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How green is your garden; enjoying tea at Filoli’s

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Sylvia Crawford/Glen Ellen Columnist

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Grand and glorious gardens

This has been a summer of visiting grand and glorious gardens. It all started with urging by my friend Ann Peden, who was the co-chair of the Sonoma Master Gardeners Tour, which I thoroughly enjoyed. It’s a new activity for me. I am not, by any means, a gardener myself.

When I was a child, my parents had a large garden in our home in Eureka. Beyond just the expected vegetables, we had small livestock, including chickens, ducks, geese, rabbits and an occasional turkey. That was in addition to family dogs and cats, plus huge pet toads that helped keep garden bugs at bay.

Despite E.B. White’s comment, “Every garden should have geese, for comic relief,” it was the geese that spoiled my love of gardening. They were mean and wicked and loved to chase young Sylvia around the garden, hissing loudly, wings a-flapping. Their nasty nips were a deterrent to peaceful gardening.

Our family summer home in the Trinity Alps featured a more peaceful garden, devoid of animals — well, if one didn’t count the bears that enjoyed the fruit trees and berries as much as we did.

As an adult, I’ve just never taken joy in gardens as many of my friends do. For me, a garden is a place to enjoy al fresco lunch or to find a pleasant bit of shade to enjoy a good book.

Yet I do enjoy seeing the labors of other gardeners, and these past weeks have provided ample opportunity there.

Misty, moisty cool

Last week, three friends and I ventured south to visit the famous Filoli Gardens in Woodside, just a jaunt south of San Francisco State College on Highway 280. I always thought the unusual name of this garden used the first two letters of the words “fidelity, love and life,” but that’s not so. Turns out Filoli means, “To fight for a just cause; to love your fellow man; to live a good life.”

The day of our visit provided a great relief from triple digit temperatures in Glen Ellen. The peninsula was misty, moisty cool, not quite rain, but cooling fog that made the garden so richly verdant. The lush green provided a lively contrast to our Sonoma golden grasses (which I also admire, as much for their summer aroma, as for the golden light they produce). Ah, but green, it is a most relaxing hue.

Sidney Scholl and I were accompanying the two Mittleman ladies, Dawn Mittleman and her daughter Jessica Nersesian, who both had occasions to celebrate.

It was Jessica’s birthday, and so we four ladies enjoyed Filoli’s formal tea before touring the gardens, the tiny sandwiches and petite desserts just the fortification needed for garden explorations.

As for Dawn, she recently became engaged to Frank Longoria, with a fall wedding planned, so that gave us a second reason to celebrate.

What beautiful gardens: I highly recommend a visit to Filoli. From the peaceful, pale green of the shady olive orchard near the parking lot, to the acres of blooming roses with heady scent, the garden is every bit as spectacular as Butchart Gardens in Victoria, and a whole lot closer.

Rock gardens

Another garden recommendation, fairly nearby, are the Alcatraz Gardens in San Francisco Bay. A brief ferry ride deposits you on The Rock, where volunteers have re-created the gardens that were first planted by prisoners. Again, the cool of the bay’s bracing winds provides a nice respite from Sonoma Valley heat.

Beer gardens

Although my friend, Ann Peden, who headed up the recent garden tour, wasn’t willing to name a favorite garden on that tour, I have no qualms about doing so … but maybe it’s just the beer talking. What? Mrs. Crawford, your Glen Ellen columnist, certainly doesn’t imbibe that brew … or does she?

Well, in fact, I did when I visited the garden of Linda Garaicocthea and Ron Guest. But, truly, the beer was the final act in that garden, so I guess we’ll have to admit it was the enthusiasm and hard work of the two gardeners that left me in awe of this garden.

Linda’s garden, as it was named on the Master Gardeners Tour, is hidden behind their simple house in mid valley. Emerging from a narrow, tiled passage between garage and house, the large garden surprises. A long view across a lush lawn (specifically used by the couple’s grandchildren), creates a scene of peace and order.

Beyond the lawn, my eyes were drawn upward to the beautiful creekside oaks, bays and redwoods that lined the far edge of the property. Populated with birds of all kinds, we watched several woodpeckers, a lone hawk and a multitude of other birds (often called LBJ’s by my late friend Phyllis Ellman. That was Phyllis’ name for unidentified “little brown jobs,” but, in all truth, I use it for any quick-moving, avian friend of any color).

But back to Linda and Ron’s garden: within the yard, I loved the neat and orderly chicken house, built of venerable, re-claimed redwood, featuring a convenient little door to fetch the happy hens’ eggs. Their bountiful vegetable garden was brightened by glowing marigolds among the squash and tomatoes, basil and corn.

Lovely flowers, arranged on small mounds were scattered throughout the garden, almost like framed paintings. These set-apart vignettes gave prominence to the flowers that might otherwise be lost in crowded borders.

After we’d walked through the garden, with Linda explaining each section, proudly pointing out Ron’s small vineyard, his towering hop vines and the new bee hives, we returned to the small shady patio. That lovely space provided a clear view of the pool, where their various grandchildren play. (I can’t remember whether Linda told me the “grands” numbered 6 or 7 or 8 … but who’s counting when the numbers are so easily expanded by visiting friends and neighborhood kids?)

As we relaxed on a beautiful set of patio furniture, Linda shared that she and Ron had purchased the patio set, along with a big bolt of fabric (that looked like it may have come from Rodolph’s) at a recent Saturday garage sale “for practically nothing.” Yes, both the beautiful fabric and the patio set were garage sale items, purchased for mere dollars. While the furniture was getting a new coat of shiny black paint by Ron, a dear neighbor and friend sewed the fabric into custom made cushions. Wow! Makes me tired to even imagine such industry. And all that just a day before the big garden tour.

Prize-winning brew

While we sat watching their new puppy frolic on the lawn, Ron joined us. Would we like a taste of his home brew? Oh, goodness no, I offered, briefly blaming my first youthful experience with beer that has lead to a lifelong distaste. Yet, as Ron began to describe his Beervanna-prize-winning brew, I relented. Just a taste, please, which Ron promptly retrieved from the house emerging with tiny, gold bottomed beer mugs, not much bigger than shot-glasses. Surely, I could imbibe this small offering.

And so I did. Guess what? I’ve renewed a taste for beer. At least for Ron’s home brew. His had the aroma of a Provence wildflower field, with hints of sweet citrus. Soft on the tongue, it finished with a spicy, pleasantly bitter mild swallow. That brew went down smoothly.

All in all, it was a day in the garden that felt simple, and elegant, orderly and calm. I left refreshed.

Yet, undoubtedly, such calm orderliness is the product of careful planning and even more careful hard work. As my own garden drifts toward entropy, I admire the labors of others, and most certainly Linda Garaicotchea and Ron Guest.

Cooling lakes and waterfalls

Of course, the one garden I haven’t mentioned today, but that remains a favorite for me always, are the gardens of Quarryhill, right here in Glen Ellen. While the heat of our dry summer can hardly be ignored, the cooling lakes and waterfalls in the old quarry certainly help cool the air at Quarryhill. I suggest a morning visit this summer while the spectacular and colorful Asian plants are at their height of bloom.

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Share your stories with friends and neighbors in Glen Ellen. Call or write me at 996-5995 or P.O. Box 518, GE 95442. Or email me at Creekbottom@earthlink.net.