In the native garden, summer and early fall are a good time to assess your existing plantings and figure out what to do once the rainy season begins. If you are planning a new garden, this is the time to look for ideas and source plants.
For inspiration, one of the best sources is annual native garden tours. This year, garden tours went virtual. No need to skip a day working in your own garden to drive all over the place! You may not be able to see all of these plants and landscapes in person, smelling the lovely fragrances and hearing the busy pollinators, but you can visit native gardens all over the state virtually and on your own schedule.
The California Native Plant Society has a web page listing six garden tours, half of them in the Bay Area. To see the list, visit cnps.org/gardening/local-gardens. Each tour offers different resources, from photos and descriptions of gardens to video segments. The great advantage of a virtual tour is that you are not limited to a specific date and time, and you can visit as many gardens as you choose. Below are some highlights.
• The Going Native Garden Tour (GNGT) is the one closest to home, featuring eight gardens in Los Altos and Mountain View this year. Its user-friendly web page is an incredible resource, offering extensive photos of each garden – not only the 70-plus gardens featured this year, but also many gardens from each year since 2006. Not every garden has a video segment, and the videos vary widely, from a three-minute time-lapse covering 18 months (Matadero Garden, No. 14) to enthusiastic Los Altos homeowners taking turns talking about a relatively new garden (Hingwe-Sharma garden, No. 23).
Many of the Going Native virtual tours were prerecorded and edited. That gave the presenters the opportunity to include plant names in the video, show what summer- to winter-blooming flowers look like, and even include some garden tips. An excellent example is the video for Low Water Cottage Garden, No. 50. The owner, a landscape architect, focuses on each plant as she discusses it, and offers maintenance tips as well as garden ideas.
Several GNGT Zoom sessions have been posted as well, and additional interactive Zoom sessions have been scheduled through the summer. Check the main GNGT page to find out when the next live session is scheduled.
• The East Bay’s Bringing Back the Natives (BBN) garden tour featured a talk by Doug Tallamy on “Restoring the Little Things That Run the World.” This East Coast professor of entomology has given a version of this talk to many groups, but in this version, he focused more on California caterpillars and plants. You can learn something new each time you see one of Tallamy’s presentations.
The BBN garden and nursery visits, approximately 20-30 minutes each, had interesting moments, but they were all recorded live and so have the inevitable glitches and blurry segments. The Zoom sessions took place on three consecutive Sundays, four to five hours each, and they are posted on BBN’s YouTube page. Several of the garden visits are also posted separately.
• The Yerba Buena Chapter (San Francisco) Virtual Garden Tour covers fewer gardens. The web page for the tour has descriptions and photos for 19 gardens. In addition, the recorded Zoom session includes talks by Matt Ritter on iconic flora of California and Amber Hasselbring on backyard biodiversity. I especially enjoyed Mike Belcher’s talk on growing California pipevine. It’s an easy plant to propagate, has unique flowers and is the only food source for Pipevine Swallowtail butterflies.
Finally, the wealth of video tours narrated by resident gardeners are an unexpected bonus of sheltering in place. Whatever their level of expertise in gardening or videography, the gardeners’ enthusiasm and idiosyncrasies make the presentations worthwhile. The slower pace of a narrated tour can highlight features you may not have noticed in person. As a docent, I’ve observed visitors streaming through gardens, rarely pausing to absorb details.