Seven years of educating the public on the intrinsic value and benefits of gardening with California native plants
by Colene Rauh
In its seventh year, this Northern Sacramento Valley garden tour features landscapes that demonstrate the versatility and creativity as well as the drought tolerance of most California native plants. Sponsored by the Sacramento Valley Chapter of the California Native Plant Society (CNPS), the tour is intended to educate, inform and inspire both homeowners and landscape professionals about the benefits as well as the aesthetic and drought tolerant aspects of California Native plants in the home landscape. The tour is a free, self-guided event showcasing 20-30 private gardens with at least 50% California natives in the garden. Tour attendance continues to grow, typically reaching around 1,000 attendees.
This region historically averages 17-20 inches of rain each year but had experienced five years of significant drought until this past winter (2016-17) broke the dry spell with the wettest winter on record (30+ inches). The pattern of rainfall is equally important for the prospect of gardening with native plants. Rains typically start in the fall and continue through spring, with January and February typically being the wettest months. Unlike much of the East, there is virtually no summer rain here. Native plants must survive from late spring to fall with very little additional water, riparian habitat being the exception.
Plants native to this region often have a gorgeous early-to-late spring bloom, and go dormant or semi-dormant in the summer. Other native species and cultivars are often used to augment the bloom, and continue to have color and texture throughout the summer months. While requiring some additional summer irrigation, the level of irrigation necessary to maintain the beautiful gardens pictured throughout this article is still substantially less than the traditional lawn requires.
The tour showcases a variety of Sacramento Valley Chapter members’ gardens whose owners have committed either a portion of their properties or their entire garden to growing California native plants. Most California natives, particularly those native to the region covered by the tour, are highly drought tolerant and have grown in popularity in light of the recent drought. In addition, California natives, depending on the species planted, draw wildlife to the ordinary residential garden. Beneficial insects (which help with pest problems as well as provide food for birds), butterflies, and pollinators will suddenly appear when native plants are present.
The Gardens Gone Native tour typically has a mix of gardens new to the tour and gardens previously on tour. Both large and small spaces, professionally as well as owner-designed, shady vs. sunny spaces, and rain gardens are all featured on the tour. This year there were two new gardens on tour that were inspired by their owners attending a previous tour, demonstrating the tour’s impact in its intended purpose.
Following are three gardens that have been on tour, representing three unique landscape sizes, shapes, and approaches
Oak Woodland Landscape
The first landscape is on a large lot in which the entire back of the property slopes down to the home. Plantings have been in place for 20 years.
A Small Urban Landscape
The second is a small city lot, landscaped both front and back for amazing color. Plantings are four years old.
A Rain Garden
The third property features a rain garden that captures water from the property, the neighbors’ yards, and the street in order to slow and sink the runoff before it exits the property. As shown here, the garden has been in place for 14 months.
For more on California native plant gardening, visit sacvalleycnps.org/ and view several virtual garden tours from the past.
About the Author
Colene Rauh developed a passion for native plants eight years ago and has focused on the wildlife that is drawn to her yard – including Monarch butterflies for the last two years. She has been a member of the local chapter of CNPS for seven years and on the Gardens Gone Native Tour planning committee for the last five years. Helping to educate others about the benefits of native plants is one of her passions and her garden has been on tour every other year. She is also a Master Gardener in Sacramento County.
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