Become water wise at Autumn Garden Festival and Symposium in Atascadero

Learn water-saving techniques at the 8th Annual Autumn Garden Festival and Symposium put on by the Atascadero Mutual Water Company

Special to The TribuneOctober 2, 2013 

  • What: Autumn Garden Festival & Symposium

    When: Oct. 12

    Tickets: $10, free for children under age 8. Available at Bay Laurel Nursery, 2500 El Camino, Atascadero, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., cash or check; and Atascadero Mutual Water Co., 5005 El Camino Real, cash or check. Tickets may be available on day of event at $15 if not already sold out.

    For more information:,   Call 461-7217, ext. 22; or email   Wear comfortable walking shoes, bring a picnic lunch if desired; no pets please. For information on the history and grounds of the Portola Inn:

In keeping with Atascadero’s Centennial Celebration, this year’s Autumn Garden Festival on Oct. 12 will be held at the historic five-acre Portola Inn, where apricot trees planted by E.G. Lewis, founder of Atascadero, still yield a plentiful harvest.

The inn is the perfect outdoor classroom for the Atascadero Mutual Water Company’s festival to celebrate sustainable, low-water landscaping.

Beginning with a continental breakfast at 9 a.m., registered attendees will hear seven 30-minute presentations during the day, with breaks for exhibits, walks and picnics throughout the spacious oak-canopy grounds of the inn.

Topics include a history of urban farming, rainwater harvest, backyard beekeeping and vermicomposting (worm composting), to name a few. The presentations come alive on the grounds, where owner Tom O’Malley has already incorporated many of the day’s topics on his expansive property.

O’Malley has created rainwater and graywater collection areas on his slightly sloping grounds, allowing for plenty of water for thirsty plants such as kiwis. Handicap-accessible paths in switchback designs slow down the flow of rainwater and direct it to catch basins.

As guests meander down these paths, they are treated to a variety of mature plantings that have created their own microenvironment under the oaks. O’Malley knows each plant and system intimately, having purchased this property next door to his childhood home 19 years ago.

“I remember helping my neighbors pick the apricots at age 7,” he recalls.

Going back 100 years, in 1913 E.G. Lewis, the founder of Atascadero, had a vision of sustainable landscaping. His idea was that colony residents would have one- to twoacre parcels where they could grow enough food for their family, with room for a small orchard, vegetables and chickens.

The lots in Garden Farms, River Garden and throughout the community reflect this. Lewis’ advertisements focused on the advantage of living in the city while having enough property to farm at home. He chose a quote from Abraham Lincoln to adorn the entry of the now-restored City Hall: “The most valuable of all arts will be the art of deriving a comfortable subsistence from the smallest area of soil.”

“Lincoln’s quote is applicable to the theme of the event, as we want local homeowners to know they can have beautiful and productive gardens with less water use,” said Jaime Lien Hendrickson, conservation manager at the water company, who started this event in 2006.

“After the drought of 2003, the Mutual Water Co. realized the need to educate homeowners about how to lower water needs,” she said.

This autumn festival has became the vehicle for that message, and along with a rebate for lawn replacement and focus on drought-tolerant plants, John Neil, general manager of the water company, reports that water use has dropped from a 10-year average of 2 billion gallons per year to 1.8 billion gallons in 2012.

Neil, Hendrickson and O’Malley share a common goal for the educational event: “We want locals to be empowered to incorporate these ideas in their home gardens, and to know that drought-tolerant does not just mean rocks and cactus,” Neil said. “With over 150 low-water plants to choose from, they can have a new and beautiful garden with lower water use and a lower water bill as an added bonus.”

The event promises to be informative and inspirational for the 100 who register to attend. If this sounds appealing to you, use the information on the sidebar to register right away, as space is limited and the event may sell out.

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