A little Mendocino madness…

The old Volvo wagon is gassed and and my sun hat packed, the snacks are safely in their cooler and I am off  to Northern California on a garden visiting adventure.  My sweet husband, preferring to spend his weekend at our mountain cabin, kissed me goodbye and uttered those words so indicative of his concern for his lovely wife wandering the wilds of Mendocino County: “Don’t call me if you run out of gas…”

The Garden Conservancy is a nationwide, nonprofit garden education program which partners with garden owners, community and professional organizations, and local volunteers to help save, preserve, rehabilitate and rescue gardens and the rich cultural heritage they embody.  The Conservancy was founded by New York gardener Frank Cabot over 25 years ago after his visit to the Ruth Bancroft Garden in Walnut Creek, CA inspired him to look for a way to help historically and horticulturally important private gardens in need of preservation.

Since 1995 the Garden Conservancy’s Open Days Program has been inviting gardeners to share their gardens and gardening know how with the public. Each year a directory is published listing the open gardens by state and by date, complete with brief garden bios, highlights and maps.  The 2016 directory lists gardens in seventeen states and the open days range from early April to late October.  Although many of the gardens are in New York, New Jersey, Connecticut and other eastern states California is well represented with gardens in 5 counties on 7 dates.  Often the owners are on site but the garden visits are self guided and there is a small fee for each garden.  For more information about The Garden Conservancy and its Open Days Program visit their website at http://www.gardenconservancy.org or http://www.opendaysprogram.org or call 888 842-2442.

So I have mapped my route and my challenge is to visit the 5 open gardens (one being the gardens surrounding the fabulous Digging Dog Nursery) during their open hours of 10 am to 4 pm.  For my non California friends–Mendocino County is a lushly green, rural county give or take a 100 miles north of San Fransisco.  It enjoys a long stretch of uniquely wild and rocky coastline with fabulous views of the turbulent Pacific Ocean.  Probably less mentioned in the tourist guides is the county’s fame as the most southern part of the so-called Emerald Triangle, the largest cannabis producing region in the US.  Hey, this is a gardening blog, right?

The Mendocino coast greets me!

After a day’s drive to arrive in the town of Mendocino and a refreshing night’s rest lulled to sleep by the sound of the ocean waves crashing against the rocky shore I am on my way. Let me say that now that I have decided that every one of these inspiring gardens is deserving of its own post so this will be the first of the 5 with the remaining four installments over the next few days.  The greatest challenge of this adventure for me has been picking the photos to show you as I have so many of each garden and I just don’t want to leave any out! As these are private gardens plant material was not marked.  I chose to take many wide and long shots to show you the overall ambiance of each space rather than focus on individual specimens as I have when visiting botanical gardens. Most photos contains multiple plant varieties and even if I knew all the varieties/cultivars it is just not feasible to list them all.  Just sit back and enjoy the views…


This tranquil property is surrounded by the Russian Gulch State Park and is only a stone’s throw from Point Cabrillo Light Station, nestled between scenic Highway 1 and the Pacific Ocean.  A long rural drive opens to a gorgeous heather garden which is the oldest of the garden’s elements. Beyond the sea of heather you get a peak at the charming redwood home set back from the ocean bluff enough to be protected from the strong ocean breezes.  The house provides shelter for much of the garden and its Northern European details inspired many of the garden elements.  The area between the house and the ocean bluff has been left much in its natural state which preserves the open view. My garden host, Eloy, maintains this garden which was designed by Gary Ratway of Digging Dog Nursery.

Sea of heather guides you to the Pacific Ocean
The low slung redwood home lets the view do the talking

The sunken garden was excavated to put it below the effects of the harsh winds from the ocean.  The excavated soil was used to construct rammed earth walls which not only create the garden room partitions but also act as retaining walls for the varying elevations.  A wide variety of lush plant material fill the various garden rooms (including many of my beloved hardy geraniums!)

There are vistas of the Pacific Ocean from both sides, in addition to from the front of the home. Even this beautiful property has not been exempt from trees suffering from California’s 4 year drought.


The large orchard garden is leeward of the home and boasts large meandering beds of both sun and shade plantings and a large lawn space perfect for relaxing or playing with the grandkids.


A highlight for me in this garden was seeing this great specimen of Eryngium, commonly called Sea Holly–success with this has eluded me in more than one garden.  Also a first was this brightly hued Brugmansia, or Angel’s Trumpet:

My takeaway from the Moss Garden?  The power of garden rooms, gravel pathways, repeated elements to move the eye and wide, swathes of  compatible plants. Hey, and the ocean didn’t hurt the view either!


One thought on “A little Mendocino madness…

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s