Friday, March 20, 2020

Early Spring Discoveries on the San Francisco Peninsula

Early Spring Discoveries on the San Francisco Peninsula
By Jan Boone

I recently had the opportunity to spend free time on the San Francisco Peninsula in Palo Alto and surrounding areas by Stanford University. It reinforced the notion as gardeners, we should seek out, educate ourselves and be aware of plant materials and growing habitats outside our own high-altitude favorites. 

For the moment, I put aside the frequent battles with temperature variations, weather and short growing seasons to partake in new knowledge. Should you happen to be in the Bay Area, plot your course carefully, you’re apt to find anything from fun glass beads strung and hung from a garden pergola, peppers on the vine, bountiful pyracantha berries and even lush succulents or blooming annuals happily nested in backyard containers. Here’s a brief overview of what I’ve discovered. Investigate older residential neighborhoods around the campus and you’ll notice there are special gems that one many innocently drive by, ignoring the benefits and beauty they contain for all.

Plants in a garden in the San Francisco Area

Allied Arts Guild in Menlo Park
Off the beaten track in a residential area of Menlo Park and situated along the northern side of Sand Creek you’ll find a tasteful collection of older Spanish style buildings housing a restaurant, gift shop and gallery space. Stop and discover the surrounding special small pocket gardens with water features and seasonal annuals adding to the mix. Wander freely and you’ll enjoy seeing a garden of blues from hydrangeas to asters to Blue Nile Lilies; the garden of abundance in golds and their rich Rose Allee. All proceeds from sales here go to Lucille Packard Children’s Hospital at Stanford.  
Fuchsia, Blue Hydragena from Allied Arts Guild

Allied Arts Guild Garden

Pollinator Garden at Corner of Embarcadero and Guinda Street in Palo Alto
Truly a unique space that is essentially a large traffic triangle. This garden received grant money from the Happy Hollow Foundation and together with neighborhood and city help, a miraculous transition began in 2018. Now complete, a brief stroll around this small garden contains signage about the native plants as well as pollinator info for those that stop by for a visit! Also, further east you will find a similar community supported traffic island garden at the intersection of Embarcadero on Primrose Way. This busy island divider focuses on CA native plants that appeal to pollinators, also signed with helpful information.

Elizabeth Gamble Garden further west on Embarcadero and Waverly Street in Palo Alto. 
The granddaughter of the co-founder of Proctor & Gamble built the main house here in 1902. These gardens became public property in Palo Alto in 1985, supported by the Palo Alto Garden Club and local Master Gardeners. Together with corporate sponsors, they now have a non-profit dedicated to the ongoing care and upkeep of this historic residential property. You’ll miss this if you’re zipping along Embarcadero, but a stop is well worth the effort to enjoy their numerous special planting beds. These include a rose garden, kitchen garden, cutting garden, iris beds and shade garden to name a few. No admission required and a small free parking area is available on the north side of the property.

This is the case of saving the best for last. Hardly a small garden gem (at 600+ overall acres), but more in the nature of a true country estate situated at the SW edge of Woodside and just south of Crystal Springs reservoir off Hwy 280. Here you’ll find a cafĂ©, gift shop, the historic estate home with many connections to California history. There are 16 acres of formal gardens; a reclaimed orchard (originally supported by California rare fruit growers), and planting beds all highlighted by holly, laurel, yew and other woody trees and shrubs. It is striking to see the integration of older brick walls used in reclaiming some of the more traditional garden spaces. The restored garden beds vary as they reflect trends of horticulture materials and landscaping during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. It is all part of the National Trust for Historic Preservation.

Besides the gardens mentioned above, don’t overlook the Botanical Gardens on the Stanford campus. Additionally, UC Agriculture Programs (including Master Gardeners) have experimental stations just west, over the coastal hills and south of Half Moon Bay. Call for reservation information before visiting. Wander west to Half Moon Bay along Hwy 92 from Hwy 280 and stop by the easily identified roadside orchid grower greenhouses here. (Tip … visit greenhouses on your way east, as Hwy 92 is only a two-lane road and extremely busy. A righthand turn onto Hwy 92 is much safer).  

Succulents in a San Francisco area garden
Enjoy the treasures you may find among the highlights mentioned above. There are so many possible destinations to visit in the Bay Area from Golden Gate Park to Berkeley’s UC Botanical Gardens. I hope focusing on this specific peninsula area will provide new experiences in your travels. Enjoy!
Small garden area

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