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  • Lezlie Sterling /

    Pat Rhine, a founder of Friends of the Jensen Botanical Garden, holds a valuable site resource – a hand-drawn 1982 map.

  • Lezlie Sterling /

    A Japanese maple tree,believed to have been planted and cared for by garden founder Charles Jensen, is a reminder of the garden's origins.

  • Lezlie Sterling /

    new growth hints of the future.

Seeds: Change of seasons, care at Jensen Botanical Garden

Published: Saturday, Sep. 22, 2012 - 12:00 am | Page 3CALIFORNIA LIFE
Last Modified: Saturday, Sep. 22, 2012 - 5:18 pm

Fall marks a season of change, sometimes bittersweet. It's a time of transition, but also renewal.

Summer heat and memories lingered in the air during a recent September morning at Carmichael's Charles C. Jensen Botanical Garden. Members of two gardening groups – one with a future, the other recently departed – mingled while enjoying the shade of centuries-old valley oaks. They reminisced but also planned for the winter months to come.

Just like nature's cycles, this public garden has gone through major change. The Jensen Garden flourished when first planted, then fell dormant through years of neglect. When it received some TLC, it responded with a new cycle of healthy growth.

Now this green gem thrives, nourished in part by the demise of another stalwart in the local gardening community. From the ashes of one grows another.

The Jensen garden became the benefactor of the now-defunct Carmichael Geranium Society. Just two years ago, the Carmichael chapter was the nation's largest club devoted to geraniums, with more than 150 members. Its spring shows and sales attracted hundreds of patrons.

With a core group of hard- working volunteers, the club gave Carmichael its own flower – the white Lady Carmichael geranium – and introduced the Sacramento area to the first yellow hybrid geranium. Celebrating its 20th anniversary this year, it appeared to be a healthy, stable and successful institution.

But although the club's mailing list was lengthy, few members stepped up to carry the load of leadership. The club died essentially for lack of new officers willing to tackle all that went into those popular events.

Changes in the nursery industry also made it harder to host geranium sales.

Several members already belonged to the Sacramento Geranium Society, which continues.

Exhausted and discouraged, the Carmichael club's board recently voted to disband, giving the remains of its treasury to a good local cause – the Jensen Garden.

On this almost-autumn morning, past presidents and officers of the geranium society came out to see the garden's progress. The group included Jean Prather, the last president; co-founder Fran McArdle; secretary Bernice Holbert; and horticulturist Donn Remiers. Joining them were the founders of the Friends of the Jensen Botanical Garden – Pat Rhine, Beverly Scott and Al Pilegaard.

The club's money helped pave paths with a thick layer of decomposed granite. Soon, trees will get a much-needed visit by an arborist and damaged limbs will be cut off. The troublesome irrigation system will be overhauled and converted to a water-wise drip system.

Most of the geranium stalwarts were already familiar with the Jensen garden on Fair Oaks Boulevard. Some members donated colorful hardy geraniums, which thrive there.

"For this garden, this couldn't have happened at a better time," said Reimers, Carmichael's "Mr. Geranium" and a Jensen volunteer. "They could really use the money."

With the community's Recreation and Parks District cash-strapped and short of workers, the Jensen Garden benefits from its friends. Formed in 2004, the Friends of the Jensen Botanical Garden organize monthly work days and twice-annual sales (including one Oct. 6).

In eight years, the volunteers have brought back the heart of the beloved garden.

"When we started, we had to clear 90 percent of the beds of knee-deep ivy," said Rhine, the group's president. "We had a plan: Clear ivy, plant a bed, clear ivy, plant a bed. We're still clearing ivy."

From 2004 to 2011, the group logged 5,525 hours in the garden. Using a 1982 hand-drawn map, its members restored large islands of flowering shrubs and perennials. With support from a local chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution, the garden added its Nature Path for the Blind. Eagle Scouts built split-rail fences to outline the flower beds and plaques identifying the plants.

Many of the trees and shrubs were planted by the garden's original creator, Charles Jensen, who lived on the 3 1/2-acre site for decades. His eclectic and shady garden was a local landmark, used for weddings and parties as well as admired by its neighbors. Kids played among the dogwoods, magnolias, camellias and rhododendrons. The rare dawn redwood amazed with its bright orange fall foliage, like a giant torch.

After Jensen's death, the Carmichael Recreation and Parks District acquired the garden, thanks to a fund drive to preserve its beauty.

The Friends have brought back that luster. It's especially spectacular in spring. More than 5,000 tulips pop up under the massive oak limbs. Hundreds of daffodils blanket a nearby hill.

It's an oasis from the traffic on nearby Fair Oaks Boulevard, where locals grab shade and quiet.

Although they'll miss their club, the Carmichael gardeners found another spot to concentrate their skill and volunteer spirit.

And it's a good spot to grow geraniums.


Where: Charles C. Jensen Botanical Garden, 8520 Fair Oaks Blvd., Carmichael

When: 9 a.m.-1 p.m. Oct. 6

Admission: Free


Contact: Tracy Kerth, (916) 485-5322

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