Califonia Bountiful

Pat's Garden Travels: Best public gardens to visit in any weather

January/February 2020 California Bountiful magazine

California offers a wealth of public gardens to discover. Join our gardening expert Pat Rubin as she travels up and down the state, bringing you the best of her travels to inspire yours. 



California gardeners are lucky to be able to garden 10 or more months of the year. For those weeks when the weather keeps us out of our own gardens, there are still plenty of opportunities for visiting other gardens. This issue's featured gardens let you choose whether to stay inside or outside.

Conservatory of Flowers
Golden Gate Park
100 John F. Kennedy Drive, San Francisco
415-831-2090

Atop a small rise near the entrance of Golden Gate Park sits a Victorian-era glass greenhouse that is home to several thousand species of tropical and subtropical flowers and plants.

Whatever the weather outside, inside it's warm and inviting, always fascinating and beautiful. The Conservatory of Flowers was the first structure built in the park in 1879. The State of California lists it as "Landmark Number 841." Amazingly, the conservatory was mainly unharmed during the earthquake and subsequent fire that swept the city in 1906.

Walkways let you stroll among tropical plants from all over the world. It's often crowded inside, but there's plenty of space for everyone to get close to the plants. The plants are grouped into several ecosystems. You can see plants that grow only in rainforests or on top of the world's highest mountains. Many flowers grown inside the Conservatory are quite fragrant. A gardener can spend a couple hours meandering around. Bring your phone or camera; you'll want to take pictures.

When you're done wandering around inside, take some time to explore other parts of the park. If the weather is good, bring a picnic and sit on the lawn.  

Best time to visit: Many people visit during the winter months in order to be able to meander through a garden without sporting an umbrella. In the summer, residents of the inland valleys visit to get away from the heat. Whenever you visit, and for whatever reason, it will be the best time.

Filoli Historic House and Garden
86 Cañada Road, Woodside
650-364-8300

Go to see the garden or go to see the house. Both are spectacular. Imagine a house that covers more than 54,000 square feet and includes 56 rooms and 17 fireplaces. William Bourn built the house in the early 1900s. (The Bourn family also had a cottage—a mere 3,000 square feet—and accompanying garden at the Empire Mine in Grass Valley, which is worth a visit.)

Bourn designed Filoli to look like a grand English country estate. He succeeded.

Equally spectacular is the garden, which covers about 16 acres—total acreage of the estate is about 650 acres and includes a nature preserve and an estate trail. There's a formal garden just as you'd expect to see at an English estate, plus fruit trees, vegetable gardens, a sunken garden, rose garden, cutting gardens and more. It's a great place to wander around. You'll be amazed at every turn of the path. My last visit was in late spring, when the rhododendrons were in bloom.

You can sign up for seasonal hikes, orchard tours and more, and also learn more about the architecture and history of Filoli.

Best time to visit: That's a tough one. Do you prefer fall colors, spring flowers or perhaps holiday festivities? It's your pick. I've always believed it's best to visit a garden in many times of the year. You see something new every time you visit.


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