I had written a glowing, if rather dry, review of Donald Olson's new book The California Garden Tour and scheduled it to post today. Then late yesterday afternoon I learned of Ruth Bancroft's passing on Sunday — at the amazing age of 109. I scrapped what I had written in favor of something rambling, but straight from the heart. I hope Mr. Olson won't mind.
|photo borrowed from the Ruth Bancroft Garden Facebook page|
I've had the pleasure of visiting the Ruth Bancroft Garden three times, the most recent visit — in 2016 — was to attend a celebration of The Bold Dry Garden, a book on Ruth, and her garden, written by Johanna Silver (and also published by Timber Press). Ruth Bancroft herself was at the party and for a brief moment I was able to stand in front of her and thank her for her legacy.
I shared the garden's announcement of Ruth's passing on my Facebook page and thanked my friend Gerhard Bock for the part he played in my attending that event (finding my bargain airfare, picking me up at the airport, putting me up for the night and hauling me to the garden the next day). His reply "I'm so glad we went. A vivid reminder to make full use of the opportunities we're given" stands as a gentle nudge to us all, do it, just do it. Make the time to visit that garden you've been thinking about visiting, you never know what inspiration and life-altering magic you might find.
Mr Olson's book includes information on the 50 "best gardens" to see in the Golden State — since I've only seen 16 of them I still have a lot of work to do. His entry on the Ruth Bancroft Garden runs 6 pages long... "She'd always been interested in plants, but now had some earth to play with — the greatest joy for any gardener. She immediately set about creating a large English-style garden around the main farmhouse. Her plant palette at that time was a fairly traditional mix of roses, perennials, herbs, and bearded iris. And then in the 1950's she bought a potted aeonium. If you're a plant collector, you'll understand how buying an aeonium can change your life. Ruth Bancroft fell in love with succulents and started to collect and grow them in one-gallon pots in her lath house."
My initial post reviewing this book included links to what I'd written about the featured gardens I've visited, and a few of my photos, however I've chose to forgo listing them here (you can access the links in the California section of this page) and instead focus on Ruth Bancroft and share a bit of what Mr Olson wrote about another of my female California-garden-maker heros, Ganna Walska and her Lotusland: "...when it comes to garden as theater, garden as glamour, garden as diva, Lotusland stands alone. It's expensive to get in, and you need to reserve well in advance (only 13,500 visitors are allowed per year), but it's worth it because visiting Lotusland is a truly unforgettable experience."
He also goes on to detail Ms. Walska's six marriages and her over the top style. Money and the self professed "enemy of average" creating a garden, almost the polar opposite of Ruth Bancroft's style of planting 4" and 1-gallon containers so she could watch the plant grow. Still both woman were avid collectors and believed in fearless planting. I tried to track down any mention of Ruth and Ganna meeting, or visiting each other's gardens. I came up empty. I wonder if they would have appreciated each other's creations?
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Back to The California Garden Tour, I am delighted the good people of Timber Press sent me a copy of the book to review. While I have no current plans to visit California, I'm sure life will find me there again soon. And now I have detailed information on new (to me) gardens to visit, right at my fingertips. If you're interested in the book but would like to read a more traditional review please visit my friend Gerhard's blog Succulents and More, he reviewed the book just last Saturday and did a great job of capturing its strengths.
Weather Diary, Nov 26: Hi 50, Low 41/ Precip trace
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