Native Insects Gardening

Kathy Kramer hosts the Bringing Back the Natives Garden Tour, which highlights the importance of filling residential gardens with native plants. Tim and Chris Boczanowski’s garden in their Livermore home showcases a garden ready to support nature’s ecosystem. (Photo - Courtesy of Kathy Kramer)

As the Tri-Valley continues to shelter in place, many people have turned to gardening to fill their time and beautify their yards.

Kathy Kramer of Bringing Back the Natives Garden Tour would like to see people use their time to fill their gardens with plants native to their area.

“I thought this garden tour would be a way to show people they can have gardens that are beautiful and water-conserving, pesticide-free and provide a habitat for wildlife,” Kramer said. “So I started the tour in 2005.”

For the past 15 years, Kramer has showcased gardens all over Alameda and Contra Costa counties where residents have installed native plants that create a home for butterflies, moths, birds, lizards and a host of other small wildlife. Each spring, her one-day, self-driving tour included homes with native plant gardens to inspire participants to tear out their lawns and put in some native plants. She also planned workshops and plant sales to support her educational efforts.

This year, COVID-19 changed these plans, forcing her to take the garden tour online. With help from her husband and two friends, Kramer put together a virtual garden tour that took place three Sundays in a row.

“The virtual tour has brought in a whole new wave of interest,” said Kramer. “The virus caused the cancellation of all our spring events, nine workshops and three plant sales and the showing of 43 gardens that would have been on our regular tour. We pivoted quickly and turned it into an online event.”

The three days of tours are available online, as is the keynote speech from entomologist Douglas Tallamy, who spoke of the importance of native plants to support butterfly and moth species, which in turn support the bird population.

“His message, in a nutshell, is that almost all birds feed their babies almost exclusively on caterpillars,” Kramer said. “They need thousands and thousands of caterpillars in order to raise a clutch of eggs out of the nest … butterflies and moths will only lay their eggs on a very specific, small group of plants. If we don’t have those plants, we won’t have caterpillars, and if we don’t have caterpillars, we won’t have baby birds. If you look around at our urban areas, what you see is an ecological desert.”

Carol Garberson is both a fan of Kramer’s tour and a convert to native plant gardening. She and her husband found a native plant consultant on the garden tour’s website and are in the process of converting their Livermore yard to include native plants.

“We are changing our garden over,” Garberson said, adding the lack of birds and butterflies in her yard has been a concern to her. “They said you if you have something like 80% native biomass, that is enough.”

While Garbenson wasn’t willing to give up her roses or camellias, she learned how to balance the beneficial native plants with the ones that are merely decorative and otherwise useless to birds and butterflies. She is now considering plants like wild lilac, California aster, golden yarrow, southern honeysuckle, coyote mint, buckwheat and California fuchsia.

Cindy Angers is the principal lead architect for EcoFolia Designs in Livermore. Her company offers landscape design and consultation in California native plants, low-water gardens, and wildlife and pollinator gardens. She fully supports Kramer’s efforts and Tallamy’s message.

“The Bringing Back the Native Garden Tour is absolutely important, because it offers an easy way for people to recognize how to make their own yards more sustainable – in this instance by using California native plants,” Angers said. “This is their home, so of course they’re going to thrive here.”

She noted it simply makes sense to fill yards with native plants that are equipped to handle five months of rain followed by seven months of dry weather, as well as the local insect and animal life.

Angers’ garden, as well as ones she has designed, have been featured on the tour many times. She said she enjoys sharing her knowledge with the public, and the tour is a vehicle to bring nature to people with ease.

Kramer’s 30-year background in environmental education combines professional knowledge about pesticide-use reduction and an interest in native plants. She is a founder of the Watershed Project, an environmental organization whose goal it is to protect local watersheds. With her garden tour, she hopes to inspire her community to break away from traditional “mow and blow” yards and embrace the opportunity to create a beautiful, water-conserving habitat for small wildlife.

For more information on the Bringing Back the Natives Garden Tour, pictures of native plant gardens and native plant garden designers, visit https://www.bringingbackthenatives.net/.

The three days of the virtual Bringing Back the Natives Garden Tour is available on YouTube at https://bit.ly/Indy_Native_Gardens.

For more information on EcoFolia Design, call 925-323-5696 or visit www.Ecofolia.net.