Friday, March 28, 2014

The Ruth Bancroft Garden: Inspiration for Drought-Tolerant Planting & Landscape


In this year of drought in California, the thoughts of many Californians are turning to plants and landscapes that can tolerate dry weather conditions.

Earlier this year I was invited to a private tour of The Ruth Bancroft Garden. Although I live just a few miles from the Garden, I had come to take its presence for granted and rarely visited.

Spending a few hours at the Garden with docent Adrian D'Souza (pictured above, pointing out a very large Agave Americana variegated) reminded me that the Garden is a true hidden treasure in the San Francisco Bay Area. It is now high on my list as a tranquil and inspiring spot for gardening insights, as well as a lovely spot to relax and to bring visitors.

More than 50 years ago, Walnut Creek, California, resident Ruth Bancroft, who is now 105 years old, had already planted her 3.5-acre garden with succulents and other plants that could thrive with very little water. She had purchased her first succulent plant in the 1950s and continues to acquire them. Mrs. Bancroft was, and still is, well ahead of her time with respect to plants and gardens that thrive in arid climates.

In 1989 the Garden became the first preservation project of The Garden Conservancy, a nonprofit organization dedicated to preserving exceptional American gardens. The Garden has been open to the public for tours and visits since 1992.

Mrs. Bancroft's first drought-tolerant plant was an Echeveria. These lovely rosette-shaped plants remain a part of the Garden's landscape.



There are at least 150 species and hybrids of Aloe and and 50 species of Agave in the Garden.

This photo shows both Aloes and Agaves, as well as other succulents.



These are more succulents that intrigued me.




The Ruth Bancroft Garden consists of much more than succulents.

In the foreground of this photo is an Xanthorrhoea, an Australian Grass Tree. Behind it is a Washingtonia filifera, a California Fan Palm.

Here is a cluster of the Fan Palms. The dead leaves that hang down over the tree trunks form a protective area that provides a habitat and shelter for such creatures as birds, insects, and small rodents.



This Kapok tree was not in bloom when I saw it in January, but chances are that it has leaves by now.


The Garden is open to visitors Tuesday through Saturday from 10 a.m. until 4 p.m.; admission is charged (free admission the first Tuesday of each month; members visit for free all the time). Children are welcome (they will be given a special "Children's Garden Quest" to guide them through the Garden). There are picnic tables on site.

Visitors can do self-guided tours (booklet available with admission) or take a docent-led guided tour (April-October: Friday, Saturday, Sunday; November-March: Saturdays). Private group tours can be scheduled in advance.

Also, when you visit the Garden, you will receive a map and numbered "What's in Bloom?" guide to what's blooming that month. The guide includes horticultural details of each plant included in the guide.



The "What's in Bloom?" guide also indicates which plants can be purchased in the Garden's nursery. Be sure to save time to browse, and be tempted by the plants and decorative garden items that are for sale in the nursery and in the main office.



Coming up on Saturday, April 12, 2014 is the Garden's Spring Plant Sale (11 a.m. to 3 p.m.). It is said to feature the Bay Area's best selection of succulents, cacti, and other drought-tolerant plants. Staff and volunteers will be there to provide dry garden advice. While the Garden's Nursery offers plants for sale throughout the year, the best selection is available for this Spring sale and their Fall sale in October. Admission is Free on Plant Sale days.

Other events (some require advance reservations) in the next few months include:

•  A Private Tour of Ruth's Gardens: Saturday, May 10, a tour of the gardens around Ruth Bancroft's home which is behind a fence on the property.

•  Mother's Day, Sunday, May 11, a family day at the Garden with special guided tours and activities. Bring a picnic to enjoy in the Garden, or reserve for a catered Mother's Day Tea (reserve online; two seatings).

•  Sculpture in the Garden, June 13 -July 13, with special events on the opening weekend, which is Father's Day weekend.

•  Bluegrass Sunset Social, August 15, featuring the Alhambra Valley Band.


1 comment:

Lorenza Coon said...

Wow! The garden looks amazing. I totally agree that people in our state should really think about alternatives in their gardening, like planting waterwise or drought resistant plants. Gardens like those really deserve emulation. Anyway, I think it's great you've already started. I hope they thrive well in your garden. All the best!

Lorenza Coon @ Central Basin