Home & Garden

Bringing Back the Natives Garden Tour this Sunday

By Steven Finacom
Thursday April 29, 2010 - 02:47:00 PM

Spring showers will give way to local, native, wildflowers this weekend as a number of local homeowners invite the public into their gardens. 

This Sunday is the 6th Annual Bringing Back the Natives Garden Tour, featuring several Berkeley and Berkeley-area gardens. 

The focus of the free tour is, as the name implies, growing California native species in the home garden. The gardens typically range from those of native purists—who don’t water, and exclude all introduced species—to gardens where native and drought-tolerant species predominate but also harmonize with other plantings. 

Some are designed by professionals, others homemade and homegrown. They range from a few hundred square feet in the flatlands to extensive and complex properties in the Berkeley hills.  

Berkeley sites include the Fleming Garden on Shasta Road, where the owners began gardening with natives in the 1950s and have created a spectacular hillside native enclave above an artificial stream, and swimming pool.  

The tour brochure describes it as “the leading native plant garden in private ownership in California” and, having visited before, I can tell you it’s a sight to see. There’s a front yard grove of native trees with a shady wall covered with native ferns; around the back of the house a switchback path climbs an artfully gardened slope into the sun and Bay views. 

The garden of Glen Schneider on California Street is also a tour regular. It’s intended to be “reminiscent of what the Berkeley flats might have looked like prior to the arrival of Europeans” and is planted with only native species gathered by seed or cutting within three miles of the garden. 

There are 12 gardens open in Berkeley, Albany, El Cerrito, and the southern tip of Richmond for this tour, and several in Oakland and Alameda, plus others further afield over the hills, from Pinole to Livermore to Martinez and Moraga. Four of the Berkeley gardens are listed as new to the tour since last year. 

A number of public gardens, school gardens, research gardens, and native plant nurseries will also be featured on the tour. They include the ever-fascinating California Native Bee Garden (on the University of California’s Oxford Tract, just northwest of the campus), the Alameda Butterfly Habitat in a schoolyard, and the Native Here Nursery in Berkeley. 

Native Here—at 101 Gold Course Links Road in Tilden Park—will also be open on Saturday for special sales. East Bay Wilds nursery in Berkeley will be selling plants on Sunday. 

The tour runs from 10 am to 5 pm on Sunday, May 2. Children are allowed but must be “closely supervised”. Pets are not allowed. 

It’s too late to order a tour brochure on line, but you can register in person on the morning of the tour and pick one up. You need a brochure to get the tour maps, detailed printed garden descriptions and locations, and tear-out tokens for admission. 

The gardens are also extensively described, with some pictures, on the Bringing Back the Natives website, so you can take a look in advance for the ones that might be of most interest. 

The Berkeley “walk-in” registration site is 1344 Carlotta Street—which is also one of the open gardens. But don’t go there before 10 am on Sunday. The website also lists nine other scattered registration gardens. 

The tour is free—funded by government agency and private grants and donations--but this year the organizers have included a prominent appeal in the brochure asking attendees to consider voluntarily donating $10 minimum per person (for the whole tour, not each garden). There will be donation jars at the open gardens. 

See bringingbackthenatives.net for more tour details. 

Note: this tour always seems to conflict with the annual Berkeley Architectural Heritage Association (BAHA) House Tour which this year also takes place on Sunday the 2nd. I’m going to the House Tour which is in the afternoon and features nine spectacular Julia Morgan homes. However, I’ve learned from experience of past years that it’s possible to visit at least two or three of the local native gardens starting at 10:00 am and still get to the BAHA Tour in plenty of time. Both events can be enjoyed. 


Steven Finacom is on the Board of the Berkeley Architectural Heritage Association, and has written for the Planet about numerous community, garden, and historic events.