top of page

Valerie's Vision: Crafting a Native Garden Wonderland

It was a sunny, Piedmont-hot morning this Wednesday when our Piedmont Recreation Department's Walking on Wednesdays group assembled at the Exedra for our weekly walk. There was a strong turnout of 47 walkers and two K-9 best friends for another special walk.

Alicia R had seen Valerie M's wonderful, sustainable gardens when they were part of the "Bringing Back the Natives Garden Tour" in May, and said they should be seen. Valerie is a former Piedmont mayor and a landscape designer. She said she would happy to have us come for a visit, so her and husband John's Woodland Way home and gardens were our morning destination.

We headed off going down Highland Avenue to Wildwood Avenue and then into Wildwood Gardens. Right at its entrance is a lovely Mission Revival Style home. Valerie was the landscape designer for its yard a few years ago, so we got a taste of what we were going to see.

We continued on through Wildwood Gardens past another lovely home with a large, well-constructed treehouse in the back and a new, sustainable garden in front. Wildwood Gardens turned into Woodland Way and the M's' home was just up the road. Valerie was in her front garden to welcome us. While she was telling us about her gardens, Mike H's K-9 best friend Roger

rehydrated thanks to the water fountain there.

Initially, there was a lawn and few native plants in the M's' yards, but Valerie learned that three billion North American breeding birds have disappeared since 1970. This population crash is due, among other reasons, to habitat loss, pesticide use, climate change, and predation from cats. For

our own survival, Valerie feels we all must include native plants in our gardens to create habitat, eliminate pesticide use, keep our cats indoors, and take action to reduce our contributions to global warming.

Valerie installed her garden in stages beginning in 2020, and during the pandemic she transformed her yard. Out went the lawn and most of the non-native ornamentals, and in came a diverse array of keystone species. These are native plants that provide the most value to wildlife. They include: holly leaf cherry, California lilac, manzanita, sages, buck wheats, goldenrod, wild rose, lupines, oaks, currants, huckleberries, snowberries, oceanspray, sages, buck wheats, aster, and native strawberries. And dry-stacked moss rock retaining walls were used to create hillside terraces.

Then Valerie led us to the backyard. Flagstone paths took us through the garden with a series of landings and patios. Shady areas were lush with combinations of columbine, ferns, coral bells, and redwood sorrel. There were also California lilac, native fuchsia, and yerba buena on the retaining walls. Scattered throughout the garden were trees and tall shrubs, including coast live oaks, redwood, elderberry, ninebark, toyon, and twinberry.

Valerie said forty-eight species of birds have been seen in the garden. They are drawn in by the insects they find on the native plants. The birds also feed on flowers that have gone to seed. That's why Valerie doesn't deadhead promptly. No feeders are set out in the garden because the native plants provide the birds' food. Additionally, Valerie only needs to water the backyard once a month and the front yard twice a month.

The splashing water in K-9 best friend Roger's front garden fountain, and a back garden waterfall and pond are bird attractions too. Hermit thrushes, ruby crowned kinglets, cedar waxwings, Western tanagers, and woodpeckers are regular visitors, and red-tailed and Coopers hawks sometimes soar above. Great horned owls are often heard hooting in the evenings from the tall

trees that border the garden. A tall oak tree is also a popular feeding and nesting site.

We went down the paths to admire the plants, and it was a challenge to get everyone to reassemble at the base of the backyard for the attached group photo. Everyone took their time enjoying Valerie and John's gardens and their hospitality. We expressed our appreciation for the opportunity to visit their house, and see the beautiful, sustainable, native gardens that

Valerie has created.


bottom of page