plants

by Sarah Klearman

Cynthia Typaldos' front and backyards are filled with native plants. The backyard, which she hopes will be in full bloom by next week, includes a "meadow" of local wildflowers, like poppies, along with local plants like buckwheat and an elderberry tree that sprouted up as a volunteer.

The Santa Clara Valley Chapter of the California Native Plant Society will host its 15th annual "Going Native Garden Tour" Saturday, April 7 and Sunday, April 8. The tour features Midpeninsula gardens made up of at least 60 percent native plants. Four Palo Alto gardens are included on this year's tour.

The tour's goal is to show off the beauty of native plants and to raise awareness of the benefits of gardening with them, said Typaldos, whose garden is featured on the tour this year. She has been involved in the tour since it began in 2003, she said, but this is her first year back on the tour since 2011, when she moved to Missouri.

"Gardening with native plants is about creating a habitat for native insects and wildlife," she said. "While regular suburban lawns may look great, they are ecological wastelands for wildlife — they have no real shade, shelter or food."

Typaldos maintains her garden with the help of Agi Kehoe, who also helped her plan the design of her backyard garden. Kehoe does 50 percent garden design and 50 percent fine garden maintenance, she said, and works with various gardens in the Bay Area. Two of her clients, including Typaldos, have gardens on the tour; the other is a couple in Los Altos.

Kehoe said the biggest challenge in Typaldos's garden this year was finding room for each of the plants Typaldos purchased at the native plant society's plant sale last fall.

"Finding a place for those 20 or 30 new plants has been a challenge, but ultimately a triumph," Kehoe said, laughing.

Melanie Cross, another Palo Alto resident whose garden is on the tour this year, has been interested in gardening since growing up in rural southern California. She admired native plants while hiking in the Bay Area, and decided that she would try to bring those plants to her own backyard.

"I think native plants are beautiful," she said, adding that she believes her Matadero Avenue garden is comprised of about 90 percent native plant species, including plants like hummingbird sage, monkey flower and California bush sunflower. "You also learn so much about botany by gardening and then watching all the plants grow and watching all of the insects come, and that becomes another fascinating realm."

Cross said she "gardens for insects," which then brings birds and facilitates the creation of a natural habitat for the nearby wildlife. Her favorite plant is miner's lettuce, a plant named for its role in the diet of gold miners who came to California in the late 1800s. It's a type of herb, she said, and she and her husband do eat it.

Cross's garden spans her entire front and back lawns, as well as along the sides of her home. It's large, open and well laid out; it took her landscape architect, Stephanie Morris, about a year to design the garden, but "she was really wonderful," Cross said. She does her own gardening, with the help of a woman who comes once a week for several hours to assess "what needs the most work".

The native garden tour allows participants to see the gardens up close. By the tour's definition, a native plant species is one that grows in the "California Floristic Providence", which spans from lower Oregon all the way to Baja California.

"I don't expect people to want to rework their entire lawns, but I hope I can inspire them to at least buy a few local plants," Typaldos said.

Cross echoed that sentiment.

"What I love is when people come to me three, four, five years later, and say, 'We took out our lawn and planted natives, and it's attracted so many insects and birds, and my manzanita is in full bloom now, and it's so beautiful,'" she said.

Kehoe said that for individuals looking to get into gardening with local plants, the first step is to figure out how comfortable they are working with plants, and then to read up on the topic.

Typaldos said that Summerwinds Nursery in Palo Alto has a selection of native plants available, and the native plant society also offers a large variety of local plants at its plant sales in the fall.

Cross said that she hoped people would take interest in what they themselves could do with native plants.

"We can protect our greenbelt, but those areas are far away. Our suburbs are land that could be habitat, if we didn't just plant ornamentals," she said. "Our chapter is amazing in what they've done to interest the South Bay about what is drought tolerant and attractive and what your local insects are looking for, because that's so important."

Sarah Klearman is a former intern at the Palo Alto Weekly. For information or to register for the native plant tour, go to gngt.org.

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