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Garden Conservancy Saves Garden for Public to Tour

Joan Bergsund, Tuolumne County Master Gardener

Are you planning a trip this summer? Gassing up the old RV and getting ready to hit the road? How would you like to visit a couple of exceptional gardens along the way? Before you complete your travel itinerary, consider visiting a couple of public and private gardens offered through The Garden Conservancy.

The Garden Conservancy was begun in l989 to preserve exceptional American gardens for public education and enjoyment. Founder Frank Cabot, from Quebec, was viewing the Ruth Bancroft Garden in Walnut Creek and marveling at the wide range of cacti and succulents. He wondered what would happen when the present owner could no longer care for the garden. Would the property become just another real estate listing, eventually razed for development?

With no thought of ownership or management, the Conservancy serves an advisory role providing legal, financial and horticultural services. The private gardens become not-for-profit enterprises open to the public. They are preserved, much like the gardens abroad, so that they are available for public viewing into the future. Today the Ruth Bancroft Garden welcomes 5,000 visitors each year and conducts a full range of educational programs. This was only the first and served as a model.

Today there are more than 400 gardens in 60 communities in l6 states (so far) whose gates are open to the public on specified dates. A modest fee, usually $5, is charged. The headquarters are located in Cold Springs, N.Y. and recently a West Coast office has opened in San Francisco. Individual gardens are first identified, some require restoration or preservation, and then interns and professionals are trained to become leaders to assist the public. A series of directories are published which are available to purchase on line or by phone. I just bought the national edition “Open Days Directory.” I hope to visit gardens in Oregon, southern California, Massachusetts and Illinois when I visit family members living in these areas. It´s not necessary to purchase the directories as all the information you need is on line. You´ll want to check it frequently for the latest entries.

Here in California, restoration projects under way are located on Alcatraz and at the Ruth Bancroft Garden in Walnut Creek. Others that have had Garden Conservancy assistance are the Hakone Garden in Saratoga, Keil Cove in Tiburon, Val Verde in Montecito and Green Gables in Woodside. These gardens are open to the public during the restoration period.

In the Sacramento area, there are Maple Rock Gardens at Newcastle, Gardens of Springfield at Lincoln and MyoWaEn, the Japanese Peace Garden, located at Granite Bay.

These names are familiar to Westerners. Other projects are underway in other parts of the country. For information about the Open Days that will help you plan your travels, log on to www.gardenconservancy.org. Here you will find the Open Days listed by region and information on specific gardens. For instance, there are San Francisco Days, San Mateo County Days, Marin County Days and East Bay Days.

The Conservancy also sponsors seminars for all garden aficionados. This year Fresh Design West Coast was held on March 31 and April 1st. I´m sorry I missed this event – I would have loved to attend. A similar program by the same name will be held in Los Angeles on November 11th and 12th. Information is on line in case you would like to register.

We should review garden etiquette, posted in the Open Days Directory. Note that these guidelines apply no matter what gardens you are visiting.

Do not pick any plant or remove any part of a plant.

Do not leave any litter in the garden.

Stay on the paths.

Follow any posted signs or directions.

Respect the privacy of the owners by not contacting them directly.

Leave all pets at home.

Children must be supervised at all times.

Park your car so others can enter and leave the parking area.

Ask permission to take photographs.

Respect the listed dates and times of openings.

So get your maps and lists together as you plan your next trip. There are many gardens to view, both near and far, for education, inspiration and delight. You´ll love this additional feature awaiting you as you travel beyond Tuolumne County. See you in the garden.

Joan Bergsund is a Tuolumne County Master Gardener who, now that spring has finally arrived, is busy assessing the damage caused by the winter´s heavy snow and interminable rain. The big Daphne shrub seems to have drowned.