The Sacramento area is home to several public gardens that beautifully and successfully embrace California native and Mediterranean climate plants. They’re living classrooms that teach people how to create gardens that are interesting and healthy throughout the year, and demonstrate how to live lightly upon the Earth at the same time. These gardens let us see stunning plant combinations, learn how plants mature and then take that information home to our gardens.
Ruth Risdon Storer Garden
The Ruth Risdon Storer Garden lies at the far end of the UC Davis Arboretum, which is just off the UC Davis exit from Interstate 80. Named for Yolo County’s first pediatrician (she was also a skilled gardener), the Storer Garden is a classic English flower border with a decidedly California flavor. Designed for year-round interest, it showcases plants that can take sun, heat, drought and heavy soil with a minimum of fuss and water.
The beds combine large shrubs and small trees to form a backbone for each area. Planted beneath are perennials, herbs, bulbs and groundcovers. The plants are clearly labeled. All beds are mulched to prevent water loss and to keep the soil friable. The garden is more than 20 years old, so gardeners can see what plants will look like when they are mature. The garden gets very little water.
Mary Wattis Brown Garden
Closer to the main part of the campus at the University of California, Davis, you’ll find the Mary Wattis Brown Garden. It comprises a small portion of the California native plants section of the arboretum. Brown was an enthusiastic fan of California native plants, and in the late 1970s her family donated funds to maintain this section of the arboretum native garden in her honor. The garden includes many drought-tolerant species suitable for home gardens.
Hamilton Square Perennial Garden
The Hamilton Square Perennial Garden is deep inside the Historic City Cemetery at the corner of Broadway and Riverside in Sacramento. With its southwest exposure, the garden gets no respite from the blazing summer sun from morning to night, all summer. A joint project between the Perennial Plant Club and the Old City Cemetery Committee, the garden covers about a half acre and contains approximately 75 burial plots, most measuring 20 by 20 feet.
The garden is full of color – in flower and foliage – in all seasons. The mainly blues, pinks, whites and oranges of spring flowers gradually give way to summer’s lush foliage and the color palette largely shifts to brighter pinks, yellows and reds. Fall sees another glorious blaze of color before the garden returns to mainly green for the winter. The garden features many plants with silver or gray foliage, as well as plenty of flowers with bold colors.
WPA Rock Garden
The WPA Rock Garden, unceremoniously tucked at the end of the parking lot next to Fairytale Town in Sacramento’s William Land Park, was once a rough patch of overgrown ivy, weeds and half-dead scrub oaks. Today it is a rambling cottage garden with a decidedly California/Mediterranean twist.
Designer and caretaker Daisy Mah, who retired in 2013, assembled a repertoire of plants that revel in Sacramento’s intense summer heat and that sail through Valley winters relatively unscathed. A network of meandering paths bordered by low granite walls entices you with promises of beautiful flowers and exciting foliage. Thousands of shrubs, perennials, annuals, bulbs and trees that offer visitors something to see in all seasons.
Fair Oaks Horticulture Center
The Fair Oaks Horticulture Center, also slipped inconspicuously at the end of a parking lot past the speed bumps and the skateboard park, is a 1-acre haven for gardeners, complete with a perennial and shrub border, a fruit orchard, vineyard and vegetable garden.
A collaborative effort between the University of California Cooperative Extension, the Sacramento County Master Gardeners, the Fair Oaks Recreation and Parks District and the Fair Oaks Water District, it’s a hands-on, living classroom that demonstrates how to choose perennials, shrubs and trees suited to our Mediterranean climate, while at the same time creating gardens that are beautiful throughout the year.
Ruth Bancroft Garden
If you’re adventurous, take a drive to Walnut Creek where you’ll find the Ruth Bancroft Garden. Begun in 1972, the garden has grown to a 3-acre Mediterranean and desert-inspired succulent, cacti and California native plant garden.
It is a collage of plants from all over the world that don’t simply tolerate long spells of hot weather, but revel in the blistering heat and relentless sun that marks California summers.
The Bancroft Garden mingles common and uncommon plants in close quarters, one plant insinuating itself among the others like dear friends and good neighbors.
The garden is watered once every three weeks for 30 minutes from a well dug in the late 1800s.
Despite its strict water diet, the garden never fails to inspire. There’s always something in bloom as well as beautiful and unusual foliage to admire.
Bancroft had no idea the garden she planted – mostly from cuttings and 1-gallon containers – would grow up to become one of the most beautiful public gardens in Northern California and a glowing testament to planting a climate-appropriate landscape.
There is a charge to visit this garden. For more information, call (925) 944-9352.
This article originally was published Jan. 1, 2014, and was updated for this section.