To Susann Hadler, a September garden tour seemed like a natural, combining good weather with good causes.
But she didn't want to focus on flowers and traditional landscaping.
"When we came up with this idea, we decided to feature edible gardens instead of another tour of just pretty gardens," explained Hadler, a member of Soroptimist International of Sacramento. "This gets people inspired, regardless of what space you have."
And the Soroptimist tour's gardens do look good enough to eat. Why not? Among the gardeners are chefs Patrick and Bobbin Mulvaney, owners of Mulvaney's restaurant.
The Soroptimists will bring in master gardeners to answer questions at every stop, along with classical string players to provide background music and other perks to make next Saturday's tour stand out. Their brochure includes pointers on nearby places for lunch.
When it comes to selling tour tickets, extras can be make the difference.
"We keep trying to think of more things to make it a well-rounded day of tour fun," Hadler said.
Said Bobbin Mulvaney, "If you buy your tour tickets at our restaurant, we'll add in 'Bobbin's BFF pass.' (On tour day), we'll have something special appetizers or other treats as an added incentive."
September in Sacramento traditionally ushers in a second wave of home and garden tours, a chance for groups to raise money while satisfying patrons' abundant curiosity about landmark homes or interesting gardens.
Now in its second year, the Soroptimist's East Sacramento Edible Gardens tour features five homes clustered in the Fabulous 40s and around McKinley Park plus Theodore Judah School's "Science Alive" gardens.
"Psychologically, people think of gardening and spring," Hadler said. "At the end of summer, gardens are winding down and we start thinking of fall and winter and the holidays.
"But gardens can really shine in September," she added. "Fall gardens are inspirational. You see things at their peak of harvest pumpkins, squash, peppers and you get all winter to think about maybe trying (to grow those things) yourself next April or May."
With herbs and abundant vegetables, Hadler's own garden was featured on the inaugural edible tour, which was an instant hit. More than 600 people took part.
"Three people came up and wanted to be part of the (2012) tour," she said. "We have six gardens this year, all completely different. It shows what you can do with your yard, big or small.
"An edible garden tour is perfect for Sacramento," Hadler added. "In this part of town, we have great soil. There's so much interest in edibles now, too. There's nothing like being able to go out into your backyard and picking something for supper."
This year's tour includes a "secret garden" with fruit trees and berry bushes, a sustainable cottage garden with an English feel, a poolside backyard "farm" and a Zen garden that provides food for the spirit as well as the body.
Other edible gardens were recruited by word of mouth, Hadler said. That includes the Mulvaneys' cottage home.
The couple moved into the Fabulous 40s neighborhood in November and started their garden in earnest in April. In less than six months, they created a series of whimsical outdoor "rooms."
"This is my family indulging me," Bobbin Mulvaney said. "I'm having so much fun. I really, really, really love it."
Her garden started as a Christmas gift.
"Patrick gave me a journal with a contractor's business card inside and a sketchbook," she said. "The rest was up to me."
Mulvaney, a self-described "found artist," had boxes of castoffs awaiting her creative touch. Broken tile and chipped plates became patio pavers and mosaics. Discarded silverware found new life in wind chimes and mobiles.
"In the restaurant business, we go through so much china," Mulvaney said. "We're totally into recycle, repurpose, reuse."
Oyster shells (more restaurant leftovers) seem to pop out organically from a river of tumbled blue glass that traces through a gravel-covered walkway. Scattered horseshoes create a path.
Nearby, a side patio became an outdoor reading nook, shaded by a glass panel fountain. The former driveway was transformed into a succulent garden and a sitting area with rough-hewn furniture created from a single colossal oak.
Surrounded by potted citrus trees, an outdoor kitchen sits next to a plunge pool, just big enough for a quick dip before breakfast. With raised beds, a backdoor vegetable garden provides bountiful peppers, cherry tomatoes and herbs.
"We're in a business where we're constantly critiqued," Bobbin Mulvaney explained. "Everybody has an opinion about the food, the decór, the service. In my garden, I don't have to please anybody but myself."
And maybe the chickens. This summer, the Mulvaneys added two hens Alice and Dora plus an elaborate coop to their backyard oasis. Next to the coop is a new water feature created from a crate of broken glassware.
"It arrived at the restaurant this way," Bobbin Mulvaney said of the cracked glass dishes. "Instead of throwing it out, I thought I could do something with it."
As with the couple's restaurant, the Mulvaney garden aims to make people feel happy.
"It's all whimsical," Mulvaney said. "We really love to get that quirky smile on people's face."
LET FALL GARDEN TOUR SEASON BEGIN
Sacramento's warm September weather makes early autumn ideal for garden strolls or tours. Next weekend starts a second season of home and garden tours meant to inspire as well as entertain. Here are some highlights:
EAST SACRAMENTO EDIBLE GARDENS TOUR
Where: Theodore Judah School and five east Sacramento homes
When: 10 a.m.-4 p.m. next Saturday
Admission: $20 in advance at several locations (see website); $25 day of the event at Little Real Estate Services (4201 H St., Sacramento); free for children under age 12
Details: www.ediblegardensac.org, (916) 709-6748
Hosted by the Sacramento chapter of Soroptimist International, this second annual tour features six diverse gardens that provide food as well as beauty. The school's Science Alive gardens get kids excited about growing food (and eating it, too). Featured are the whimsical garden of chef Patrick and Bobbin Mulvaney, a poolside orchard with container-grown tomatoes, a sustainable version of an English country garden, a tasty Zen retreat and "the best secret garden in town." Proceeds benefit Sacramento-area programs for disadvantaged women and children.
RIPON SEPTEMBER STROLL
Where: Ripon (map with ticket purchase)
When: 10 a.m.-2 p.m. next Saturday
Admission: $20 general; $8 for children; tickets available at Schemper's Ace Hardware, 150 N. Wilma Ave., Ripon; the Barbouri, 204 E Main St., Ripon; and garden centers in Ripon, Modesto, Manteca and Escalon.
Details: (209) 599-3871
Hosted by the Ripon Garden Club, this 16th annual community tradition features six Ripon-area gardens. Proceeds cover a lot of ground, too scholarships, school gardens, Ripon's Main Street flower pots, the butterfly garden in Stouffer Park and Bethany Home and Beth Haven gardens.
ARDEN PARK FALL GARDEN TOUR
Where: Start at 1217 Eastern Ave., Sacramento
When: 10 a.m.-2 p.m. Sept. 15
Admission: $10 in advance (call for tickets), $15 day of event
Details: (916) 487-5825
Hosted by the Arden Park Garden Club, this tour features a variety of diverse and charming gardens, most within walking or biking distance.
37th ANNUAL SACRAMENTO OLD CITY ASSOCIATION HOME TOUR
Where: Poverty Ridge neighborhood, Sacramento
When: 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Sept. 16
Admission: $20 in advance at www.brownpapertickets.com/event/251052 or at these Sacramento locations: Avid Reader, 1600 Broadway; Collected Works, 1019 L St.; 57th Street Antique Mall, 875 57th St.; and Time Tested Books, 1114 21st St.. On tour day, $25 at the booth on 22nd and U streets.
Details: http://sacoldcity.org, (916) 455-2935
Some of the most remarkable homes in Sacramento will be featured on this tour of the lavish hilltop neighborhood that never shook its 1800s nickname no matter how many millionaires moved in. Among the highlights is the magnificently restored Roan-Didion House, once home to renowned author Joan Didion.
EAST SACRAMENTO HOME REMODELING TOUR
Where:Start at 1355 38th St., Sacramento
When: 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Sept. 23
Admission: $20 advance (see website); $25 day of tour
Details: www.friendsofeastsac.org, (916) 452-8011
Hosted by Friends of East Sacramento, this tour focuses on five homes and one garden. Proceeds benefit Clunie Center.
SLOW FOOD SACRAMENTO GARDEN TOUR
Where: Homes in Curtis Park and Land Park
When: 9 a.m.-2 p.m. Oct. 5
Hosted by Slow Food Sacramento, this edible garden tour features seven homes plus Bret Harte Elementary School's garden all within biking distance. Snack on home-grown produce along the way.
HEART OF THE HOME TOUR
Where: Homes in Davis, Woodland and Winters
When: 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Oct. 20
Admission: $25, available at the Gifted Penguin, 716 Main St. Suite A, Woodland; the Avid Reader, 617 Second St., Davis; and other locations
Details: www.elderlynutrition.org , (530) 662-7035, ext. 207
In support of Yolo County's Meals on Wheels elderly nutrition program, this unusual tour features six kitchens in action. This year's tour has a twist: Chefs will compete in a cookoff with patrons voting for "Top Chef."