Exceptional Gardens

Avid gardeners have a small number of valuable champions. Among them are public botanical gardens and arboreta, and private residential gardens of exceptional quality.

The Garden Conservancy is an organization that works to make exceptional residential gardens accessible to the public. This non-profit organization was established in 1989 by Frank Cabot, a distinguished American gardener who passed away late last year.

The Conservancy conducts two primary programs, as follows:

The Garden Preservation Program

Here, the Conservancy identifies exceptional gardens and works to help them survive and prosper. It has extended its assistance to some ninety gardens, to date, supporting their transition from private to non-profit ownership and management. The Conservancy has continuing relationship with sixteen gardens in the United States, of which two are in northern California.

One of these is the Ruth Bancroft Garden in Walnut Creek, which is in fact the first garden of the Conservancy’s Preservation Program. This is a forty-year-old, three-acre garden of succulents, the long-term project of Ruth Bancroft (b. 1908) who continues her interest in the garden. The garden is managed by a non-profit organization, which maintains a regular schedule of days for public visits. For more information, visit the website www.ruthbancroftgarden.org.

The other Preservation Program in California is the Gardens of Alcatraz, in San Francisco Bay. The prisoners and staff of the federal prison on Alcatraz Island developed the gardens originally; they are maintained today by a partnership that includes the Garden Conservancy, the Golden Gate National Parks Conservancy and the National Park Service. Admission to the gardens is free of charge, but visits involve a private ferry that does charge for its services. For information: www.alcatrazgardens.org/.

These two gardens are interesting and memorable destinations for daytrips by Monterey Bay area gardeners.

The Open Days Program

The Garden Conservancy also facilitates access to many additional private gardens, which are selected by the Conservancy for inclusion in its Open Days program. This program offers self-guided tours to private gardens during the spring, summer and fall months. The organization groups gardens in clusters within a given area, for the convenience of visitors. Visitors are welcome at any time within the announced schedule; the admission fee is $5 per garden. The Conservancy offers the Open Days Directory, a national publication that lists Open Days and participating gardens with garden descriptions, open hours, and directions.

This weekend, for example, includes Open Days on Saturday, June 2 for a cluster of four gardens in the San Francisco Peninsula area (Atherton, Palo Alto, Portola Valley), and on Sunday, June 3 for a cluster of gardens in the Telegraph Hill area of San Francisco.

For information on the Garden Conservancy’s programs, visit www.gardenconservancy.org.

More: Return to this page after June 2, 2012 for notes from the Open Days gardens of the SF peninsula.

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