Sonoma County a Magnet for Gardeners
By Sonoma County Master Gardener Sandy Metzger
As only one of five places in the world with Mediterranean weather, Sonoma County draws passionate gardeners from all over. This will be evidenced in mid-May when 350 California Garden Club members converge here for their biennial statewide conference, to be followed by 500 California Master Gardeners two weeks later. When you see the folks with the tote bags, garden hats, and badges wandering into every shop, restaurant, garden, and winery, you will realize they have arrived.
More and more we see plants from the other four regions offered for sale in local nurseries, e.g. Osteospermum, Gazania, and Phygelius from South Africa. Look for identifiers in the botanical name such as capensis (Cape; from South Africa) and chilensis (Chile). Our own native plants carry the species, or second, name of californica.
The CGC’s conference theme is “Nature’s Beauty and Bounty” while the MG’s is “Rooting for Our Future: More Lessons in Sustainability.” Both themes exemplify Sonoma County. Our gorgeous gardens, farms and ranches produce fruits, vegetables, nuts, cheeses, meats, olive oil and wine. And sustainability? Our county promotes growing one’s own food, organically; recycling; water conservation; school and community gardens. MGs also preach and practice IPM, drought-tolerant, habitat, and native gardening. Sonoma County is truly the place where beauty, bounty, and sustainability converge. No wonder many are drawn to living or visiting here.
Education is the focus of both conferences, which offer members dozens of classes that promote sound gardening practices, and in the case of MGs, all of it based on research by University of California.
Fortunately for the visitors, Sonoma County offers many touring opportunities that illustrate what both groups teach. However, you do not have to be a member of either to take advantage of the beauty and bounty of the county.
Because we have clay soil and/or gophers in several regions, MGs promote raised-bed vegetable gardening. One of the premiere examples is northwest of Healdsburg at Quivira Vineyards and Estate Biodynamic Gardens. Its 120 raised beds are jam-packed with vegetables, berries and herbs. Many of the beds are dedicated to local restaurants that purchase the produce—a good sign that the produce is of the highest quality. You, too, can garden this way but on a smaller scale. See the excellent article by MG Gwen Kilchherr on Raised Bed Vegetable Gardening.
While you are up that way, you can stop at Preston of Dry Creek, a family farm and winery that combine the best of traditional and modern farming methods. Here you will see enormous habitat hedgerows, in-ground vegetable farming, olive orchards, vineyards, and free-range chickens. The owner, Lou Preston, also relies on solar energy, vegetable oil-fueled tractors, and an active compost pile.
For beauty, tranquility, and insights into the disappearing temperate floras of Asia, Quarryhill Botanical Gardens is the unheralded gem of the county. Here is one of the largest displays of documented, wild-collected plants in the world in a serene woodland setting. Quarryhill director William McNamara has participated in more than 30 expeditions to China, India, Nepal, Japan, and Taiwan. The botanical garden is a source to plant scientists for DNA analysis, molecular, phylogenic and
I’ve listed just a few of the destinations that Master Gardeners and California Garden Club members will be visiting during their respective conferences. Their ooohs and ahhhs will resound as they visit places unlike any others in the state. Sonoma County is the place for passionate gardeners, and as our own horticulturist Luther Burbank once said, “This is the chosen spot of all this earth as far as nature is concerned.”