Historical Society, Natives showcase best of
Clayton’s gardens in double-tour weekend

Lynn Vogensen’s garden in Dana Hills_Julie pierce for websiteThe “illusion” of a river in the front yard of Lynn Vogensen’s Dana Hills home is just a sample of the creative details incorporated in her revamped garden when she ditched her thirsty lawn. Vogensen’s garden will be one of six homes on the Clayton Historical Society’s Annual Gardens Tour May 6. (Photo by Julie Pierce)

May is the perfect time for a garden party, and the weekend of May 5-6 brings two such events to Clayton.

The Clayton Historical Society’s Gardens Tour features five gardens in Clayton and Concord, while four Clayton yards will be part of the Bringing Back the Natives Tour.

Historical Society vice president JoAnn Caspar says Lynne Vogensen has one of the best gardens she’s seen in the 26 years of the Clayton tour.

When the Dana Hills resident decided to ditch her lawn, Vogensen didn’t want her yard to look like a typical revamp. Rather than creating a false river in the front, she added “the illusion of possibly a river.”

In the same vein, the designer made the back yard look bigger by altering the deck layout and flagstoning the eating area. “His concept was he wanted the deck to look like an extension of the family room when you are standing inside the house,” she says.

Vogensen feels like she is strolling through the woods in her back yard, thanks to many Chinese maple and crepe myrtle trees. The yard is also filled with the sounds of wind chimes and the frogs that took up residence after she added fountains.

“The frogs in the back fountain and the frogs in the front fountain seem to talk to each other,” she says. “It’s like a ping pong game of frog croaking. It’s so much fun.”

But tour-goers might not even notice what Vogensen considers the most precious parts of her yard. “The crazy thing about this yard is that I can look in any direction and find something that is a reminder of my mother,” she says.

The yard includes potted plants and beach rocks she brought from her mom’s home in Bodega Bay, along with a “funky, elf-looking house” the designer made from a dead birch tree. “To me, that’s my mom’s house by the fountain in the back yard.” she says.

“There’s a sun hanging on the fence that used to hang at my mom’s house,” she adds. “When I look at that and see the crazy face, I think of my mom.”

‘Zen-like yard’

Concord resident Curtis Jacquot has wanted to be on the Clayton Historical Society tour since he revamped his yard in 2009. After reworking his landscape for a third time last fall, he finally got around to contacting tour organizers.

Jacquot dumped his lawn in favor of hardscapes and walls. For a small lot, his yard has “a lot of things going on” – custom brickwork and a brick archway, beehives and a pond with two waterfalls.

“It’s kind of a Zen-like yard,” he says.

And let’s not forget the fruit trees: avocado, peach, pomegranate, orange, lemon, Kaffir lime and kumquat, plus blueberry and huckleberry bushes. He also planted some trees from Australia in 2000 and still has a strawberry tree that was on the property when he bought it in 1985.

Flowers include common ones like geraniums along with gardenias, daphnes and a fragrant camellia that was in bloom when he spoke to the Pioneer in late March.

Like most gardeners, Jacquot has learned through trial and error. “Some areas didn’t grow as well as they could have, or I just got tired of them,” he says. “It’s kind of fun to rework the slate every once in awhile to have a fresh look on your yard.”

He wasn’t quite as enthusiastic about his second irrigation project, which led to a subterranean system to replace drip irrigation with malfunctioning plastic emitters. “That was a huge effort, because you’re digging around plants and roots,” he notes.

Going native

The 14th annual native garden tour on May 6 features 40 stops in Alameda and Contra Costa counties, along with a native plant sale at Concord’s Markham Arboretum May 5-6. With a theme of “Art and Music in the Gardens,” the event will include artwork for sale in some gardens and music performances at other stops.

During 50 lectures, visitors can learn how to select and care for California native plants, lower water bills and design low-maintenance, pesticide-free gardens.

At the Clayton home of Karen and Jeremy Amos, Contra Costa Water District staff will be available to answer questions about receiving a rebate for removing your lawn. Chris Dundon will talk about water conservation and rebates at 11 a.m. May 6, followed by Karen Amos’ presentation “How to maintain your native plant garden.”

Having already replaced their back lawn with native plants, the Amos family ripped out their front lawn in 2013 and now has 98 percent native plants. Their water bill dropped by almost 50 percent, and they received a $500 rebate from the water district’s Lose the Lawn and Grow a Garden program.

“The rebate certainly didn’t hurt, but our primary motivation was we wanted to reduce our water consumption,” Jeremy Amos says. “We also weren’t fond of the big spread of grass and actually prefer the natives.”

The front yard revamp cost $20,000, with the bulk of that being hardscape to create a tiered slope with moss rock. Plants include ceanothus, manzanita, salvia and deer grass.

“We also have a small meadow with Carex pansa,” he says. “It can be cut and maintained as a more traditional lawn, but we just let ours grow as a wild meadow to fit with the yard presentation.”

He says they do “as much maintenance as we want to do.”

“We do cut things back in the fall as needed, and some buckwheats have deadheads that need to be trimmed off once a year,” he says. “It is very minimal maintenance in the grand scheme of things.”