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Appreciating our indigenous plant life

In Bill Shepherd's garden in Atascadero, the native plants in the foreground merge into the view of the hills in the east.
In Bill Shepherd's garden in Atascadero, the native plants in the foreground merge into the view of the hills in the east. The Tribune

An oak woodland garden in Arroyo Grande, a one-acre hilltop property featuring a variety of native plants that thrive in clay soil in Varian Ranch, and a Carpenter Canyon Victorian Farmhouse rural garden that has undergone an interesting “habitat restoration.”

These are just three of the five home gardens that you can visit for free this month as part of the first “Native Plant Week’’ offered through the local California Native Plant Society. It’s designed to celebrate the state’s more than 4,000 native plants ranging from low ground covers to colorful tall shrubs and trees at a time when interest in them is growing, mostly due to water conservation.

The ambitious schedule of activities will feature a different native garden open to visitors each day of the week.

In addition to the five home gardens, two native nurseries will open their doors for special one-time tours, and the Los Osos Elfin Forest and Sweet Springs Reserve have planned walking tours. A native plant hike and educational talk have been scheduled by San Luis Obispo Botanical Gardens and CNPS for Saturday, April 23.

California’s native plants’ diversity, beauty, and usefulness in habitat restoration and landscaping is becoming widely recognized.

In addition to being drought-resistant and fire-retardant, natives attract indigenous birds, butterflies, insects and wildlife.

“Before incorporating native plants, we saw few California Towhee’s and now they’re abundant,’’ said Mardi Niles, a gardener from Arroyo Grande.

But it’s the water conservation aspect that is most frequently mentioned by native plant gardeners. Several of their gardens rely only on rainfall. “I hose water once a month and add a little more in October,” said Wendy Brown of San Luis Obispo. Her colorful Wilding Way garden will be open twice during the week.

Bill Shepard of Atascadero has over 100 native plants watered by rain on his slightly sloping lot. A retired physician, Shepard became interested in native plants after volunteering at the SLO Botanical Gardens in 1995.

“The sandy soil and my hillside location creates good drainage, which is important for native plants,” he said. His one-acre garden with a beautiful view will be open Friday, April 22.

As you visit the gardens and nurseries during California Native Plant Week, you will gain a new appreciation for the variety and beauty of the natural flora of our state!

Schedule of Events

All events free of charge

Saturday, April 16: 9:30 a.m. -11 a.m.Butterflies and Native Plants, A walk in the Elfin Forest Preserve, Los Osos.Directions: 101 to Los Osos Valley Road, right on South Bay Blvd, left on Santa Ysabel, right on 15th Street. http://www.elfin-forest.org.

Sunday, April 17: 10 a.m. – 2 p.m. Home of Wendy Brown, 1865 Wilding Lane, San Luis Obispo. A traditional front yard was removed and replaced with low-water natives and Mediterranean plants and bulbs.Directions: Johnson Avenue, north on Lizzie Street, right on Wilding.

Sunday, April 17: 1 p.m. – 3 p.m.Nipomo Native Garden. Native plants talk, plus pruning and planting demonstrations. Directions: 101 to Tefft Street west, right on Pomeroy, left on Camino Caballo, right on Osage to parking lot. http://www.nipomonativegarden.org

Monday, April 18: 10 a.m. – 2 p.m. Home of Bill Shearer, 170 Walnut St., Arroyo Grande. A 12-year old native garden is dominated by two large heritage oaks with dry shade plants.Directions: 101 to Grand Avenue heading west, left on Alder, right on Maple, right on Walnut.

Tuesday, April 19:a. 10 a.m. – 2 p.m. Home of Phil and Mardi Niles, 665 Carpenter Canyon Rd. (Hwy 227), Arroyo Grande. This rural property has undergone habitat restoration from a traditional to native focus. Directions: 101 to Grand Avenue heading east, which becomes Hwy 227. Stay on 227 to home, parking on 227 or Long Horn Lane.

b. 10 a.m. Tour of San Luis Obispo Growing Grounds, corner of Orcutt Road and Johnson Avenue.

Wednesday, April 20:a. 10 a.m. – 2 p.m. Home of Susan Grimaud, 1545 Wild Rye Way, Arroyo Grande. See how this large garden thrives in clay soil, with prolific salvia, Manzanita and ceanothus.Directions: 101 to Grand Avenue heading east, to Huasna Rd. which becomes Lopez Drive, left on Orcutt Road, right on the second (north) Varian Circle, left on Wild Rye.

b. 10 a.m.: Sweet Springs Nature Preserve, Los Osos. Walking tour. Directions: 101 to Los Osos Valley Road, right on South Bay Blvd, left on Ramona Ave to Broderson.

Thursday, April 21: 10 a.m. – 2 p.m. Home of Wendy Brown, 1865 Wilding Lane, San Luis Obispo. A traditional front yard was removed and replaced with low-water natives and Mediterranean plants and bulbs.See April 17 directions.

Friday, April 22:10 a.m. – 2 p.m. Home of Bill and Connie Shepard, 4820 San Jacinto, Atascadero. Over 100 native plants abloom on a one-acre hillside with a panoramic view.Directions: 101 to Traffic Way east, left on El Camino Real, right on San Jacinto.

b. 10 a.m.: Tour of Las Pilitas California Native Plant Nursery in Santa Margarita by Penny Nyunt. Plants may be purchased after tour. Directions: 101 to Hwy 58, stay right on Hwy 58 at east end of town, go straight on Pozo Road, turn left on Las Pilitas Road, 6.5 miles to nursery. Plan on 30 minutes from 101. www.laspilatas.com

Saturday, April 23:a.10:15 a.m.: San Luis Obispo Botanical Garden, El Chorro Regional Park.Meet at trailhead to Eagle Rock for a 1.5-mile native plant and view walk. Park in Cuesta College lot and take shuttle to trailhead. b.1 p.m.: Talk on the use of California Native Plants in home gardens, by John Nowak, CNPS specialist.

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