It was one more beautiful morning last week for the Piedmont Recreation Department’s Walking on Wednesdays walking group. Once again there was an excellent turn at the Exedra for the group’s weekly walk. This week it was 36 walkers and one K-9 best friend.
Before starting their walk, a couple of announcements were made. For the group’s next Wednesday walk former Piedmont mayor Bob McBain will host them on a tour of Tyson Lake. It was also shared that on Sunday, May 15, 2022, the Piedmont Recreation Department will host its inaugural “Play Like a Girl+ Piedmont” event at Witter Field from 10:00 am to 1:00 pm. This free event is aimed at getting girls ages 2 to 18 interested in playing sports in a fun and supportive environment.
However, for this morning, the walkers were all there to enjoy the second of the special walking tours of two Piedmont front gardens that are part of the 18th Annual “Bringing Back the Natives Garden Tour and Green Home Features Showcase.” Hope Salzer, a Board member of Piedmont Connect, Piedmont’s environmental education and advocacy organization, led the walkers to the first of the Piedmont gardens the previous week. It was actually her garden on Cambrian Avenue. Hope was back to take the group to the second garden. This one belongs to Nancy McKee-Jolda and Robert Jolda on Harvard Road. To qualify for the Natives Garden Tour, gardens must contain at least 70% California native plants, which Hope and Nancy’s both do.
The walkers had their choice of two routes to get to Prospect Road, which runs into Harvard. They decided postpone a walk through Piedmont Park until their return, and first go down Highland Avenue to Wildwood Avenue, and then Prospect Road. A right turn when Prospect ends at Harvard quickly took the group to Nancy’s house. She was waiting to welcome them. However, before she started telling the walkers about her garden, she told Dick Carter that she had been a year behind him at Piedmont High back in the 1960s. Dick had to do the mental exercise of removing “Jolda” from Nancy’s name, and then happily remembered “Nancy McKee.”
Nancy told the group that she had been inspired some years before during a trip to France. The “Monet gardens” made her want to create her own lovely garden. Hiking in the East Bay Regional Parks also provided a fascination about what our area looked like 150 years ago, and it motivate Nancy to “jump into nature and native gardens.” She found that she loved gardening and the lifecycle process of plants going from seed to flower and back to seed again. All the seasons provide a rich garden experience for her.
Nancy shared a list of over twenty-four succulents, shrubs & large bushes, and flowering plants in her garden, and identified many of them for the group. There were: Douglas irises, different buckwheat varieties, mugworts that had nothing to do with Harry Potter, purple Self-Heals, huckleberry, wild roses, a mock orange with its first buds, and many more.
She noted that many of these native plants were used by indigenous people as medicines and for teas. Additionally, Nancy told the group that her family only buys live Christmas trees and it is possible to donate the right varieties to local parks. A plug was also given to the East Bay Regional Park Nursery for those interested in getting some of these native plants for their own gardens.
The group had many questions that Nancy and Hope expertly answered. It was finally asked if there is such a thing as a “weed.” Not the one that has been legalized in California and elsewhere, but just the plain old garden variety “weed.” This seemed to be a little puzzling until Annis Kukulan shared Henry David Thoreau’s quote, "What is a weed? A plant whose virtues have not been discovered.”
As the walkers prepared to leave, Dick and Nancy for some reason felt compelled to share the Piedmont High Fight Song with the group. In it, the fighting prowess of the bold and bonnie Piedmont Scotsmen (it was “Clansmen” with a “C” in Nancy and Dick’s day) is proclaimed; as well as that they have amazingly powerful digestive enzymes that enable them to eat some unusual meals. Nancy later confirmed that within a native garden it is still possible to “enjoy those thistles for your breakfast and that tasty granite for lunch!”
Finally, regarding her native plants garden, Nancy shared, “My intent was to show how ‘natural’ such a garden is, how simple and attractive AND important.” Nancy’s husband, Robert, had joined the group and said how much he appreciates the work she has done with the garden. That appreciation was also felt and expressed by the walkers.
By going just a little further up Prospect and then going up Ranleigh Way, the walkers could enjoy another one of Piedmont’s hidden pathways. This is the 197 foot path between Ranleigh and the lower portion of Wildwood Avenue just beyond Wildwood school. It was too easy and too enticing to pass up.
After walking the path, the walkers went past the school’s busy and noisy playground, where Blaire might join the fun in a few years. A walk through the Piedmont Park allowed Jane Holland’s K-9 best friend Sasha to have an off-leash run, and the rest of the walkers to return to the Community Hall. The group had enjoyed two wonderful native gardens walks with Hope. They appreciated Hope Salzer taking them on these tours, the information she shared, and her commitment to improving our environment.