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Garden Articles

•  Mediterranean Gardens Around the Bay
 Bay Area Nursery Display Gardens
•  Rose Gardens of the Bay Area
Chinese and Japanese Gardens of the Bay Area

This series of articles was published in the San Jose Mercury News and Contra Costa Times in 2000 and 2001. As few works of mankind are more ephemeral than a garden, to avoid disappointment it is advisable to check on the current condition and opening policy before planning a visit.

Mediterranean Gardens Around the Bay

David A. Laws

 Published as "Some Like it Hot" in the Contra Costa Times, April 7, 2001
and "Mediterranean Style," San Jose Mercury News, May 11, 2001

Elizabeth E. Gamble Garden, Palo Alto

Theories abound as to the origin of the name California. Many gardeners favor the version that combines the Latin words "calida" - heat and "fornax," - furnace, as this, appropriately Mediterranean, derivation aptly describes prevailing conditions in many inland Bay Area gardens for much of the year. Yet most of our domestic horticulture is based on plants from moist, temperate regions that demand scarce water and constant attention.

It was not always so. Spanish missionaries planted gardens adapted to the mild, wet winters and hot, dry summers of their Mediterranean homeland. As late as the 1920s dry-climate gardens were the rule in the West rather than the exception. But by mid-century powerful pesticides, cheap irrigation water, and ample leisure time encouraged large English-style lawns, exotic roses, and lush herbaceous borders. Today many homeowners are again looking to drought-tolerant gardens for ease of maintenance and a better fit with Californian lifestyles.

Distinct Mediterranean garden styles emerged from two ancient cultures. The Moorish gardens of Spain and North Africa are based on the Islamic tradition of intimate, walled courtyards centered on fountains and water channels that originated in Persia. Flamboyant Italian Renaissance designs filled with statues and geometric topiary evolved from Roman "garden room" patio transition areas between the villa and surrounding rocky hillsides. Both styles use arbors and walls for shade, and preserve water with extensive paved surfaces, stone pathways and terra cotta container plantings.

Californian mediterranean gardens combine these shaded outdoor living spaces with naturalistic plantings of colorful and aromatic, drought-tolerant plants from around the world. Metal sculptor Rochelle Ford of Palo Alto owns a fine local example of a mediterranean-style garden. When asked what kind of irrigation system she uses, Rochelle chuckled and pointed to her husband "See that guy in the cap by the hose. That's my system and he doesn't have to work too hard."

If you want to enjoy the unique pleasures of your own mediterranean garden the publications listed at the end of this article will help you get started. The Mediterranean Climate Gardening web site (http://www.mediterraneangardensociety.org/mcgttw.html) is another excellent resource. Then get out and visit gardens that specialize in plants from Australia, California, Chile, and South Africa, as well as the lands of the Mediterranean basin. See how profuse blooms of salvia, silver fronds of artimesia and the pungent scent of lavender combine with vine-covered pergolas and stone terraced pathways for a uniquely mediterranean expression. Suggestions on some local publicly accessible gardens follow.

By adapting to both the constraints and unique possibilities of our local topography and mediterranean climate, Bay Area gardeners can have the best of two worlds - a garden bursting with an incredible palette of colors, textures, forms and aromas, as well as the time to enjoy it.

North Bay

Gentle, rockwall-terraced slopes below Matanzas Creek Winery come as close to the hues, textures, and smells of the south of France as you will find in California. 4,500 Grosso and Provence lavender cultivars covering 1.5 acres emit a heady aroma as you stroll their carefully manicured rows in the warm summer sun. (6097 Bennett Valley Road, Santa Rosa. Phone: 800-590-6464)(www.matanzascreek.com/gardens)

Although tall redwoods shading Western Hills Nursery in Sonoma County push its microclimate almost into the cool coastal zone, its founders pioneered drought tolerant plants from Australia and southern Europe in Californian gardens. You can meander through 3-acres of terraced gardens and specimen trees. Predominantly evergreen flowering perennials, herbs, and shrubs mass together suppressing weeds and preserving moisture. (16250 Coleman Valley Road, Occidental. Phone: 707-874-3731)

East Bay

Eleven-acre Blake Garden hosts the early 20th-century Italianate villa residence of the President of U.C. Berkeley. A rectangular, tree-shaded reflecting pool and grotto surmounted by symmetrical staircases were inspired by a garden at Frascati near Rome. The western Bay-view slope is planted with California natives as well as drought-tolerant species from South Africa and Australia. (70 Rincon Road, Kensington. Phone: 510-524-2449)             

You can see a landscaped display of California native flowers and foliage in a colorful succession that lasts year round at the East Bay Regional Parks Botanic Garden  in Tilden Park. On canyon slopes above Wildcat Creek, the garden is divided into sections representing California's climate zones. Five of these - Franciscan, Santa Lucia, Sea Bluff, Southern California, and Valley-Foothill - are dry-climate areas. (Wildcat Canyon Road and South Park Drive, Berkeley. Phone: 510-841-8732) (www.ebparks.org/parks/bot.htm)

If your site is close to the desert end of the mediterranean spectrum, you can choose from an outstanding selection of colors, textures, and patterns of foliage at the Ruth Bancroft Garden . Tall spikes of red, coral, orange, and yellow light up the garden throughout the year. Open by reservation only, the garden houses one of the country's most important private landscaped displays of aloes, agaves, cacti, echeverias, euphorbias, and yucca. (1500 Bancroft Road, Walnut Creek. Phone: 925-210-9663) (www.ruthbancroftgarden.org)

Overlooking the Berkeley campus and Bay, the U.C. Botanical Garden contains 13,000 species from around the world. Of interest to mediterranean-climate gardeners are the Australasian, California Native, Mesoamerican, and South American and South African sections. If you are seeking specifically European planting ideas, don't miss the steep Mediterranean hillside garden featuring aromatic herbs and perennial flowers. (200 Centennial Drive, Berkeley. Phone: 510-643-2755)(www.mip.berkeley.edu/garden/)

The 100-acre U.C. Davis Arboretum borders a scenic lagoon on Putah Creek. It is an excellent source of horticultural information for this more extreme inland climate area. Highlights for those seeking low-maintenance, water-conserving flowering plants are the Storer, Brown, and Mediterranean gardens. (LaRue Road, Davis. Phone: 530-752-4880)

South Bay

You can check out nearly 200 different Salvia and other Mediterranean plants appropriate to California's Central Coast in the Cabrillo College Salvia Garden . Salvia plants rise from ankle high by the path to six (Roseleaf sage with large crimson flowers) and eight (blue and white Phylis Fancy) feet against the outer fence. The garden will move to a new site in late 2001. (6500 Soquel Drive, Aptos. Phone: 831-479-6100)(http://www.cabrillo.edu/academics/horticulture/salvias/html/index.html)

Monterey Peninsula gardens at Mission San Carlos Borromeo in Carmel and adobes in the Monterey State Historic Park were among the first in the US to raise European mediterranean plants such as citrus, grapes, and olives. Behind the high walls of the Cooper-Molera Adobe  you can see a 2-acre period garden of salvia, vines, vegetables and roses cultivated with methods predating power tools, pesticides and piped water. (Cooper-Molera Adobe, 525 Polk Street, Monterey. Phone: 831- 649-7118)(http://www.parks.ca.gov/default.asp?page_id=956)

Loamy sand "mediterranean mounds," each about 12 by 25 feet and 18 inches high, overflowing with penstemons, sages, santolinas, roses, grasses, and shrubs fill Sierra Azul Nursery's 2-acre demonstration gardens with year-round color and beauty. Owner Jeff Rosendale notes that " When we say that the mounds are watered only once a month in the summer they become even more appealing." (2660 East Lake Ave., Watsonville. Phone: 831-763-0939)

The U.C. Santa Cruz Arboretum  overlooking Monterey Bay specializes in Australian, New Zealand and South African plants. It is noted for its unique display of ancient proteas. The 135-acre open park-like setting is primarily a teaching facility rather than a source of domestic landscaping ideas, but if you are looking for dry-climate shrubs you can see over 2,000 varieties in the Australian collection alone. (Empire Grade near Western Drive, Santa Cruz. Phone: 831-427-2998)

West Bay/Peninsula

Palo Alto's 2.5-acre Elizabeth E. Gamble Garden  recently installed a demonstration mediterranean area with drip irrigation, raised stone planters, and recycled terra cotta pipe entrance columns adjacent to the salvia bed. Geramium maderense (pink flowers), Verbena bonariensis (purple) and Verbascum bombyciferum (yellow) contribute height and structure, while Thymus and Origanum species spill over the walls. Gravel mulch supports the good drainage required by these plants. (1431 Waverley Street, Palo Alto. Phone: 650-329-1356)(www.gamblegarden.org)

On 55-acres in Golden Gate Park, the Strybing Arboretum  has one of the world's most diverse collections of rare and unusual plants. Beds are organized by climate zones and include areas devoted to species from Chile, Cape Province and Australia. Most inspiring for landscaping ideas is the award-winning Arthur L. Menzies garden where you can see California native plants from meadow, chaparral and woodland habitats set around a dry, rocky streambed. (9th Avenue at Lincoln Way, San Francisco. Phone: 415-661-1316)(www.strybing.org)

Thomas Church, pioneer of the California garden as living space, designed the Sunset Garden  on the banks of San Francisquito Creek. Early California ranch-style office buildings are set among plants from all 24 climate zones of the West. Although the centerpiece is a large irrigated lawn, dry-climate species predominate in border beds devoted to the Central and Southern regions of the state (80 Willow Road, Menlo Park. Phone: 650-321-3600)(www.sunsetmagazine.com/AboutSunset/GardenTour/GardenTour.html)


Pacific Horticulture Magazine (www.pacifichorticulture.org)
"Create a Mediterranean Garden: Planting a Low-Maintenance, Drought-Proof Paradise Anywhere" Pattie Barron, Simon McBride
"Mediterranean Gardening A Waterwise Approach” Heidi Gildemeister
"Plant Life in the World's Mediterranean Climates: California, Chile, South Africa, Australia, and the Mediterranean Basin" Peter R. Dallman
"The Mediterranean Gardener" Niccolo Grassi, Hugo Latymer
"Water Conserving Plants and Landscapes for the Bay Area" East Bay MUD

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Bay Area Nursery Display Gardens

David A. Laws

 Published as "Inspired by the pros" in the San Jose Mercury News, September 1, 2000
and "Try this at home," Contra Costa Times, September 1, 2000

Sonoma Horticultural Nursery, Sebastopol

With the Bay Area's mild climate and fertile soils, except for exotic tropical species, we can grow just about anything we wish.  So our nurseries overflow with a tempting array of plants from every corner of the globe. And each season new varieties compete for space in your garden. With so many to choose from, how do you make choices that will work for you?

It's often difficult to imagine that little green sprig in a 4" plastic pot crammed into your local garden center as a 4-foot diameter, bloom-laden shrub filling the center of a showpiece flowerbed. A good way to see how it may look several years down the road is to search one out in a public garden. Local AARS-accredited rose gardens make this practical for modern roses. Unfortunately recent introductions of most other species are not widely cultivated in such accessible places.

Another great resource is the many outstanding botanical research and horticultural institutions that surround the Bay.  Scout their gardens and then attend one of their scheduled plant sales. Cabrillo College in Aptos has a display garden featuring 200 different Salvias and other Mediterranean climate plants. You can buy them at the Aptos Farmers Market on Saturday mornings. U.C. Berkeley, U.C. Santa Cruz, and Golden Gate Park's Strybing Arboretum all hold several sales each year. But in most cases these offerings are limited relative to the size of their collections. 

The best place to check out mature plants before buying is at a nursery with a demonstration garden. Some, such as Berkeley Horticultural, use the garden as a way of testing year-round performance and giving people ideas for long-term planning. Specialty growers typically use them to promote less familiar species and unique varieties. Yerba Buena's garden displays hundreds of mature native plants, as well as giving you ideas on how to mix and match them.  Bamboo Giant allows you to browse through a forest of dozens of varieties of timber bamboo. Sierra Azul shows the brilliant colors and textures offered by drought tolerant Mediterranean species. 

Kathy Crane of Yerba Buena emphasizes what we all know. "It costs a lot of money and effort to keep our garden in good shape." And with the soaring value of local real estate, fewer and fewer of these gardens will survive. Recently Livermore residents were alarmed over unfounded rumors of the demise of local treasure Alden Lane Nursery. But last year we did lose Maryott Iris Gardens from downtown San Jose to development. And Saratoga's fabled Saso Herb Gardens will close in shortly.

So be prepared to pay a little more than for the special-of-the-week at your local chain garden center. It's a great investment to insure continued access to expert advice and to know that when you need a matching plant you will be able to find it.

The following are just a few of the best nursery display gardens we found around the Bay. All have different opening hours. Some are open only one or two days a week.  So check before you go.

East Bay

Just inside the rose and vine-covered fence, Berkeley Horticultural Nursery's  garden features succulents and colorful perennials under the shade of a large magnolia, maple, and dwarf conifers. You will also see unusual grasses and rushes alongside the flagstone path winding between raised rockery beds. (1310 McGee, Berkeley. Phone: 510-526-4704)(www.berkeleyhort.com)

 Mounded gardens and trees framing the entrance makes Magic Gardens  seem much larger than its tiny lot allows. But the real surprise is the color-filled beds bursting with salvias, coreopsis and other water-conserving perennials that line both sides of this industrial street. All are available from the nursery. (729 Heinz Avenue, Berkeley. Phone: 510-644-1992)(www.magicgardens.com)

Towering, 300-year-old valley oaks are just one of the attractions of Alden Lane Nursery.  You can inspect the water gardens, numerous shade garden displays, and an avenue of arches laden with vines, roses and wisteria while the family is occupied with other diversions. Recent activities include an espresso bar, quilt show, citrus tasting, and puppet shows. (981 Alden Lane, Livermore. Phone: 925-447-0280)

            If you live in Contra Costa County and need plants that will survive your hottest garden spot take a look at the colorful beds around the parking lot at R & M Pool Patio and Gardens. Gaura, mallow, poppies, day lilies, fortnight lilies (dietes), vines, and of course, oleanders and Mexican primroses all love it here. (6780 Marsh Creek Rd., Clayton, 510-672-0207) 

North Bay

Are you tired of coming home to a dull driveway?  Take a look at how emerisa gardens brightens up the lane beside its retail operation. Yarrow, purple and white lavender, society garlic, salvias, and mutabilis roses bring color and texture to a long, dry side entrance. (555 Irwin Lane, Santa Rosa. Phone: 707-525-9600)

            If you think daylilies (hemerocallis) only come in neon orange, visit Pick-A-Lily Gardens during blooming season. Over 600 varieties of every color imaginable fill terraced rows in this gentle valley garden hidden down a winding dirt lane. (2401 Schaeffer Road, Sebastopol. Phone: 707-823-3799) (www.picalily.com)

Stroll through Sonoma Horticultural Nursery's woodland setting around a serene pond and you will think you are visiting a private garden. Specimen rhododendrons, azaleas, camellias, and shade loving perennials thrive under the lush forest canopy. (3970 Azalea Ave, Sebastopol. Phone: 707-823-6832)

If you want to attract butterflies, hummingbirds and beneficial insects into your garden be sure to see the displays on the sunny slopes of Wayward Gardens (1296 Tilton Road, Sebastopol. Phone: 707-829-8225)

Western Hills Nursery's 3-acre presentation of trees and shrubs rivals some of the finest gardens in the country. You can wander for hours along redwood-shaded paths, past quiet pools surrounded by vines, perennials and Mediterranean climate plants from around the world. (16250 Coleman Valley Rd., Occidental. Phone: 707-874-3731)

A handsome, white stucco house surrounded by carefully planned rose beds gives lots of ideas on how you can design a showpiece rose garden to fit a typical suburban size lot. The Russian River Rose Companydisplay garden specializes in roses that thrive in the warm Sonoma County wine country. (1685 Magnolia Drive, Healdsburg. Phone: 707-433-7455) (www.russian-river-rose.com)

Wildwood Farm's display gardens slope up to woods of native bay, madrone, and oak, but the nursery specializes in more exotic species. You can choose from over 200 cultivars of Japanese and Asian maples as well as other cold hardy plants. (10300 Sonoma Highway, Kenwood. Phone: 707-833-1161)(www.wildwoodmaples.com)

Next time you tire of battling the crowds in Napa Valley's tasting rooms stop by the McAllister Water Gardens near Yountville for another kind of refreshment. This jewel-like display of fluorescent water lilies will calm your psyche as well as cool your body. (7420 St. Helena Highway, Napa. Phone: 707-944-0921)

West Bay

Squeezed in between bars and factories, the New Potrero Gardens supplies this working San Francisco neighborhood with city-oriented plants. A cheerful perennial bed welcomes you at the entrance while the slope up to Texas Street is filled with drought tolerant Mediterraneans. (1201 17th Street, San Francisco. Phone: 415-861-8220)

Redwoods and tall metal sculptures framing the view of an old ranch house make even the parking lot of Yerba Buena Nursery a garden to die for. Walk past the tea room/sales office to the Gerda Isenberg Native Plant Garden where you escape into a gentle, colorful wilderness of flowers, grasses, shrubs and trees. (19500 Skyline Blvd, Woodside, 94062. Phone: 650-851-1668. (http://www.yerbabuenanursery.com/)

Also on high up on Skyline, just before the junction with busy Highway 92, venerable Farwell's Rhododendron Nursery has been in business since 1946.  Magnificent specimens of every shade and size bloom through early summer in this idyllic view setting under the redwoods. (13040 Skyline Blvd, Woodside, 94062. Phone: 650-851-8812)

South Bay

Sierra Azul's  2-acres of showpiece, mounded beds in the heart of agricultural Pajaro Valley creatively display year-round-blooming, easy-to-grow plants that thrive in the world's Mediterranean climates. You can purchase proteas, dry climate roses and many perennials, ornamental grasses, shrubs and trees not readily available elsewhere. (2660 East Lake Ave., Watsonville. Phone: 831-763-0939)(www.sierraazul.com)

Goldsmith Seeds is one of the largest suppliers of seeds to the horticultural trade. 20-acres of kaleidoscopic trial grounds, which you can enjoy from a raised viewing platform, include wisteria covered walkways and formal flowerbeds in a lush green lawn. (2280 Hecker Pass Highway, Gilroy. Phone: 408-847-7333) (www.goldsmithseeds.com)

The Roses of Yesterday and Today garden is set in an orchard clearing in a redwood forest. You can browse through two sloping terraces bursting with more than 200 varieties of old, rare, and unusual modern roses that have been lovingly maintained by four generations of the Wiley and Stemler families. (803 Brown's Valley Road, Corralitos. Phone: 831-728-1901) (www.rosesofyesterday.com)

If you need to know what that one gallon pot of giant black bamboo will look like when it reaches its full 60-foot height over your back yard, visit the Bamboo Giant display forest. With over 10 acres of plantings in an old quarry site, you can see one of North America's largest selections of timber bamboo. (5601 Freedom Blvd, Aptos. Phone: 831-687-0100)(www.bamboogiant.com)

# # #

Rose Gardens of the Bay Area

David A. Laws

 Published as "Lore of the Roses" in the San Jose Mercury News, May 12, 2000

Garden of Old Roses,  U.C. Berkeley Botanical Garden

Roses are our flowers of choice for joyous occasions from anniversaries, birthdays, graduations, and weddings to this weekend's Mother's Day celebration. And, as befits its role as America's National Flower, the rose is well represented in gardens throughout the Bay Area.

Our passion for roses is not unique in the world or in history.  Since our ancestors first expressed themselves through art and writing, roses have attracted more attention from painters, poets, and romantics than any other flower. They were cherished for their color, fragrance and form in the Egypt of the Pharaohs.  Early Arab, Chinese, Greek and Roman poets and philosophers revered roses in their writing. Vivid images of this universal symbol of beauty and romance, from the Bronze Age frescoes of Crete and the rose windows of mediaeval cathedrals to the bold canvases of Georgia O'Keefe, have dazzled us through the ages. 

All cultivated roses are descended from just a handful of wild species that occur across the Northern Hemisphere.  Cross-pollination by nature and nurturing by man created new rose forms long before botanists kept records. In every nation they conquered, Roman legions planted ancestors of the Apothecary's Rose, Rosa gallica officinalis, for its medicinal and decorative value. These hardy European roses were highly fragrant and easy to grow but flowered only once per season. In the 1700's traders returned from sub-tropical China with ever-blooming, but more fragile species. Crossbreeding between these types led eventually to the classic large-bloom, long-stemmed Hybrid Tea varieties that dominate our gardens today.

Rosarians group roses into three basic categories: Species Roses, Old Garden Roses, or Modern Roses (those introduced after 1867). Within each category there are dozens of classes and countless varieties. Whichever style you prefer, you can be sure to find it flourishing in one of our many Bay Area public rose gardens. San Francisco's Golden Gate Park hosts All-America Rose Selections (AARS) suited to the foggy ocean climate of the City. The UC Berkeley Botanical Garden focuses on early 19th century-era plants that thrive in a dry Mediterranean habitat. San Jose Heritage Rose Garden's Adopt-A-Rose program (408-298-7657) allows you to honor your loved ones by adopting one of the collection of nearly 5,000 plants and over 3,500 varieties representing every class in cultivation today and many from yesterday. Each of the ten gardens described below offers its own unique presentation of the Queen of the Flowers for you to enjoy on this special weekend.

Most visitors to the Golden Gate Park Rose Garden in San Francisco see it only as a shortcut out of the park, but it's worth closer attention. Sixty beds in a manicured grassy strip shaded on each side by tall redwoods and pines demonstrate many AARS varieties that you can grow in cool coastal areas.  Of the 1,500 plants and approximately 145 varieties, the highlight is a semicircle of forty Just Joey tree plants pruned at the perfect height to view the rich copper-pink blooms.  Old Garden Roses climb a trellis fence flanking the main pathway.
Getting there: The Rose Garden borders a paved path leading from the corner of Fulton Street and Park Presidio Drive on the northern edge of Golden Gate Park to John F. Kennedy Drive. (Friends of Recreation and Parks, Walking Tours Information 415-750-5105)

Set in the elegant grounds of the old Gamble Mansion, in the Gamble Garden Center, Palo Alto,  at just 50 feet square, this is the most intimate garden on our tour. A bed of vigorous white Iceberg floribunda shrubs surrounds a circular central lawn. The outer border is defined by an extensive collection of Old Garden Roses trained against a green trellis fence. America's first recognized contribution to rose culture the Noisette Champney's Pink Cluster dates from 1811.
Getting there: The Elizabeth F. Gamble Garden Center is at 1431 Waverley Street, Palo Alto at the corner of Embarcadero Road, 1.5 miles west of Highway 101. 650-329-1356)

Peer through the wrought iron gates in the tile-topped stucco wall surrounding Santa Clara University Rose Gardens, Santa Clara at the Mission Santa Clara de Assisi cemetery site and you will see a formal rose garden set around a central wooden cross.  On the south side of the church, tree roses line footpaths through the old wisteria arbor and green lawns leading to Nobili Hall.  A climber planted in the 1920's now towers over a stout wooden retaining frame in front of the glistening silver domes of Ricard Observatory. In coming years look for hundreds of recently planted climbing roses from the San Jose Heritage Garden to add color to the railings fronting El Camino Real and The Alameda.
Getting there: The campus rose gardens are grouped around the Mission Church at the end of Palm Drive at 500 El Camino Real, Santa Clara (408-554-5000)

Designed by John McLaren, father of Golden Gate Park, the San Jose Municipal Rose Garden has been the pride of this San Jose neighborhood since 1931.  Relax on benches around the formal central pool and fountain to contemplate 4,500 bushes representing hundreds of varieties filling nearly 5 acres of lawn in this AARS accredited garden. Don't miss the 60-foot long arbor rampant with light pink Cecile Brunner floribunda blossom clusters at the Dana Avenue entrance gate.
Getting there: The Municipal Rose Garden is west of The Alameda, on Naglee Avenue between Garden Drive and Dana Avenue in San Jose (Parks Department 408-277-4661)

Although opened only in 1995, the 5-acre San Jose Heritage Rose Garden offers one of the world's most complete rose collections from Old Garden Roses rescued from abandoned home sites to the latest modern and miniature varieties. The shallow, bowl-shaped depression reveals a kaleidoscope of colors as you can see every plant from any point in the garden. It is divided into six sections each containing a basic class of roses. If you are looking for a specific variety check the web site for the bed location before you go. 
Getting there: The Heritage Rose Garden is in the Guadalupe River Park and Gardens at West Taylor and Spring Streets in San Jose  (408-298-7657)

One of the best-kept secrets of Fremont, the Niles Rose Garden is a city-owned park adjacent to the old Vallejo Adobe. Volunteers of the Friends of Heirloom Flowers tend this eclectic collection of over 500 donated bushes, including China, floribunda, grandiflora, hybrid tea, miniature, and Old Garden Roses. A long, 5-foot high hedge bursting with vivid scarlet blooms of Red Simplicity edges the entry driveway. Tall palms, mature oaks and wisteria vines convey the feeling of an old-fashioned garden.
Getting there: Next to the Mission Adobe Nursery on Niles Boulevard at Nursery Boulevard, just over the railroad tracks from Highway 238 in the Niles District of Fremont. Friends of Heirloom Flowers 510-656-7702)

Created as a WPA project of the 1930's, the AARS accredited Oakland Municipal Rose Garden in the Morcom Amphitheater of Roses, Oakland  features a large Italian-style pavilion, pool and terraces overflowing with 5,000 plants and 300 varieties. A 10-tier waterfall cascade on the tree-shaded western hillside is appropriately flanked on each side with delicate pink Pride of Oakland polyantha shrubs.  Four different varieties of Peace fill the center bed of the rear terrace where Old Garden Roses rescued from locations around California clamber up rock retaining walls
Getting there: 700 Jean Street, Oakland. Take Grand Avenue exit from Interstate 580 1/2-mile east to Jean Street. (Park Services 510-238-3187)

The Garden of Old Roses is the highlight of the Floriculture Collection of the U.C. Berkeley Botanical Garden.  It features several hundred 19th century and earlier specimens, including Alba, Bourbon, Centifolia, Damask, Gallica, Moss, and Portland cultivars. Be prepared for a warm, uphill walk through the, dry Mediterranean section of the garden. Then cool yourself in the shade of the colorful climber-covered pergola as you gaze down onto the green canopy of trees filling Strawberry Canyon.
Getting there: The Garden of Old Roses is in the University of California Botanical Garden at 200 Centennial Drive, in Strawberry Canyon 1 mile from Stadium Rim Way in Berkeley.(510-642-0849

Another project of the WPA, the Berkeley Municipal Rose Garden, Berkeley offers a spectacular view over the Bay.  Its steep, 8-tier, ivy covered, rock-walled amphitheater features a specific color range on each level. Cordinices Creek splashes under a footbridge at the lower level where white shades predominate. On the upper entry level suffused orange, pink and red blooms of Joseph's Coat climb vigorously over a graceful, semicircular redwood pergola attributed to architect Bernard Maybeck. Stone benches allow you to sit in the shade and enjoy the view of 3,000 roses.
Getting there: The Municipal Rose Garden is at 1201 Euclid Avenue, between Bay View Place and Eunice Street in Berkeley

On a gentle 5-acre slope over looking the lake of Heather Farm Park, The Gardens at Heather Farm, Walnut Creek, a non-profit, volunteer organization plies its mission of conservation and horticulture education.  Demonstration areas include a butterfly, children's, sensory, and an extensive rose garden. Brick pathways divide a large, round rose bed into eight segments bursting with popular hybrid tea bushes.  A wide outer border features David Austin English Rose shrubs interspersed with climber-covered wooden towers. Terraced floribunda beds on the hillside surround a large, slate-roofed gazebo that is popular for weddings.
Getting there: The Gardens at Heather Farm are east of downtown Walnut Creek at 1540 Marchbanks Drive, off Ignatio Valley Road.(925-947-1678)

# # #

Chinese and Japanese Gardens of the Bay Area

David A. Laws

 Published as "Inside the Asian Gardens" in the San Jose Mercury News, April 7, 2000
and "Asian Aesthetic" Contra Costa Times, April 14, 2000

Chinese Cultural Center, Overfelt Gardens, San Jose

Unlike the symmetrical geometric styles favored by their Western counterparts, Chinese and Japanese gardeners traditionally base their designs on more random elements and patterns of nature. Over the centuries, these features have been cast into formal aesthetic principles in which every item has its place. Rugged rocks may portray a range of mountains, smooth stones represent flowing water, or a clipped bush a billowing cloud. Classical Zen gardens devised by monks according to these rules are revered as national monuments in Japan.

In the Bay Area, there are nine carefully tended Asian gardens ranging from the well-known Japanese Tea Garden at Golden Gate Park to the little-known Chinese herb garden at UC Berkeley's Botanical Garden. These gardens reflect the garden-design knowledge and skills that immigrants brought to the western United States in the 19th century. Together with a contemporary fascination with Far Eastern styles, this has resulted in the creation of many Asian gardens throughout California and especially in Bay Area back yards, where suiseki stones, bonsai trees and small reflecting water basins make themselves at home.

While some may not understand the philosophy and symbolism behind the design of an Asian garden, nearly everyone appreciates the sense of order and spirit of tranquillity they convey.


Just a short stroll through any of the Bay Area gardens listed here can induce a sense of peace and calm that endures for hours. If you visit on the weekends, you may find a crowd, especially during the spring season, when the flowering cherry trees, wisteria and azaleas are in bloom. Plan a visit during the week and you may have the garden to yourself.


A unique appeal of an Asian garden is that you can enjoy a visit at any time of the year. Even in the depths of winter, bare sculptured branches and soft, green moss-covered boulders have their own beauty.


As you walk through the Chinese Medicinal Herb Garden, at the U.C. Berkeley Botanical Garden you will notice -- besides the massive dedication stone -- that the plants are organized into groups determined by their function in traditional Chinese medicine. More than 100 herbs are carefully labeled. The botanical garden also contains an Asian area with a Japanese pool sheltering rhododendrons and newly acquired lanterns as well as unusual shrubs and herbaceous species collected during expeditions to China.  Getting there: 200 Centennial Drive, Berkeley. In Strawberry Canyon off Stadium Rim Way, east of the UC Berkeley campus. Call 510-643-2755.


As much an open-air Japanese cultural museum as a garden, the Bonsai and Suiseki Display Garden in Oakland, home for the Golden State Bonsai Federation's Northern Collection, displays donated bonsai trees and suiseki stones at Lakeside Park near Lake Merritt. Centuries-old black pines are displayed alongside modern works by California artists. You enter the dry stream setting of the display garden, which is maintained by volunteers, through a traditional Japanese carved gate in a tall surrounding fence. The cherry-tree bloom has passed, but the Japanese maples and redbud trees are lovely. Getting there: 666 Bellevue Ave. in Lakeside Park (by Lake Merritt), Oakland. Call 510-763-8409.


Originally the Japanese Village exhibit at the 1894 Midwinter Fair in San Francisco, the Japanese Tea Garden at Golden Gate Park garden was expanded to five acres by Baron Makato Hagiwara, whose family continued to tend the site until they were removed to internment camps in 1942. Today you must share the harmonious blend of teahouse, Moon Bridge, sculptures, gateways, shrines and native Japanese and Chinese plants with throngs of tourists, as it has become one of the most popular attractions in the city. Getting there: Tea Garden Drive at Martin Luther King Jr. Drive, San Francisco. Call 415-752-1171.


Carefully trimmed pine and maple trees set among rugged granite boulders high above creek-carved ravines impart an alpine feeling to this relatively new Japanese Garden in Hayward, which was built in 1980. A koi and goldfish pond, teahouse and several viewing platforms combine with the Japanese-influenced architecture of the adjacent senior citizens center to heighten the sense of isolation from suburban Hayward. Getting there: 22373 N. Third St. at Crescent, Hayward. Call 510-881-6700.


The 6-acre Japanese Friendship Garden, created in 1965 in the middle of busy Kelley Park, San Jose was patterned after Korakuen Park in Okayama, San Jose's Japanese sister city. It is more open in style than others in the area, but you will still recognize many traditional Japanese garden elements and symbols, including three ponds containing large koi fish, a zigzag bridge, streams, waterfall and teahouse. Iris plantings, Japanese maples, willows and high surrounding redwoods enhance the setting throughout the year, but visit in the spring to enjoy the cherry blossoms in full bloom. Getting there: 1300 Senter Road, San Jose. Call 408-277-2757.


Developed in 1918 by a court gardener to the emperor of Japan, the 15-acre Hakone Garden perched on a Saratoga hillside is designed in the style of a 17th-century Zen garden. You stroll on winding gravel paths bordered by azaleas, bamboo, camellias and carefully sculptured trees, lanterns and symbolic stones set between streams, ponds and waterfalls. A reproduction of a Kyoto tea merchant's home and shop, assembled without nails using traditional methods and tools, houses a tea museum and tea service area. Getting there: 21000 Big Basin Way, Saratoga. Call 408-741-4994.

One of San Jose's early ranching families donated 33 acres as a place for the public to stroll and rest in a peaceful setting. A large ceramic tile "friendship gate" welcomes you to the Chinese Cultural Center in the eastern corner of Overfelt Gardens park. Paths wind around ponds, streams and through rose and camellia beds, leading you past statues of Confucius and Chiang Kai-shek to a large memorial hall honoring Dr. Sun Yat-sen, founding father of the People's Republic of China. Getting there: 2145 McKee Road at Educational Park Drive, San Jose. Call 408-251-3323.

Although high-rise apartments tower above as you stroll around the Japanese Tea Garden in Central Park, San Mateo, it offers a remarkably serene setting in the midst of an intensively developed urban area. This compact garden, featuring a central koi pond, a two-ton granite pagoda from Toyonaka, Japan, and a teahouse, is located in the tree-filled park. Getting there: East Fifth Street and El Camino Real, San Mateo. Call 650-522-7409.

This tiny garden is set in front of the striking traditional wooden-and-tile structure of the Hondo of the San Jose Buddhist Church Betsuin. Built in 1958 in the heart of the Nihonmachi (Japantown) section of San Jose, it includes all the essential elements of a Japanese garden. You can walk around the iron railing protecting the koi pond, pagodas, bridge and sculptured plants in just a couple of minutes. An informative plaque describes the significance of each of these features. Getting there: 630 N. Fifth St., between Jackson and Taylor streets, San Jose. 408-293-9293.



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