Bay Nature magazineSpring 2010

Urban Nature

Touring Native Gardens

April 1, 2010

Firefighter Matt Zlatunich is not only a lepidopterist; he’s also a dedicated gardener. His natural dune garden in the Richmond District is among those featured on the San Francisco Native Plant Garden Tour, but it’s just one of the hundreds of gardens open to the public throughout the Bay Area during several garden tours this spring.

Paul and Harmina Mansur have named their South Bay garden the Blackstone Monarch Habitat Garden. For them, it took a visit to Costa Rica to get interested in California butterflies. After coming home from their trip they realized how barren their yard was, with no bugs, butterflies, or birds. Paul had grown up in the Santa Clara Valley, collecting snakes and insects in the foothills. Once he and Harmina started going to native plant sales at Hidden Villa in Los Altos Hills, he recognized many of the plants from his childhood forays.

Letting go of the lawn was the hardest part for Paul. Lawns were part of his childhood–and childhood income. The couple started by building raised beds on either side of their square lawn, but held on to a wide meandering path in the middle. When they finally ripped out the whole lawn, their neighbors complained they were ruining the aesthetics of the neighborhood.

But within a year of planting all California natives, they had monarchs, painted ladies, and checkerspot butterflies. Last spring, the Mansurs planted bare milkweed sticks, and by summer had beautiful plants with a dozen monarch caterpillars. Their once-critical neighbors now ask for advice on how to attract their own bees and butterflies, and Paul and Harmina have propagated plants to share.

You can visit the Mansurs’ garden on Sunday, April 18, 2010, on the Going Native Garden Tour. The gardens on the tour range from “homegrown” ones like the Mansurs’ to professionally designed estate gardens. To register for the tour go to

Or visit Matt Zlatunich’s garden on the San Francisco Native Plant Garden Tour on April 25, 2010. Register here.

The ever-popular East Bay Bringing Back the Natives tour is on May 2, 2010, and features 50 gardens from Berkeley to Clayton encompassing all the micro-climates in between. Register at All three tours are free, though donations are welcome.

About the Author

Writer Aleta George trained as a Jepson Prairie docent in 2009. In addition to writing Bay Nature's Ear to the Ground column, she has written for Smithsonian, High Country News, and the Los Angeles Times.