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April 10, 2012 > Transform Your Garden

Transform Your Garden

By Stephanie Penn and Stephanie Nevins
Photos By Stephanie Penn

As water conservation professionals working at the Alameda County Water District (ACWD), we are always interested in finding out what people in our community are doing to conserve water and other resources. So, with the Bay-Friendly Garden Tour just around the corner on April 29, we figured this was the perfect opportunity to share a sneak preview of a couple of local gardens on this year's tour. We hope this preview, along with an "Alternatives to Lawn" class we are offering on April 14 at ACWD Headquarters and a lawn conversion incentive program (up to $500 cash back!) will inspire you to take the plunge and transform your garden into a water efficient one this year. Intrigued? Keep on reading, and then take a look at the end of this article for more details about the tour, ACWD's class, and incentive program.

Garden Previews:

Debra and Ed Pentaleri purchased their historic Fremont farmhouse in 2002. A labor of love, they spent the last ten years transforming the property with two things in mind: retain and restore its historical significance and conserve resources. The garden brilliantly reflects these two themes.

The yard, which just ten years ago was fence to fence, non-native, water-thirsty lawn, is now brimming with native and historically significant agricultural plants. Birds and bees, notably absent before, now actively nest and buzz around. Just a few highlights are the many varieties of California Lilac; Mission Grape vines; 'Roger's Red' grape, a native varietal; a gorgeous Island Bush Poppy from Catalina; and Manzanita ground cover in the sun drenched back yard. Ed told us that his most recent water bill with the new water efficient garden showed one tenth the water consumption of his first water bill with the original landscaping!

The climate appropriate plantings and drip irrigation are to credit, but he also believes the weather-based irrigation controller he installed in 2007 played a role. If you go, ask Ed to show you pictures of what the place looked like before they began the transformation; you will be amazed.

Ann Morrison and Dan O'Donnell, owners of Chrysalis Landscaping, incorporate loads of bay-friendly practices, including water conservation, into their landscape design. When you step through their garden gate you may actually forget you're still in the middle of a bustling urban area. At first glance their front yard appears so bright, colorful, and lush that it resembles tropical foliage. But a closer look reveals the plants are low water use, climate appropriate succulents, shrubs, and bushes selected for their colors, shapes and sizes. This thoughtful design continues throughout the rest of the garden where numerous winding pathways lead to art sculptures, bird baths, and intimate seating areas. These serene, isolated areas will give you endless inspiration for your own garden.

Many of the plants in the garden were selected to attract wildlife, and its working! Dan keeps a photo catalog where he documents all his wildlife encounters. Recent sightings include a blue bellied lizard, a western red-headed woodpecker, box turtles, hummingbirds, and butterflies. This garden exemplifies what can be achieved in a small urban space with a little imagination and a dose of water conservation-minded inspiration.

ACWD "Alternatives to Lawn" class
Saturday, April 14
9 a.m. - 12noon
ACWD Headquarters, 43885 S. Grimmer Blvd, Fremont
Learn how to convert your lawn into a California native plant garden that incorporates integrated pest management.
Cost: FREE. Registration is required. Call (650) 349-3000 or email to register.

Bay-Friendly Garden Tour
Sunday, April 29
10 a.m. - 4 p.m.
This is a self-guided tour of private residential gardens throughout Alameda County, with a cluster of gardens in the Tri-City area. Registration is required to receive a guidebook with directions and garden descriptions. Register at
Cost: $10 per guidebook.

ACWD Landscape Rebate (up to $500)
Call (510) 668-6534 for more details about the program and eligibility requirements. Customers must be pre-approved by ACWD, so please check with us first BEFORE beginning your landscape conversion project.

For more information, please visit

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