Mendocino madness #5 at last…

I amazed even myself by keeping fairly close to the schedule necessary to meet my goal of seeing all five gardens open to visitors for the 2016 Garden Conservancy Mendocino Open Day program.  If you are arriving late and would like to read more about the work of the Garden Conservancy and their Open Days Programs across the United States go back to my June 19th post titled “A little Mendocino madness…”

My last stop took me even further inland to the community of Hopland to see Frey Gardens.  Hopland is a hamlet just off Highway 101 about an hour north of Santa Rosa.  The climate is more like the hot, interior valley in which I live and so I was excited to see a few more beds and borders drenched in inland sun from which to get inspiration and encouragement.

Both Kate and Ben Frey were greeting guests as I entered their gardens. In the hour I spent in the gardens there was not a time I did not see them engaged with groups of visitors, naming plants and explaining drip irrigation (Kate) or talking about the property’s many unique structures (Ben).  Kate Frey is a garden consultant, designer and freelance writer who specializes in sustainable gardens that encourage biodiversity.  She had provided a table filled with educational materials to pick up and had her book  The Bee-Friendly Garden available for purchase.  It was then I recognized that her name was familiar to me from articles she has written for Fine Gardening magazine.  Kate has garden creds too numerous to mention but I do want to share that her gardens won medals in 2003 (silver-gilt), 2005 and 2007 (gold) at the Chelsea Flower Show in London, England. Ben Frey is a rescuer of wood.  He is the 10th of 12 children and both of his parents were physicians. Ben has been building things with recycled materials since he was eight years old and has spent the last 30 years rebuilding barns, wineries and old houses–using the reclaimed wood to make fanciful furniture, gates and other structures.  A trip to Switzerland kindled a fascination with the Swiss chalet style of building and the rustic home you see in the photos was built by Ben using reclaimed materials. Ben built all the structures needed for Kate’s Chelsea Flower Show prize-winning gardens.  They are truly a team in both work and life.  Check out their website for more about both Kate and Ben.


Frey Gardens is a once acre sustainable, habitat garden.  The garden is only six years old and is composed of a mix of native plants and others that attract and support a variety of insects and birds and is planted in a naturalistic style.  A vegetable garden occupies one corner and it is all connected with wide winding mulched paths.  My impression was that of a much larger property and gardens which were decades old.  There is a sense of enclosure, shutting out the real world beyond the gates and a coziness that invites you to sit a spell in the shade.  People LIVE in this garden and they LOVE it. Take a walk around with me.





Imaginative uses of all kinds of materials are visible throughout Frey Gardens. This shipping crate stores tools and equipment and the adjacent roof provides a shaded area in which to work.  The small greenhouse showcases Ben’s love of reclaimed wood.

Who wouldn’t kill for this great sink just outside the vegetable garden? The rustic trellis is smothered with blooming Campsis radicans, or Trumpet Vine.


You caught just a glimpse of the house in the first photo but you need to see more.  The raised foundation is deeply planted with a riot of shrubs and perennials.  Vines scramble up the rustic wood siding without regard to conventional wisdom.  The front porch railing, roof and second story fascia is covered by grape vines whose fruit is just starting to show.  The grapes live compatibly with a huge wisteria vine–either one of these within six feet of my siding or fascia would cause my sweet husband to drop over dead so I will be pleased to report to him that it is all thriving and the house doesn’t seem any worse for wear. Check out the great ornamentation Ben has incorporated into the fascia on the dormer windows!


The exuberance of this home and gardens and the couple who tend them both was so appealing and so encouraging that I would visit this one again and again if the opportunities arise–there would be something new at every point as perennials wax and wane throughout the season.  Feeling pretty satisfied with my Mendocino whirlwind road trip I bid the Freys goodbye, headed toward my stay for the night in Santa Rosa.  Kate reminded me to stop at California Flora in Fulton if I had the chance–all this and nursery recommendations, too!

My takeaway from Frey Gardens? Do your research–learn about the plants which are attractive to the birds, bees and bugs you want to encourage in your garden.  Manage your garden as a haven for them by offering food, water and places for shelter and nesting and minimizing or eliminating elements toxic to them.

So happy to have had y’all along for the ride but it’s now time for me to get back to work in my own little half-acre.  I’ve seen many ideas I would like to incorporate into my own garden and, as always after seeing fellow gardener’s efforts, I’ll return to it with renewed enthusiasm.

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