Saturday, May 8, 2010

Bringing Back the Natives Garden Tour

I have to admit I'd never been on the Bringing Back the Natives Garden Tour (shame on me), covering gardens in the East Bay with 50% or more California native plants. There are more than 50 gardens on the 1-day tour so I decided to limit myself to driving no further north than Berkeley, no further East than Orinda and no further south than Oakland.

One of the first gardens I checked out was Barbara Leitner's garden in Orinda. Designed by Ron Lutsko, one of my favorite Landscape Architects, I definitely wanted to see this garden. As did a lot of other people.

front yard meadow

A very soft-focus garden of meadowy grasses and wildflowers, it must be a very calming garden to come home to. It was hard to view past the throngs of people on the walks. I did manage to capture a few scenes on the camera before someone walked into the frame. The fine texture of all the plants left me looking for focal points, which were alleviated in the birdbath and the in the house itself.

focal pointmeadowwildflowersferns

While I was there I was craving something more dramatic in the plantings but after thinking about the garden for awhile I realized it must be a very sweet place to come home to.

I had to go to Jenny and Scott Fleming's garden in Berkeley begun in the 1950's and jam-packed with a staggering selection of CA native plants, 100% native, now maintained by Luke Hass. The plantings on the side of the driveway were phenomenal! One of the most beautiful and texturally rich CA native plantings I've ever seen.


The main part of the garden on the slope behind the house was rather too textural though. The steep, abrupt slope and the overwhelming variety of plants was a bit too much for me. So heavily planted there was hardly room for a path up the hill. It is an amazing garden considering the dedication of its creators but I don't think it is a garden I could personally live in, it just has so much.

back slopedudleya brittoniihousefern stairway

The house, also built by Jenny and Scott, does has some pretty fantastic moments relating to the garden though. One is the stairway to the front door that is anchored by a rock wall sprouting ferns - gorgeous! And another is the way the tinted windows reflect the garden, creating light-filled paintings on the dark somber sides of the house.

reflecting windows

And the pool was great! It perfectly captured the feeling of coming across a deep, clear basin of spring water while hiking a trail out in the wilderness. Just the place where you can't help but slip off your dusty hot shoes and dip your feet into the refreshing water.

swimming pool

And I also visited a couple of gardens in Oakland that contained less natives but had some really great details. Wen Hoi Shen's garden, planting design by Liz Simpson Garden Design, contained many jewel-like vignettes. A small garden, the details were lovely and perfectly planted. Niches in a wall, charming bamboo trellises, and architectural fragments placed throughout made for interesting hardscape.

nichebamboo trellissun seat

But the rock garden/stairway to the top part of the garden was the best part. A lovely mosaic of succulents, thymes, pebbles and boulders created one of the prettiest rockeries I've seen in a long time.


Carol Baird and Alan Harper have a house and view to die for. (If you ever need a house sitter, I'm available!)

the view

The native plants in their oak woodland I was less interested in, because closer to the house they had some fantastic rarities that I would love to get my hands on. Apparently Alan has volunteered at UC Berkeley Bot Garden, where I'm sure he got a hold of some really great stuff. A couple of plants caught my eye - a golden-leaved Philadelphus, may I please have a cutting!? and a variegated leaf Liriodendron/"Tulip Tree", I'd never even heard something like that existed!

golden-leaved philadelphusvariegated liriodendron

While not all the plants that caught my eye were native and not all the native gardens were ones I felt spoke to me, it was a great day of touring the gardens of Bringing Back the Natives and I enjoyed each one in its own way. Thanks to all the people for opening their lovely gardens!


  1. If you are busy when the Harpers are out of town, I can fly out to house sit. Beautiful views! Do you know what the red foliage is in the shot that includes their house?

    Thanks for sharing the tour.

  2. That is indeed a very cool rockery, and loved the ferns in the rock wall stairway. Thanks for the tour, Kelly.

  3. Love Wen's garden and the little 'nook'...beautiful photos and love your commentary. It's always interesting to me to read about what gardens really grab ahold of someone's heart and those that don't. Love it!

  4. Les- that is Cotinus coggygria 'Royal Purple', great shrub. Just took mine out of my front yard though, it was getting too big.

    Denise- wasn't that stairway great!

    Rebecca- didn't really know what to expect with this tour, liked some, didn't like some. But I'm always a sucker for a garden with nice stonework!

  5. Great shot of the Fleming block retaining wall. I love that planting, and the back slope too. There's a patch of sedum cascading down the slope that is my favorite planting of sedum anywhere. I wish I'd had a chance to see the Simpson garden; it looks nice.


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