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Hope Salzer - Bringing Back Natives Walk

The weather gods continued to smile on the Piedmont Recreation Department’s Walking on Wednesdays group last week. Rain was forecast for Wednesday night, but it was a beautiful morning when the group assembled. There was a good reason, in addition to the weather, for the walkers to be at the Exedra. Hope Salzer, a Board member of Piedmont Connect, Piedmont’s environmental education and advocacy organization (, was there to lead them on the first of two special, sneak preview walking tours of two Piedmont front gardens which showcase the beauty of native plants from our bioregion of California.

These gardens are part of the 18th Annual “Bringing Back the Natives Garden Tour and Green Home Features Showcase” on Saturday, April 30, from 10am-5pm. Registration is free registration is at The first walk with Hope was this week, and the second will be next Wednesday, April 27. The Tour/Showcase is a two weekend event. The first weekend was April 16-17 and the second will be on Saturday, April 30. More information on the tours including garden descriptions and plant lists is available at

Thirty-seven walkers and two K-9 best friends were on hand for Hope’s special walking tour.

Hope took the walkers on two Piedmont front garden tours last year, touring front gardens which were part of Piedmont Connect’s Self-Guided Fall Front Garden Tour, so she is not a stranger to the group. After a reintroduction, Hope gave the group some background information on the tour and native gardens. There are 35 local gardens on the April 30th live “Bringing Back the Natives Garden Tour,” two of which are in Piedmont. To qualify for the tour, gardens must contain at least 70% California native plants. Hope is very familiar with the first Piedmont garden that the walkers would visit. It is her own front yard on Cambrian Avenue. So, this was this Wednesday walk’s destination, and off the group went up Highland Avenue in a very long line.

The walkers crossed Highland and proceeded up Sheridan Avenue to its end at the corner with Wildwood Avenue. They enjoyed the flowering red horse chestnut trees and other flowers that lined the way. There were roses, rhododendrons, azaleas, two usual wisteria trees, dogwoods, and much more. The walkers have passed the home at Sheridan and Wildwood many times, and always enjoy its front yard. It is covered in colorful flowers, year round, and especially at this time of year. It is not a native garden, but it is beautiful.

The walkers went up Wildwood and through the Hall Fenway. The yellow daffodils that herald the coming of spring were gone, and there was a surprising lack of floral color. The drought has had an effect on flowers and trees this spring. Coming out of the fenway the group went up Hampton past Crocker Park with all its flowers, and found a residential hillside garden covered with purple Douglas Irises that Hope confirmed are native. The group soon came to St. James Drive, turned down it, and make the long walk to Cambrian Avenue. They went up to Hope’s home on the left side of the street.

Hope told the group of her family’s move to this house in 2010. The front garden was typical of 1950s-style northern Californian gardens, a conventional non-native lawn bordered by invasive English ivy or other non-native ground cover and a few camellia, azalea, rhododendron and other Asiatic shrubs sprinkled in for seasonal color, very much like others on the street. However, Hope was developing an understanding of drought-tolerant, native plants and the importance they play in our ecosystem and in water and soil conservation. She started the transformation of her yard, planting natives that now dominate. There are over 50 species of native trees and shrubs that provide food, cover, and homes for native insects, bees, birds, butterflies and more, including several species of native Californian oaks. These trees are considered a “keystone” species because of the vast number of animals which these oaks support, numbering in the low hundreds. In lieu of a conventional lawn, Hope has established a native wildflower meadow of deep-rooted native grasses that prevent soil erosion and feed native wildlife when left to flower mixed with perennial and annual re-seeding wildflowers. When grasses go to seed, the seedhead is actually the flower of the grass plant. Some of the plants have edible flowers, and Hope provided Tami DeSellier with some samples. In 2016, Hope’s garden qualified as a Certified Monarch Waystation with areas planted in native milkweed, the sole food plant for the Monarch butterflies in their pre-chrysalis larval form. Hope is thrilled to see Monarch caterpillars and butterflies enjoying her garden every year.

Hope also told the group of her efforts to live a sustainable, carbon-neutral life with her family in their home. During the winters they wear layers inside the house, and keep the thermostat temperature in the upper fifties. The family is also conscious of minimizing the carbon associated with their travel. Hope’s garden and her life were an inspiration for the walkers, and they took the attached group photo with her in front of her home.

After this first visit with Hope, the walkers retraced their steps back to the Community Hall parking lot. They had had an enlightening, sunny walk and tour with Hope, and they will be able to do it again. Next Wednesday, on April 27th, the group will go with Hope to the garden of Nancy McKee Jolda and her husband Robert. Theirs is the second Piedmont home on the “Bringing Back the Natives Garden Tour.” No rain is forecast for it either. Naturally, it will be a wonderful Wednesday walk.


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