Gardens grow everything from edibles and flowers to botanical history and strange works of art. Use leisure time to explore nearby secret gardens – conventional and not. Slow down. Enjoy the landscapes. Getting there is half the fun. To unearth these secrets use GPS, Google Maps, road maps, and age-old technology of calling ahead for directions.
Go Discover! Lotus Valley Nursery & Gardens
Petersen Lane, Lotus, CA
A quick retreat up Highway 50 east to Ponderosa Road, left across the highway and right on North Shingle. Wind your way and stay left at the ‘Y’ onto Lotus Road, left at the Bassi Road stop sign and stay straight onto Petersen Lane. Views of the American River are on your right before turning into Lotus Valley Nursery & Gardens’ secreted entrance.
Owners, Joe and Bob, turned a three-acre old homestead into a heaven of ornamental grasses and demonstration gardens. They invite you to come and discover. Bob’s handcrafted sculptures and water features are cleverly displayed in the “Tin Room Gallery” and throughout the garden. You can spend quiet hours strolling, picnicking, and contemplating. A variety of serene sitting areas beckon. Clearly, they want you to stay. Plenty of other nearby distractions keep you close, including local wineries. Open Wed-Sun 9am to 5pm through November. Open in the winter by appointment. Lotus Valley is magical.
Continue down Lotus Road to Highway 49 north to the Dave Moore Nature Area along the south fork of the American River; half the trails are wheelchair accessible. If you skipped the picnic, there are plenty of breakfast, lunch and dinner options at Lotus and Coloma. You can loop back to Sacramento along Highway 49 to Interstate 80 – enjoy the scenic route which is about 100 miles round-trip.
Go Explore! Oakwilde Ranch & Sculpture
South Burson Road, Valley Springs, CA
Take Highway 99 south to Highway 26 east towards Valley Springs. Ready yourself for scenic vistas. Two-lane country roads framed by orchards, vineyards, and small towns are visually soothing. On 52 acres, owners Denise and Kresimir are cultivating art and relationships along groomed trails and undulating hillsides. The winding road delivers sculptures, hospitality, wine tasting, spring wildflowers, and beautiful views. Ranch hikes are an adventure in search of sometimes elusive art installations and views of Calaveras County foothills from the “Top of the World.” Call ahead for an appointment and directions.
If you still have time on your return, Lodi wineries are plentiful and freeway-close.
Go Seek! Regional Parks Botanic Garden
Intersection of Wildcat Canyon Road & South Park Drive, Berkeley, CA
It’s a straight shot down Interstate 80 to urbane and sometimes eccentric Berkeley. Day-trippers overlook that East Bay Regional Park District protects
secret gardens and thousands of acres of open space in the Berkeley hills. The Regional Parks Botanic Garden is a charming destination and less than 90 miles from downtown Sacramento. Ten acres of California native plants are organized by geographic regions of the state. The garden was established by James Roof in the 1940s and contains rare and endangered species such as Presidio Manzanita and Small-leaved Rose. Built along meandering trails and bridges the garden feels primordial. Grassy areas are perfect for running; children are welcome to do so.
The annual April spring plant sale is a rare opportunity to purchase plants propagated from the Garden’s collection. Many of these California native plants are available nowhere else. All proceeds benefit the Garden. Free public tours are held most rain-free weekends and group tours are available by special arrangement.
Just a few miles away, the stunning University of California Botanical Garden at Berkeley is 34 acres of formal gardens and glasshouses, with more than 13,000 different kinds of plants from around the world.
Go Sac! Go Yol! Go Sol! Gardens Galore
Sacramento gardens are many. Don’t be surprised, but none more special than those at the Old City Cemetery! The 3-acre Historic Rose Garden gives life to nearly 500 antique and old garden roses many found in abandoned sites, homesteads, cemeteries, and roadsides throughout northern California. The aroma is heavenly. Hamilton Square, named after Alexander Hamilton’s youngest son, contains perennials from all five Mediterranean climates of the world. A California Native Plant Society has created a garden among the headstones. It’s phenomenal in the springtime.
Garden lovers rejoice! The options are many and close-by. In adjacent Yolo County, the 1.5-acre UC Davis Good Life Garden at the Mondavi Center Institute for Wine and Food Science is an edible and ornamental landscape. Learn new gardening concepts and eat healthy, too!
Cross one more county border into Solano. A well-kept secret, Suisun Valley hides the fantastical Phillip Glashoff Sculpture Garden. Williams Road, a country lane off Suisun Valley Road, does not easily give up this secret. Wander the driveway and no farther. Dozens of sculptures along the way and in the field will leave you wide-eyed. Easier to spot is another small collection on Rockville Road.
If my Subaru can't get me there, that's a good reason not to go!