Going Native Pays Off

Nancy Peterson earned an EBMUD rebate for turning her front yard into a showcase of native flora, and you can, too.


Photo by Lance Yamamoto

Bright coral blooms of epilobium hummingbird sage, Bee’s Bliss salvia groundcover, and deer-resistant Dark Star ceanothus: These plants, in addition to their poetic nomenclature, offer crucial habitats for a variety of critters — hummingbirds, bees, butterflies, and a host of other insects. They are also native to California, home of over 7,000 plant varieties, which is more than any other state in the nation.

These plants populate Nancy Peterson’s front garden in the El Cerrito flatlands near El Cerrito High School. The native plant enthusiast bought her home in 2015 and transformed a tired-looking lawn into a multihued, textured native garden with the help of Rachael Perry of Berkeley’s Fiddlehead Gardens. They chose 50 or so California natives, plus a smattering of Australian varieties to extend the annual cycle of the 800-square-foot garden, since most natives go dormant in the fall before the rains. Fiddlehead Gardens also designed and installed a water-saving drip irrigation system.

Native plants also don’t need much water, are often drought-resistant, and have evolved ways to repel the abundant deer population that wander the streets of East Bay neighborhoods. According to Perry, the ideal time to plant a garden with native plants is in late October or early November — “after the last hot blast of Indian summer.” Perry estimates that 99 percent of her clients incorporate some type of native into their gardens, such as California poppy, red-barked manzanita, violet Douglas iris, or fuzzy muhlenbergia grass.

The first of her neighbors to “go native” with her lawn, Peterson took advantage of EBMUD’s Landscape Rebate Program, which is designed to reward residents who transform their thirsty lawns into water-wise landscaping. In the fall of 2015 she rolled over her lawn giant rolls of cardboard from Richmond’s Urban Farmer, and then applied 15 yards of wood chips on top. She waited through the winter as the leaves and roots of the grass died and the soil softened. The cardboard was removed, and 6 inches of arbor mulch from the Green Waste Recycle Yard was added. In spring 2016, planting began, and a native garden was born.

Two years later, hummingbirds and butterflies flit among the coral and purple blooms in Peterson’s front yard. Bees pollinate, while long grasses sway in the bay breeze. Meanwhile, the deer ignore her yard and munch on someone else’s roses. A couple of neighbors have followed her lead and transformed their patchy lawn into a more sustainable garden. And two years later, Peterson is still reaping the benefits of EBMUD’s rebate program with discounted bills.


Resource Directory

Fiddlehead Gardens: Landscape design, installation and care, FiddleheadGardens.com, 510-858-8072.

EBMUD Landscape Rebate Program: EBMUD offers lawn conversion and irrigation equipment rebates, which require an application, plan approval, and review. See EBMUD.com for more information.

Urban Farmer: For cardboard and irrigation supplies, UrbanFarmerstore.com, 510-534-1604.

Green Waste Recycle Yard: For bulk mixed and reclaimed mulch, GreenWasteRecycleYard.com, 510-527-8733.