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California Gardens 2017: Gold Country, Part I


Two years ago I reported on private gardens in California’s Sierra Foothills (Part 1 and Part 2 ) that open for charity, 6 each year, for one weekend in May. I missed last year’s event, absorbed in houses and gardens in England, lucky me, but this year on the occasion of a friend’s birthday I made my way through the Nevada County countryside to visit four on Saturday, with a stop in the middle for lunch at Sergio’s Caffé in Grass Valley. Then two more on Sunday, not far from one another south of town, both among my top three.

It seems to me that the best gardens are like the best of anything, the culmination of hard work, experience and talent that makes the creation of beauty appear effortless, as if they simply materialized looking exactly as they should, all by themselves. Some of the most popular gardens aren’t my favorites. Do you remember the old joke about camels being horses designed by a committee? Well, there are lots of camels in the world of Big Garden, gardens created by compromise. Municipal gardens are often good examples of what I’m describing. The very best of the art of the garden, in my opinion, are those sprung from the minds of individuals, like all great works of art.

Which is not to say an individual’s idea of how a garden should look will always be a good idea. Several of the gardens I saw on the tour this year were in the camel or distinctly uninspired categories and I and my companion wondered why they’d been chosen as examples of anything other than wasted effort. I suppose when a relatively rural part of the world must present 6 worthy gardens every year, it must be tough finding enough.

Still, I thought half did hit the mark, two the work of humans and another that of nature groomed by a gardener. My first impulse was to try to declare a winner and 2 runners up. But all 3 that interested me were unique and I decided there was simply no reason to call it a contest. So in no particular order of best-ness, I give you what I consider the finest of the gardens of the Soroptimist International of the Sierra Foothills, 24th Annual Spring Garden Tour, May 20th & 21st, 2017, “rain or shine.”

A Woodland Garden

The first of the 3 was by far the most subtle, the one I described as a work of nature groomed by a gardener, the best part of which I might not even call a garden in the traditional sense. If I could return and wander on my own in any of them, this would be the one.


For someone on the hunt for blooms and shrubs, that’s how this one began. Then, walking back from the building housing Lily’s Garden, an events business facing a busy 2-lane road, one left the patio and groomed beds behind to enter woods, a sloping bridge across fast-running Little Wolf Creek to well-groomed trails and shady benches, a place, it seemed to me, designed to be alone.




A Garden for Entertaining

In contrast to the primitive feel of the woodland garden, the next garden seemed an expression of casual upscale civilization, a place for entertaining and felt a bit like time travel, possibly to the ‘60s. From the front of the house, set in the countryside and fronted by a large pond, there was no indication of what lay behind. Walking through a gate at the side of the house I was struck by it’s old fashioned ambiance and intimacy evoking a memory of staying with my great aunt in the Hollywood Hills. I thought it completely charming.


The centerpiece of the garden was the pool. The roses all around it’s irregular shape were in full bloom with lounge chairs scattered around and surrounded by immaculate lawn. A line of hedge and mature trees framed the whole and while not a very large area, I thought it perfect. Our hostess stood to the side, chatting with visitors as opportunities presented themselves, the perfect garden party.




Next week, Part 2 of the Sierra Foothills Garden Tour
with the flashiest of the bunch presented in 2017.



More Travel for Garden Lovers


Others of PortMoresby's contributions here.





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