Home & Garden Columns

Garden Variety: NWF’s Connie Award Goes to Local Wildlands/Garden Patron Kathy Kramer

By Ron Sullivan
Friday October 26, 2007

One of our own is on her way to Washington DC to receive a long-deserved award. Kathy Kramer, who founded and runs the annual Bringing Back the Natives garden tour, will be honored on Nov. 1—appropriately enough, All Saints’ Day—along with Bill McKibben (The End of Nature), Al Gore, Rev. Richard Cizik (who has stirred up a hornets’ nest with the Evangelical Climate Initiative’s “Call to Action” statement, insisting on Christians’ responsibility toward stewardship of the earth), Steve Curwood (host of NPR’s Living on Earth show) and others including more dubious company like Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger.  

OK, the Guv gets it for continuing to resist offshore oil drilling. For that he deserves a cookie.  

The “Connie Award” is given by the National Wildlife Federation, which has worked with Kramer over the past three years to facilitate the free and fascinating local springtime tours.  

The tours’ premise is that gardens on the tour should have at least 30 percent California native plants; usually they have more, and some, like Scott and Jenny Fleming’s treasure of a native garden in the Berkeley hills, are entirely natives.  

Others, like Idell Weydemeyer’s delightful patch of El Sobrante, combine human-food production with wildlife habitat: the perfect blend of responsible land use and sensual fun. There’s every shade of nativity in between, and I’ve sung the tour’s praises here before. I’m right, too. Don’t miss the next one: Sunday, May 4, 2008.  

Kramer also got The Watershed Project off the ground, back when it was the Aquatic Outreach Institute. It’s been featuring educator-training programs for over a decade: Kids in Creeks, Kids in Marshes, Kids in Gardens, Watching Our Watersheds; wildlife and composting workshops, lots more.  

TWP has helped local creek-lovers found seven grassroots watershed/friends-of-creeks organizations, and continues to help sustain them. It has a fiscal sponsorship program and does fundraising assistance—the sort of thing that hands-on nature fiends like me need and typically don’t do well ourselves—and individual consultation for people who want to start such groups and keep them going.  

The Bringing Back the Natives Garden Tour arose from the same set of concerns as Kramer’s watershed work: “My interest in native plants stems from the fact that they don’t need the pesticides that non-natives do, they don’t require much water, they are the best for attracting wildlife, and they are part of California’s natural landscape.” 

When she wanted natives for her own garden, “It was harder to find out what native plants would do well in your area than it should have been. It should be easier for people to learn how to select and care for native plants.” 

The free, self-guided annual tour includes teaching sessions by garden owners and experts; plant, book, and poster sales and plant give-aways in individuals’ gardens and in plant nurseries; children’s activities, and most importantly, chances to see native gardens flourishing in the various climates of Alameda and Contra Costa counties.  

Past Connie award recipients include Jimmy Carter and Lady Bird Johnson, two people who made graduating from top-tier American politics look like a great vocation. Kramer’s in good company, and the National Wildlife Federation dignifies itself by giving her recognition. 






Ron Sullivan is a former professional gardener and arborist. Her “Garden Variety” column appears every Friday in the Daily Planet’s East Bay Home & Real Estate section. Her column on East Bay trees appears every other Tuesday in the Daily Planet.