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April 30, 2013 > Creating a Native Garden Oasis

Creating a Native Garden Oasis

By Stephanie Nevins
Photos By Stephanie Penn

Do you sometimes look at your lawn and wonder if it's all worth it... the mowing, weeding, fertilizer, and water? Kathleen McCabe-Martin can relate to your dilemma, she used to be there...

When Kathleen and her husband purchased their house in Fremont the landscaping was a mess. Not knowing what to do or where to start, the copied their neighbors and planted a lawn. They quickly found out, however, that it required a lot of maintenance, didn't attract any wildlife, and just wasn't that interesting. Kathleen found herself seeking an alternative.

Attending a garden tour, Kathleen saw a beautiful native garden, and was hooked on the concept. She continued to learn more through's Bay-friendly Gardening workshops, acquisition of books on the subject (she recommends "Growing California Native Plants" by Marjorie Schmitt and the Jepson Manual by James C. Hickman), and attending Bay-friendly and Bringing Back the Natives garden tours.

It was time to take out the lawn but it was persistent and very hard to remove Bermuda grass. But she kept at it and now has a successful and sustainable native plant garden. Her garden is filled with a variety of native plants including checkerbloom and flowering currant, two of her favorites. The garden attracts salamanders, buckeye and monarch butterflies, juvenile Cooper's hawks, and peregrine falcons, just to name a few. She planted for year-round color. Spring is marked by purples: wild lilac and blue eyed grass. Late summer and early fall bring orange and reds. Her garden is a place of spiritual contemplation, enjoyment, and provides peaceful privacy from the street.

Kathleen will tell you that designing and installing a sustainable native plant landscape yourself is worthwhile. While it can be challenging, the rewards are immeasurable as you watch the transition take place. Yes, you are almost guaranteed to make mistakes, but the process is enjoyable as you gain an appreciation and understanding of your plants. Kathleen started seeing more birds, butterflies, and other wildlife almost immediately.

Sustainable gardening is an ongoing process and Kathleen still attends garden tours, always looking for inspiration. In fact, her interest in native plants and sustainable landscaping led her to take up mosaic artwork; she wanted to make beautiful things for her garden. You can see both her gardening work and art work if you attend the Bringing Back the Natives Garden Tour on May 5th. Kathleen's garden will be one of those featured on the tour this year. This free, self-guided tour of 43 Alameda and Contra Costa County gardens and nurseries will take place from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. You must register at one of the walk-in registration sites available on the day of the tour to get the tour guidebook. For details please visit

If, like Kathleen, you've been considering taking out your lawn, be sure to contact the Alameda County Water District (ACWD). ACWD provides rebates when you remove turf grass and plant low water using plants. Most native plants, like those in Kathleen's garden, are adapted to our summer-dry climate and qualify under the ACWD program. Contact ACWD at or 510-668-6534 for more information about the Water Efficient Landscape Rebate Program and eligibility requirements. Please contact us before you begin your project as customers must be pre-approved by ACWD to be eligible for the rebate.

Bringing Back the Natives Garden Tour
Sunday, May 5
10 a.m. - 5 p.m.
Self-guided tour of Alameda and Contra Costa County gardens and nurseries

Water Efficient Landscape Rebate Program
(510) 668-6534

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