Touring Exceptional Gardens

Recently, I wrote about the Garden Conservancy’s Open Days Program, which provides tours of exceptional private gardens. Since then, I visited two clusters of four private gardens south of the San Francisco Bay area.

Some gardens were the product of devoted gardeners who were pleased to dialog with the visitors about their gardens and specific plants and other features. These homeowners clearly enjoyed hands-on gardening.

Other gardens were the products of the designer, the installation contractor and the maintenance crew. The homeowners were more clients and admirers and satisfied with owning a showcase.

Here are some highlights of these tours.

  • A narrow, south-facing side yard with espaliered fruit trees next to the house and raised beds along the fence. Efficient and productive use of a space that is often wasted.
  • Espaliered Apple TreesA cluster of sixteen raised beds of Corten steel, each about five by ten feet, with four-foot aisles. Major commitment to growing edibles and ornamentals.
  • An outdoor dining room with seating for twenty-four, on a brick patio under an arbor of pollarded plane trees (Platanus × acerifolia). Nice
  • Dining Room for 24 Guests, Brick PatioA twenty-foot tall weeping Atlas Cedar (Cedrus atlantica ‘Glauca ‘Pendula’) next to a koi pond. (I must remove the five-foot specimen that eventually will outgrow its space in my garden.)
  • Weeping Atlas CedarA sharply sloped area at the back of the property with a twenty by forty foot children’s play yard on stilts, a zip line and a newly planted vineyard. Good use of a difficult part of the landscape.

Many visitors focused on individual plants, particularly those in current fashion, e.g., Rosa ‘Sally Holmes’ and R. ‘Spice so Nice’ growing on a fence, several Oakleaf Hydrangeas (Hydrangea quericifolia), a large Matilija poppy (Romney coulteri), and a great number of ornamental grasses.

The benefits of touring private gardens also include seeing combinations and swaths of selected plants, examining the design of ornamental borders and studying the overall layout of the landscape, including hardscape features and garden art. There is much to learn from other people’s gardens.

For info on future Open Days, visit

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