Rain or shine, drought or deluge, the greater Bay Area has an extensive array of spring garden tours, shows, and plant sales from March through June.
Here’s a chronological selection (most, but not all, visited in the past by the author) of several that might be of interest, and accessible, to Berkeley area residents.
Golden Gate Cybidium Society
If you missed the recent Pacific Orchid Exposition, you can still have your pick of cymbidium orchids at a “Show and Sell” this weekend, March 14-15, at the Lakeside Garden Center in Oakland. The event runs from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. each day, organized by the Golden Gate Cymbidium Society.
San Francisco Flower & Garden Show
The San Francisco Flower & Garden Show runs March 18–22. This year the show is moving from the Cow Palace to the San Mateo County Fairgrounds. We’ll see what it looks like there.
Annual spectacles include: elaborate indoor show gardens, complete with ponds, trees, and patios; vendor galleries with plants, tools, and garden-themed items for sale; various talks and demonstrations. Always a good place to visit the booths of West Coast specialty nurseries selling everything from water lilies to dahlia tubers to Japanese maples.
You can get a one-day ticket (cheaper if purchased in advance) or a multi-day discounted admission. Some sellers have “show special” prices on goods or services, and on the last day, Sunday, some vendors discount their remaining goods to avoid the expense of hauling them away.
Annie’s Annuals Fab Spring Party
From April 3-5 Annie’s Annuals, a great specialty nursery in Richmond has its Fab Spring Party with “music, munchies, clowns, free raffles, treasure hunts, face painting, garden talks, fun demos, and more.” Free. There are other events in May and June.
California Horticultural Society
Specialty Plant Sale
On Saturday, April 4, from 5-8 p.m. the California Horticultural Society has its Specialty Plant Sale and Gala Fundraiser at the Lakeside Garden Center is Oakland. Several specialty nurseries sell at this event.
American Rhododendron Society
On April 11 is the show and sale date for the California Chapter of the American Rhododendron Society, at the Lakeside Garden Center in Oakland. The event includes plants for sale, and displays of blooms of a wide variety of rhododendrons.
Spring plant sales
On Saturday, April 18, there are three spring plant sales in the East Bay.
The East Bay Regional Parks Botanical Garden has its big sale, 10 a.m.-3 p.m. The place to get native plants from bulbs to tree saplings, selected to thrive in the East Bay. A wonderful setting, with the plants for purchase displayed within the Garden in Tilden Park.
And then there is the spring plant sale at the Ruth Bancroft Garden in Walnut Creek. The Bancroft Garden, an amazing site of drought tolerant plantings, is the place that inspired the Garden Conservancy, which works to permanently preserve important gardens.
Also, try the Gardens at Heather Farms, in Walnut Creek, a non-profit facility with six acres of gardens, including “more than twenty demonstration gardens and learning sites.” I have not been here. The gardens are also open daily.
Going Native Tour
Sunday, April 19 is the Going Native Tour, Santa Clara Valley & Peninsula. The West and South Bay counterpart of the Bringing Back the Natives tour (see May 3).
Free, but must register in advance.
UC Botanical Garden Spring Plant Sale
Saturday, April 25 the UC Botanical Garden has its Spring Plant sale, bu no information seems currently available on-line. The Garden also has a “Green Gala Garden party” scheduled for Sunday, June 28.
East Bay Secret Gardens
April 26, 2009, is the Secret Gardens of the East Bay main tour day. This remains the premier East Bay garden tour, with an emphasis on “wow” factor gardens in Berkeley and Oakland—wow as in, “that’s amazing” but also “I didn’t know someone could spend that much money on a garden.”
The tour is typically a mix of gardens created for well-to-do clients, as well as some home gardens of designers. The results can be spectacular. It’s a pricey and lengthy event, and some gardens get very crowded, but if you like showplace gardens, this is the key local tour.
This year you can read about the gardens online from “Artist’s Nook in Temescal” to “Japanese Meditation Courtyard.” A fundraiser for Oakland’s Park Day School. Sunday tickets are $45 per person. Saturday there’s a preview tour for $140, with catered lunch, limited to 150 people.
$45 per person. Pre-register.
Bay Friendly Garden Tour
If you want a free event, the Bay Friendly Garden Tour is also on Sunday, April 26. Sponsored by the Alameda County Waste Management Authority, this tour emphasizes private gardens that use water saving plantings and techniques, provide wildlife habitat, or produce food. More than 30 private gardens from Fremont to Berkeley are featured. You can’t possibly visit them all in one day, so select from the advance brochure.
Free, but register in advance.
Roses at Vintage Gardens
Vintage Gardens, located along a country road in Sebastopol not much more than an hour’s drive from Berkeley, offers weekend open houses in May.
They sell roses, primarily through a catalog (and at a nursery nearby) but in May they typically open their main site to the public for viewing and sales. The two-acre site includes thousands of potted roses you can buy—they have over 3,500 varieties—and a hillside pergola and display garden twined with mature specimens in full bloom. It’s like visiting both a private country retreat and the Berkeley Rose Garden at the same time. See their website “beginning in April” for exact dates and times.
Weekends in May, open houses at Vintage Gardens (old roses). Free.
Bringing Back the Natives
May 3 is the East Bay Bringing Back the Natives Garden Tour. Spread across the East Bay and focusing on gardens where native plants are the primary or only emphasis. As with the Bay Friendly tour, you won’t be able to make it to all the sites—60 this year—so select in advance from the tour booklet.
New Berkeley area sites are on this year’s tour, plus familiar regulars like the magnificent Fleming Garden (a don’t miss site with views, a pool, stream, and steep, native-covered, slope) and the California Bee Garden, staffed by enthusiastic researchers, on the University’s Oxford Tract property. There’s usually a good mix of hill and “flatlands” examples.
Free, but you must register in advance; you’ll receive a detailed tour booklet in the mail. The extensive website has lists and previews of this year’s gardens. Several native nurseries, some rarely open to the public, will also have special sales this weekend.
Free. Must pre-register. www.BringingBackTheNatives.net
(Note: This tour almost always gets scheduled on the same day as the Berkeley Architectural Heritage annual Spring House tour. But from past experience we know you can start the Garden Tour promptly at 10 a.m., go to three or four selected sites, and then move on to the BAHA tour, which will start in the North Berkeley hills at 1 p.m.)
Celebration of Old Garden Roses
Sunday, May 17, is the annual Celebration of Old Garden Roses in El Cerrito from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. This low-key annual event sponsored by the Heritage Rose Group features sales by Bay Area rose growers, and some specialty growers of other plants, a rose-themed arts and crafts market with everything from hand painted porcelain to books and, most spectacularly, an exhibition room full of blossoms from hundreds of rose varieties. If you have a question about roses, here’s where to find an enthusiastic expert. You can also bring cut flowers of your own mystery roses, and put them out for identification.
Local rosarian John McBride wrote a detailed profile of the event for the May 10, 2005 Planet. Read it on-line in the Planet archive.
El Cerrito Community Center, Moser Lane. Free.
Sunset Celebration Weekend
On June 6 and 7 there’s Sunset Celebration Weekend at the Sunset Magazine headquarters in Menlo Park, down the Peninsula.
We’ve never been to this annual event, so I’ll just quote right from their website publicity. “Every year, more than 21,000 Sunset fans pay to tour our gardens and test kitchen; mingle with our writers and editors; attend how-to seminars on home, travel, food, and garden; create projects straight from the magazine; and enjoy fine food, wine, and shopping.”
San Francisco Succulent Society
June 13 and 14 the San Francisco Succulent Society has a show and sale at Strybing Arboretum, San Francisco. The Bromeliad Society tentatively has its show and sale scheduled for the same location, and date.
Mendocino Coast Garden Tour
Finally, the Mendocino Coast is a bit of a trek away from Berkeley—and prudently calls for an overnight stay in the Mendocino or Fort Bragg area—but the annual Mendocino Coast Garden Tour can be worth the trip. It’s Saturday, June 20. It’s an all-day activity because the sites can be spread out.
The year we went, the gardens ranged wildly from coastal cottage garden settings to a redwood-ringed pond, to a garden with hundreds of varieties of heather. And the natural surroundings, as you travel from site to site, can’t be matched. A benefit for the Mendocino Arts Center.
Check “events” at www.mendocinoartcenter.org.
Carnivorous Plant Society
If you stay in the East Bay June 20, the Bay Area Carnivorous Plant Society is having their show and sale that day at the Lakeside Garden Center in Oakland.
The Garden Conservancy
The Garden Conservancy is a national organization that has regional “open garden days” around the country. In 2009, it doesn’t look like there’s an East Bay tour series, but there are San Francisco Peninsula tours on April 18 and May 2, and a Marin County tour on May 17.
You don’t purchase tickets in advance, but select gardens from a catalog, and pay $5 per person at the gate for those you visit.