Open Gardens

Public and private garden tours offer inspiration and creativity

By Anita Clevenger
April 2019

I’ve been visiting gardens most of my life. I’ll never forget being an excited little girl in the hedge maze of the Governor’s Palace gardens in Williamsburg or a teenager stunned by the beauty of tulips in the Netherlands’ Keukenhof gardens. I’ve been to hundreds of gardens since then, and have never lost my initial joy and sense of discovery.

It’s exciting to see famous gardens, but even better is spending time in private gardens with the people who created them. It’s a treat to peek inside their garden gates and learn how they design, plant and care for their personal Edens. Gardens reflect their creators’ personalities, even obsessions. No two are the same, and each is an inspiration.

The Sacramento area has a long tradition of people opening their gardens for fundraising tours, most of which happen in April and May.

The California Native Plant Society’s “Gardens Gone Native,” featuring gardens in Sacramento, Placer and Yolo counties, will be Saturday, April 27. The Folsom Garden Club hosts “Gardens of Folsom” on April 27–28. The East Sac Garden Tour is on Mother’s Day weekend, May 11–12, benefitting David Lubin Elementary School. Another favorite, the Curtis Park Home and Garden Tour, is taking a “gap year” and planning to return in 2020. 

On a more intimate level, garden club members often open their gardens to one another. Garden clubs may also schedule trips to gardens further away. I try not to turn down such opportunities. Gardeners don’t last forever, and neither do their gardens. I have rarely regretted taking time to see a garden, but will always be sorry that I didn’t see a few gardens that are gone forever.

How have I visited so many gardens? I went on a garden tour to Italy, and attended conferences that have offered garden tours as part of their programs. I’ve taken advantage of the Garden Conservancy’s Open Days. This organization is devoted to saving and sharing America’s special gardens in 15 states. It has scheduled five locations in Northern California this year, starting with San Francisco’s East Bay on May 11. When in England, I used the “yellow book” of England and Wales’ National Gardens Scheme, which offers access to more than 3,500 private gardens and raises a substantial amount for charity.

You can plan ahead to visit gardens when travelling, or just see what’s available by visiting tourist offices or looking online. Some events are worth building into your itinerary. London’s famous garden squares, normally open only to residents, are open this year June 8–9. The following weekend, Amsterdam offers Open Garden Days.

Don’t overlook public gardens. The American Horticultural Society sponsors a Reciprocal Admissions Program, offering special admission privileges and/or discounts to members or people who belong to a variety of other garden and gardening organizations, such as the American Rose Society. The listing of member gardens may give you some ideas of gardens to visit, either in this area or further away. Garden listings for the United Kingdom’s National Trust properties include more than 200 wonderful gardens. There really aren’t an infinite number of gardens throughout the world to visit. It just feels like it.

Of course, we have public gardens closer to home. Most are open seven days a week. The UC Davis Arboretum and Public Garden is worth repeated trips. Carmichael’s Jensen Botanical Garden is a little-known gem. Land Park’s WPA Rock Garden is always magical. There are several rose gardens, including the World Peace Rose Garden in Capitol Park, Natomas Rose Garden and McKinley Rose Garden.

You can also visit the gardens in the Sacramento Historic City Cemetery, including the California Native Plant Demonstration Garden, Hamilton Square Perennial Garden and Historic Rose Garden, where I have volunteered for the past 16 years.

The cemetery is holding its 24th annual Open Gardens and Rose Sale on April 13–14. This event will include garden and history tours, and a sale of rare and historic roses. The Fair Oaks Horticulture Center will host Open Garden days on April 10 and May 11.

You mustn’t take public gardens for granted. They often depend on volunteers to create and maintain them, and are vulnerable to budget cuts and changing priorities. Consider volunteering, donating or simply expressing your support and appreciation for them.

Gather ye rosebuds whilst ye may, and visit gardens at every opportunity.

Anita Clevenger is a Lifetime Sacramento County Master Gardener. For answers to gardening questions, contact the UC Master Gardeners at (916) 876-5338 or, or visit

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