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Garden tours: bees, succulents, chickens, butterflies

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Sylvia Crawford/Glen Ellen Columnist

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Righteous nature

My friend Ann Peden is a formidable woman. She spent the second half of her career as a headhunter and she can size up almost anybody with a glance. Plus, she doesn’t suffer fools gladly. But she is also a warm and loving grandmother, compassionate and fun-loving friend, and an engaged community volunteer. When Ann takes on a project, you know it will be done righteously and right. And so it is with her latest project.

Last year, Ann’s passion was helping Sonoma Community Center’s Waterwise project, the year before, Pollinator Pals. That little project included hundreds of planted wine barrels throughout the Valley attracting bees and helping people to understand the importance of bee habitats. Ann’s not afraid to get her hands into the dirt and make changes.

Favorite things

Of course, those projects are in addition to her first love, grandson Kai, quickly followed by the Giants, sailing, OLLI (The Osher Lifelong Learning Institute) at Berkeley, Quarryhill (where she’s a docent guiding little charges up and down those trails, leading kids to a love of nature) and rockin’ out with Sonoma’s own rock ’n’ roll choir, Vox Populi. But yeah, no doubt, Ann’s joyful, too. Her latest project combines many of those things she loves, and is guaranteed to be fun.

When Ann retired from her first career at the Stanford Medical Clinics, and then her second as a head hunter, she happily moved to Sonoma Valley, and Glen Ellen in particular. Finding a perfect personal paradise on a bit of land studded with venerable valley oaks, and views of both Sonoma Mountain and the Mayacamas, she happily called it home.

Because Ann had always loved nature and gardening, she joined Sonoma Valley Master Gardeners, part of the UC Cooperative Extension, when she first moved here. She tells me it was a great way to meet new friends and practice a craft she loves.

Touring with the pros

Every other year, the Sonoma County Master Gardeners hold a garden tour. It’s been 12 years since the Sonoma Valley has hosted this event. We’re happy to hear it’s back in our Valley and are looking forward to it.

And, no surprise, Ann Peden is the head coordinator for Sonoma County Master Gardeners “Blooming Backyards” garden tour and market this year. The theme is “Gardening in a Summer-Dry Climate,” and it all unfolds in just about two weeks. On Sunday, June 8, from 9:30 a.m. to 4 p.m., five Valley gardens will be open for viewing. I suggest you buy your tickets now. It’s a mere $35 in advance, $40 day of. And, wow, what a bargain. Tickets can be purchased locally at Readers’ Books or online at sonomamastergardeners.org, or by calling 565-2608. Find more details at the website: ucanr.edu/sites/scmg/.

Garden variety delights

Recently, Ann and I sat on her deck, blessed by the warm sun, graced by towering oaks, gazing over the fields below, as she regaled me with details of the beautiful gardens on this year’s tour. Ann’s enthusiasm for these varied gardens is awesome. She fills me in on details of each gardener’s life and leaves me feeling that affinity with the soil and all that it produces is a clear route to personal happiness.

As for my question, “Which garden is her favorite?” she responded, “But they are each so unique, no favorites here.” However she did share which house and garden she would love to live in. I promised not to reveal that publicly, but to tell her my own favorite after the tour.

Turns out that the first garden on the tour, called Anne’s Garden, on the eastern outskirts of Sonoma, is owned by another Ann. That is someone that Ann Peden worked near for years at Stanford. But it took joining Master Gardeners for them to become friends.

Anne Brewer’s beautiful garden is informed and inspired by her love of color. With a blazing western exposure, Anne, and her husband, Ray Jackson, chose to capitalize on the fiery palette of Sonoma sunsets. Her garden demonstrates food gardening with less water, garden design using foliage, sensible gardening in a Mediterranean climate and how to attract honey bees.

Ann Peden shares that Anne Brewer and her husband both work full days in their garden, creating a little slice of paradise that faces the setting sun.

Native plants and succulent toys

The next couple are also “way involved in their garden,” Ann shares. Cathy and Chuck Williamson purchased a lovely Italian-style house within walking distance of the Sonoma Plaza and transformed “weeds, shrubs and a hobby vineyard” into a thriving native plant garden, with meadow grasses, succulents, olives and more edibles in the old-stone, raised beds.

The Williamson’s garden will feature information on success with succulents, rainwater catchment, sudden oak death and more.

Ann Peden regaled me with stories of their vertical succulent garden and also shared that one of the garden tour’s shuttle stops, Hanna Boys Center, will feature small succulent gardens for sale. Among those, a whole array of succulents planted in recycled Tonka toys.

Remember those from your childhood? My brother had a collection that I loved to play with as much as he did. Of course, Ann and I both eyed those for sale at the garden tour as gifts for our grandsons.

Tall grass fed chickens

The next garden that Ann told me about is the whimsical wonder of Dennis’s Garden. Master gardener Dennis Przybycien and his artist wife, Olga, took a sad-looking, vintage 1964 ranch-style house with a weedy grass pasture and turned it into their own “Tall Grass Ranch.” There, a small vineyard, pear and apple orchard thrive amid plenty of whimsy and surprises.

Features of Dennis’ garden include caring for a small home vineyard, welcoming chickens into the garden, vermiculture and sustainable gardening practices.

Best bets besting pests

Master Gardener Linda Garaicoctchea and her husband, Ron Guest, live on one acre in a quiet, rural street in Sonoma. After retiring from the Sonoma Developmental Center, Linda was able to devote more time to her garden – much more. It is her joy in life now. Removing at least 50 percent of their lawn, they worked hard for more than 18 months creating a garden of plants that thrive in our Valley. Gardening in raised beds, they enjoy a bountiful crop of fresh vegetables, with fruit trees providing a variety of tasty, organic apples, cherries, pears, plums and peaches. Many are consumed fresh, while more ends up preserved.

Features of this garden are lawn conversion, water conservation, composting and attracting birds and beneficial insects, plus the forward concept of integrated pest management.

Not many weeks previously, Ann Peden and I visited Benziger Winery on our way to explore Jack London’s cottage with Lou Leal. At Benziger, rather than wine tasting, we wandered the gardens where I learned more about integrated pest management, including Ann’s instructive comments.

Dripping with butterflies

The final garden on the tour is the Pauline Bond Sonoma Garden Park. Bond’s six-plus acre parcel was donated to the city of Sonoma on her death in 1970.

The Sonoma Garden Park, which was unused until 1993, when it was leased to the Sonoma Ecology Center, has now become a thriving demonstration farm and garden. The Master Gardeners of Sonoma Valley established the Children’s Garden there, providing hands-on activities for kids. Here you will find drought tolerant Mediterranean and butterfly gardens newly planted, and where you will learn about drip irrigation and gardening with children.

Features offered at the Sonoma Garden Park include gardening with children, drip irrigation in Mediterranean and butterfly gardens.

All of these gardens are tended by Master Gardeners, who take pride in creating their own special gardens, alive with the labor of their hands.

Plant lists, bat boxes, and garden advice

All of the gardens were chosen by Ann Peden and her team of helpers (which includes more than 200 volunteers – no small task here) to highlight, demonstrate and promote good gardening practices in a wide range of styles. At various sites, Master Gardeners offer advice. Every garden has a plant list on site.

Some of these gardens are accessed by shuttle only. Glen Ellen’s nearby shuttle will be at Hanna Boys Center, where you will find those Tonka toys recycled as succulent gardens, along with lots of other craft items for sale, including bird houses, owl and bat boxes and more.

For folks in Sonoma, another shuttle stop is at Sebastiani Winery. I’ll see you in the garden on June 8 … just be sure to get your ticket soon.

Happy daze in Glen Ellen

Meanwhile, if you’d like to meet Ann Peden in another incarnation, be sure to attend the raucous and wild Glen Ellen Historical Society’s day of entertainment, “Happy Daze are Here Again!” on this Saturday, May 31, from noon to 5 p.m. A music lover, Ann will be there, along with you, too, I hope. Admission is free and many good musicians from our town will be rocking and rolling. Running out of room here, I’ll defer to J.M. Berry’s news on this notable event. Just make sure to add it to your weekend plans.

A few good men meet a better woman

In other good Glen Ellen news, congratulations to Maria Carrillo High School senior Kyrie Dawson who recently starred in the student production of “A Few Good Men,” at her high school. What a fabulous show. Directed by Kyrie’s classmates, Ryan Weitzel and Dylan Nelson, the entire cast was excellent and the entire drama riveting. Before Kyrie heads off to Lewis and Clark College in the fall, she will be performing in Kate Kennedy’s summertime Shakespeare, “Taming of the Shrew,” at Buena Vista.

Kyrie’s worked for several years under the direction of the amazing Kate Kennedy, who runs these summer shows. It is clear that Kate’s tutelage and Kyrie’s talent have created a lovely young woman who is a dynamic presence on the stage. We wish Kyrie a lovely Glen Ellen summer of theater and friends, followed by a successful year dodging the raindrops and finding new friends in exciting Portland, Oregon. We know her brothers Larkin and Tyler are very proud of her. Same can certainly be said of Kyrie’s parents, Jill and Arthur Dawson.

Urbane geospatial gardener garners honors

Another happy student in the news is Glen Ellen’s Jameson Christopher Poppic Reeves. He just graduated from the University of California Berkeley’s College of Environmental Design and College of Natural Resources. Jameson earned both a Bachelor of Arts Degree in Urban Studies with High Honors, and a Bachelor of Science Degree in Environmental Economics and Policy with Honors. As if that weren’t enough, Jameson earned a minor in Geospatial Information Science and technology, plus Phi Beta Kappa and General Scholarship Distinction.

None of that surprised me. Back in the day, when both Jameson and his big bro, Will Reeves, were students in my language arts classes, I could easily see their brilliance. What did surprise me? The glowing smile on all-grown-up-and-handsome Jameson, sporting a beard, even. Oh how brief is the time when charming, cute kids evolve into glowing young men. I wish both of the Reeves “boys” continued success as they encounter a larger world than Glen Ellen, than even Berkeley. But may they always retain the good memories of a childhood in one of the blessed good villages of our era. Congratulations, too, to parents, Mary Poppic Reeves and Brian Reeves: you’ve raised two wonderful gentlemen.

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Want to see your own name in the news? Share your stories with friends and neighbors in Glen Ellen. Call or write me at 707 996-5995 or P.O. Box 518, GE 95442. Or email me at Creekbottom@earthlink.net. Glen Ellen chatter rarely requires timeliness; however, if your news does, please be sure to contact me at least two weeks before your desired publication date.