Bring back the bees and butterflies with native and drought tolerant plants for your garden and our community

Carol Rossi,
Used by permission

Susan Handjian wants to project our planet from environmental burnout by encouraging sustainable growing and conservation practices. This can be a challenge in California where lawns are ubiquitous, the fertilizer and insecticide industries are huge, and instant gratification is a lifestyle. Fortunately, Susan has the enthusiasm and energy for the task!

Susan is a teacher, consultant, advocate of sustainable growing practices and resource conservation and, of course, a gardener. She spent 15 years working for East Bay Municipal Utility District (EBMUD), 11 of them as a Water Conservation Representative helping customers save water in their homes and also administering the WaterSmart Garden Grant Program for low-water demonstration gardens. During her tenure she became an expert on plants with low water needs.

In 2001Susan began collaboration on the EBMUD book Plants and Landscapes for Summer-Dry Climates of the San Francisco Bay Region, a beautifully photographed book featuring more than 650 native California and Mediterranean plants suited to the dry micro-climates of the East Bay and much of the West. The award-winning book became the impetus for Susan’s assistance with the renovation of the formerly decrepit EBMUD Water Conservation garden located at The Gardens at Heather Farm (GHF) in Walnut Creek, a demonstration garden well worth a visit by East Bay gardeners who want to learn how to conserve water but still have a lush, beautiful garden.

Susan is now retired from EBMUD, but busier than ever. She became involved with the Bay Friendly movement, which advocates a holistic approach to gardening and landscaping in harmony with the natural conditions of the San Francisco Bay Watershed, and teaches their plant identification and landscaper training programs. She also serves on the GHF Board of directors and teaches several new classes there, as well as two Healthy Gardening workshops for the City of Walnut Creek.

Susan has also launched her own business as a Garden Coach and Garden Consultant. She describes her services this way:

“I provide advice on tackling problems with plants, irrigation, and soil in a sustainable manner. Because I believe maintenance is so important, I [also] create year-round maintenance schedules [for clients]. The coaching involves hands-on instruction to novice gardeners about proper tools, planting techniques, simple pruning and other maintenance work, and plant selection, which is my specialty. Of course, encouragement is generously provided. In my view, knowledge and the confidence to put it to use are essential for the happy gardener. “

Susan is a native Californian who spent most of her childhood on a ranch outside the North Bay community of Rio Vista. There she spent time with a wonderful man who created a beautiful rose garden for her grandmother, and from him came the beginnings of a love for gardening. The garden she now tends at her home in San Francisco is her workshop, constantly undergoing change.

What is the most common mistake Susan sees in home gardens?

“Buying plants without doing any research and study. If you don’t practice “RIght Plant Right Place”, you doom yourself and your plants to nothing bu heartache. I see it almost every day, from shade plants withering in full sun to Giant Sequoias looming over tiny back yards. We’re all susceptible to the siren song of beautiful plants, but unless you go to the nursery armed with information, you are vulnerable to making poor decisions.”

What advice does she offer the beginning gardener?

“Educate yourself about the basic principles of gardening. It may seem easy and intuitive, but there are many things one has to know in order to achieve good results and have a pleasurable experience rather than frustration and failure. Understanding climate zones, exposure, water, the basic facts about soil, and, of course, plants are keys to success and provide the confidence to press forward to solve the inevitable problems.”

Susan also urges East Bay gardeners to support local organizations that practice plant and resource conservation:

California Native Plant Society – East Bay Chapter, Tilden Botanic Garden in Oakland, University of California Botanical Garden at Berkeley, and Walnut Creek’s Ruth Bancroft Garden provide so much to the community and are continously struggling. The Gardens at Heather Farm is a beacon of sustainable gardening practices suitable for the Diablo Valley and does not get the support it deserves. Every time we take classes or workshops, and there are so many helpful and interesting ones going on year round, we not only learn new skills and interesting things to enrich our gardening experience but also support the work of these places.”
Those interested in Susan’s Garden Coaching or expertise in plant selection, sustainable methods, and water conservation can reach her by telephone at 510-323-6082 or by email at