Some gardens just have to be seen to be fully appreciated. They inspire awe as well as ideas.
Nestled in the Sierra foothills, Maple Rock Gardens is one of those places. Owner Scott Paris also hopes his 30-acre home can serve as an example. Growing food (as well as flowers) can be beautiful.
When we bought this property, our goal was to grow food, Paris said. We turned the pastures into food production for our restaurant. Were putting farm-to-fork to the test. The gardens are a byproduct of our mission.
Carved out of rocky hillsides and former fruit orchards in Newcastle, Maple Rock Gardens is rarely open to visitors except for the occasional garden club. But next Saturday, Paris is welcoming the public to tour its many garden rooms and celebrate Sacramentos signature crop at his High Hand Tomato Festival.
About 50 different varieties of tomatoes will be available for tasting at the festival along with lots of family activities. But the biggest draw will be the host site itself.
Paris also owns High Hand Nursery and Conservatory restaurant in Loomis. Many of the unusual plants he sells at High Hand he tests at Maple Rock. Much of the produce served at his restaurant now comes from Maple Rock, too.
I wanted to see how quickly we could go farm to fork, he said. So, I timed it. From picking and delivery to cooking and serving, total turnaround time was 2 hours 35 minutes. Our definition of farm to fork is pick it today, serve it today.
Paris didnt start his Shangri-La from scratch. He and his wife, Lisa, bought Maple Rock in 2011 from Frank and Ruby Andrews, who planted the original gardens that fill about 31/2 acres around the cozy ranch house.
Under Ruby Andrews care, Maple Rock already had a reputation for jaw-dropping beauty. She tenderly cared for her patchwork of themed gardens, including watering everything by hand.
Waterfalls, ponds and other water features were carved into the rocky terraces. About a hundred Japanese maples stud a tranquil Asian garden, surrounded by bamboo. A model-train lover, Frank constructed a 1,000-foot G-scale track with its own Lilliputian landscape to match.
The garden was very personal to the Andrewses, Paris said. I really respect all the work they did.
When the Paris family moved in, they expanded on what the Andrewses started.
First thing we did was automate the irrigation, Scott Paris said. We replaced a 4,000-foot open ditch with pipe. We redid all the water features and added more. We automated everything as much as possible.
In less than three years, Paris has expanded the gardens and put his own individual stamp on Maple Rock. He created a French flower garden with 8-foot-tall dahlias, colorful coleus and a bubbling fountain. Populated by whimsical bronze statues, niche gardens brighten the shade under arbors and towering trees.
For the model railroad (which will be in action during the Tomato Festival), Paris built a picturesque trainhouse. Reclaimed windows and roof now protect an outdoor picnic room that looks over the valley. Succulents cascade down stone steps onto a spacious lawn framed by peonies and azaleas.
This estate is jaw-droppingly beautiful, said Sacramento radio host Farmer Fred Hoffman, who tagged along on a garden club tour in late spring. I literally walked around with my mouth agape, pleasantly shocked at the wide variety of plants.
Hoffman called Maple Rock what could be the finest private garden in Northern California and applauded Paris passion.
This definitely is a passion, Paris said. If you love what you do, you do it. Im trying to find ways to inspire people.
Everywhere there is something almost magical to see in this private wonderland. Paris directs your view with a new series of stone walls and living archways.
We added a lot of walls and arches to frame the gardens, he said. We also put in a lot of conifers. The hard part was planting to scale; you cant drop a one-gallon shrub into this landscape. Youve got to plant big, too.
As he walks through his garden, Paris finds himself pulling the occasional weed and rearranging hanging planters. He wants Maple Rock to look its absolute best especially with company coming.
I remind myself this is a garden, he said. Nature is perfect; we are not.
Paris sees room for improvement throughout this growing masterpiece. He knows it will continue to get better with time.
At the end of the day, a garden should haunt you a little bit, he said. So when you leave it, you cant wait to come back.
Call The Bee's Debbie Arrington, (916) 321-1075. Follow her on Twitter @debarrington.
Call The Bees Debbie Arrington, (916) 321-1075. Follow her on Twitter @debarrington