California native plants offer a lot more than water savings.
In thoughtful combinations, they can blaze with color through four seasons. During hot Sacramento summers, they may provide welcoming shade. Providing food and habitat, they benefit bees, birds and butterflies.
And they can create a handsome, easy-care landscape – even in difficult growing conditions.
Greg and Terry Anderson of Fair Oaks discovered all that and more when they turned their steeply sloped backyard into their own native oasis.
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The Andersons’ backyard will be one of 28 stops on the seventh annual Gardens Gone Native tour on Saturday, April 8. Organized by the Sacramento Valley chapter of the California Native Plant Society, this tour has grown quickly into one of the area’s most popular celebrations of native plants in suburban landscapes. Beyond its entertainment value, it’s a treasure-trove of gardening ideas and how-to tips.
Despite stormy weather, 1,138 patrons took the free self-guided tour last year, said Colene Rauh, one of the tour’s planners and garden hosts.
For this edition, private gardens in Sacramento, Yolo and Placer counties will be featured with detailed plant lists and docents to answer questions available at each site.
“We try to provide a wide variety of landscaping options with native plants, from shade to full sun, from large landscapes to city lots,” Rauh said. “It demonstrates the many ways you can use natives in your own garden.”
Interest in native plants continues to climb. According to a recent survey by home renovation and design experts Houzz, just over half of homeowners planning a major landscape project in 2017 will use at least some native plants, up from 43 percent in 2015.
A goal of the local tour is educating gardeners on how to keep those natives happy and growing strong, Rauh noted.
“I did so many things wrong when I started,” she said. “You learn.”
On the tour for the fifth time, the Anderson home sits on 0.8 acres, most of it on a west-facing hill. (Among their gardening challenges: “Obnoxious, aggressive deer.”)
“When we moved in, this was all trash and weeds,” explained Greg Anderson, a retired family therapist and school psychologist. “It was a real mess.”
That was 1990. Inspired in part by the property’s oaks and his own experiences in nature as a fly fisherman and hiker, Anderson chose mostly native plants. He also got advice from longtime friend, nurseryman Jim Snyder.
“Seeing them in the wild is wonderful,” Anderson said of native plants. “The attraction of low-water (use) was good, too.”
Over the decades, Anderson transplanted and trained dozens of native shrubs and trees to create a beautiful and serene backyard retreat.
“Most of this hillside is on no irrigation,” he said. “I might give plants a little extra water now and then if they need it. (One area) I haven’t watered in 10 years.”
Before planting, he used 95-pound concrete blocks to form retaining walls and terraces on the steep slope. He added 20 yards of gravel to maximize drainage, a key to success for many native plants.
The results are stunning. Sculpted by nature and carefully pruned, manzanitas show off their twisted brown bark along a curved uphill path. Bees buzz happily around the shrubs’ pink flowers. Nearby, soft blue California lilacs scent the air as butterflies claim their nectar. Toyon bushes and smoke trees – both purple and green varieties – sport handsome foliage as well as seasonal blooms.
As a contrast to the rounded shrubs, 15-foot redbuds explode with purple blooms like bright exclamation points. An equally tall flannel bush glows with hundreds of golden flowers that catch morning sun in their cupped petals.
To fill in under the shrubs and trees, Anderson used a mix of native and water-wise perennials and ground covers. Among his favorites are coral bells (in several varieties and foliage colors), sulfur yellow yarrow, coreopsis, Hot Lips sage and brilliant green Japanese forest grass. He also incorporated such bulletproof Sacramento garden stalwarts as crape myrtles and nandina into his mostly native landscape.
“The redbuds bloom in spring, the crape myrtles in summer with almost the same color,” he explained. “The nandina is remarkably drought-tolerant, too. Both the crape myrtles and nandina are very forgiving; you can prune them hard and they bounce right back.”
Facing the street, a line of redwood trees provides shade and privacy. At the base of the hill, they get plenty of water that drains down the slope.
Where once was a large square of turf, a deck sits next to the house, surrounded by wispy feathers of deergrass that move gracefully in the breeze. A small patch of “lawn” is mostly bee-friendly clover. Raised beds offer room for vegetables and herbs.
“I actually like the vegetables best; he gardens, I cook,” said Terry Anderson, a retired state Senate worker. “But I love to come out here in the evening and sit on the deck, just enjoying how peaceful it is.”
Gardens Gone Native
What: Seventh annual self-guided tour of private gardens featuring at least 50 percent California native plants
Where: 28 gardens in Sacramento, Yolo and Placer counties
When: 9:30 a.m.-4 p.m. Saturday, April 8