Good for the garden, good for the planet | May 13, 2011 | Palo Alto Weekly | Palo Alto Online |

Palo Alto Weekly

Real Estate - May 13, 2011

Good for the garden, good for the planet

Ten Palo Alto gardens are featured on Bay-Friendly Garden Tour

by Carol Blitzer

Thirty years ago Kathleen Craig moved into the home that had been in her husband Roger's family since the 1950s. The turn-of-the-century house, located across the street from San Francisquito Creek, sat on about a third of an acre — most of it dirt and a few large, mature trees.

Soon after moving there, Craig started taking gardening classes, ultimately giving up her high-tech job and becoming a permanent member of the Association of Professional Landscape Designers. After growing up in apricot-laden, rural Willow Glen (San Jose), she missed the sights and smells of her childhood garden.

"This garden had two seasons: oxalis in spring and foxtails in summer," she said, while sitting in her very-much-changed garden.

Craig has incorporated as many of the seven principles of Bay-friendly gardening (see sidebar) as she could in transforming her nearly blank canvas to a lush, brilliant work of art. Her efforts can be seen during the eighth annual Bay Friendly Garden Tour, which is sponsored by the Bay-Friendly Coalition and the City of Palo Alto, on Sunday, May 15.

Her yards — front, side and back — have very little "full" sun, which shines from morning to evening.

"I'm constantly pushing the envelope to push plants to perform," she said, noting that they often look good in photos, but "not until you put them in the ground can you tell what happens in a shady environment."

The tour will actually begin through a wooden gate that leads up a brick path to the original carriage house, now used for storage. Lining the path are blooming purple iris and espaliered pear and apple trees, "to give a sense of an allee," she said.

On the right, in one of the sunnier spots, grow a variety of edibles, including tomatoes in stacked pots that lift them closer to the sun. Marigolds offer fragrant foliage that keeps away insects that attack the tomatoes, she said.

Many of the plants are dual purpose: The mustard relatives are both bright-yellow flowers and attracters of beneficial insects, those that consume either adult or larvae of the unwanted aphid, for example.

A hedge serves as bird habitat, with three or four nests this spring, she said. And netting keeps the birds from eating the nearby lettuce.

Blueberries are grown in large pots of acid soil. "I can keep the blueberries happy in pots without wasting water," she said.

Tucked nearby are hanging houses for bee nests, a boon for other beneficial insects.

"It makes a complete community so all is in balance," Craig said.

Throughout the back yard are seating areas over permeable pavers that let rainwater reach the deeper roots of the 100-year-old Gingko tree, 80-year-old apple tree and a 75-year-old orange. Craig's drip-irrigation system has 14 distinct stations, with plants clustered according to their water needs. She says she waters the old citrus tree only three or four times a year, after testing with a soil probe.

Along one side of the garden are remnants of an earlier rose garden, including a few of her mom's plants that still survive. "I do everything to keep them going," she added.

In the deeper shade areas are bulbs and perennials, including Forget Me Nots and more iris.

Another sun patch lets Craig grow a bevy of veggies, including beans, peas, carrots, chard, beets, strawberries and basil. Next to a hedge that's another bird habitat is a fountain offering birds a drink twice a day. Intermixed are blue borage, another plant that not only attracts beneficial insects but is quite tasty on salads.

Hummingbirds are attracted to the cestrum smithii and cestrum elegans, which bloom nearly all year long, Craig said.

Although she wants to attract the birds and the bees, she's not so fond of the squirrels. To discourage them, she pulls netting over the strawberries and cages over the basil.

In the back of her garden Craig has a greenhouse, potting table and a chicken yard housing six hens.

Through an arbor made of old rebar left over from remodeling the house lies what she calls the "corporation" yard, a place for composting (including worm composting) and storing tools.

Craig, who works as a professional landscaper as Craig Design Associates, spends eight to 10 hours a week in her own garden in spring and fall. In summer and winter that drops to maybe eight hours a month, she said.

And she doesn't always achieve 100 percent of the Bay-friendly principles. "There are times when I will use non-organic fertilizer for a particular situation," she said, pointing to her cymbidiums in large pots. And in her greenhouse she'll occasionally use plant propagation materials that are not 100 percent organic.

But these are definitely the few exceptions to this very Bay-friendly garden.

This year's tour takes place in Santa Clara and Alameda counties on May 15. Register at to get the $10 guidebook, which includes descriptions of the gardens, as well as a map.


For more Home and Real Estate news, visit

What: Bay-Friendly Garden Tour

When: Sunday, May 15, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Where: 10 gardens in Palo Alto, plus two nurseries

Cost: $10 per guidebook, free with new membership

Info: 707-353-0143,;

Associate Editor Carol Blitzer can be e-mailed at


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