Preservation Easement Updates from California
Annually, our preservation team conducts visits to gardens where we hold conservation easements. Recently, we visited California, where the Conservancy holds five easement properties. We were eager, and a bit concerned, as the recent unprecedented storms' impact on the region and how they affected the gardens in the area were unclear. But we are happy to report that the gardens we visited were not too greatly impacted, and we hope that they, and other gardens in the area, make a full recovery soon.
Conservation easements protect the character-defining features of a garden forever and are a vital preservation tool. As the easement holder, the Conservancy acts as a resource and partner in preserving the horticultural, historic, and cultural value of the garden. During these visits, we walk the grounds with the garden’s caretaker to observe conditions, discuss maintenance, and devise solutions together to maintain the values of the conservation easement.
One of our five California gardens is the Ruth Bancroft Garden in Walnut Creek (this is also the garden that inspired the founding of The Garden Conservancy!). The conservation easement at this garden preserves a dry garden oasis that is filled with rare and extraordinary succulents, trees, cacti, and shrubs native to countries across the globe. Arriving in a downpour, we were welcomed by their beautiful new sign and curators Brian Kemble and Walker Young, who conducted the monitoring tour with us. What is known as the “Bold Dry Garden,” thanks to Johanna Silver’s aptly titled book, was still bold, but not so dry, as a result of the onslaught of storms in the San Francisco area over the past month.
This was our first monitoring visit in the rain and we could see the impact of the 15 inches of rainfall. The aloes were full to the brim with water, and the ground was so saturated that the paths had pooled. We toured the entire garden observing the changes that naturally occur and the changes due to plant loss, replacement, and relocation. With the loss of trees and climate change, plants occasionally need to be moved to other beds where the soil, sun, drainage, and air circulation enable them to thrive. The Ruth Bancroft Garden lost several of its Parkinsonia, Desert Museum trees, and relocated a Euphorbia tetragona, originally planted by Ruth herself, to a more protected micro-environment.
While on the tour, we could see tons of plants in bloom! We were dazzled by the turquoise Lachenalia viridiflora (Asparagaceae/Scilloideae) from South Africa and the mauve Echeveria gibbiflora (Crassulaceae) from Mexico, as well as the seedpods of the Eucalyptus macrocarpa (Myrtaceae) from Australia. The iconic shade structure along the main pathway in the garden was covered with plastic to protect the plants for the winter, and a fan was installed to promote air circulation. Stepping inside this wintering shelter felt like being transported, and we highly recommend a visit during this time of year!
We also went to the Gardens at Palmdale, a five-acre meditation garden located in Fremont, in the southeast San Francisco Bay Area. The site is significant for mission-style architecture and for its historic horticultural collection, much of which was planted by Franciscan Missionaries over 200 years ago. The deep history of the Gardens at Palmdale has been said to reflect "the whole history of California in one spot."
With light rain falling, we toured the grounds with several of their board of directors. Entering the garden, one is immediately awestruck by the huge and ancient trees. This region was originally inhabited by the Ohlone tribe, and some of the trees from that period remain in the gardens today, including a Monterrey cypress that is over 300 years old. We were also struck by the loss of a European olive, Olea Europaea, and a Spanish Fir, Abies pinsapo, due to the storms, which left trees blown over and toppled as a result of water-logging and shallow root systems. Cleanup is underway as well as tree replacement planning.
Learn more about the Ruth Bancroft Garden
Learn more about The Gardens at Palmdale
The John Fairey Garden
Our preservation department recently visited the John Fairey Garden in Hempstead, Texas to walk the grounds with Randy Twaddle (Executive Director) and Wally Wilkins (Board President) of the John Fairey Garden Conservation Foundation. The John Fairey Garden is an incredibly unique collection of thousands of plants, including many natives and their rare and endangered counterparts from Mexico, North America, and Asia. The late John G. Fairey designed the garden and was an expert plantsman, conservationist, artist, and architecture professor. We work collaboratively with this site through a conservation easement to preserve Fairey’s design intent. Conservation easements are legal agreements protecting character-defining features forever and are important tools for preservation.
Key features of the garden include the living collection of Mexican plants acquired by Fairey on many trips he made to Mexico, a pool and fountain, sculptural hardscape elements, and his house and outbuildings, which were constructed using local materials in part. The garden still holds John’s original, handwritten plant identification tags! John approached his garden as a cultural landscape, a bridge between Mexican and American art and horticultural traditions. The integrated role of architecture, horticulture, art, and culture are hallmarks of this landscape.
The garden is comprised of several distinct garden areas each noteworthy for a juxtaposition of plants that provide a sense of scale and contrast. From palms and cycads, evergreens and conifers, perennials, grasses and succulents, shrubs and bulbs, the varied landscape retains a palpable ethos of trial and experimentation that John curated.
The Garden’s collection includes numerous threatened species, many of which are currently no longer found in the wild, as well as new discoveries. Fairey’s incorporation of drought-tolerant plants positioned the Garden to become a model for garden design and management in the face of climate change.
Fairey was keenly interested in conservation and understood the impact that collaboration has on conservation efforts. To that end, John turned his garden into a public resource. Since 1998, we have provided guidance and resources to help the John Fairey Garden manage change and preserve its unique sense of place. With Conservancy support, the John Fairey Garden Conservation Foundation was formed to operate the garden for public benefit. The conservation easement was filed in 2013. This partnership provides a framework by which the Garden Conservancy can support the John Fairey Garden advance preservation initiatives to share Fairey’s horticultural legacy with future generations.
Our Preservation Team visited Orting, Washington this month to monitor a conservation easement at Chase Garden, an outstanding example of a modernist Japanese-inspired garden embedded in the character of the Pacific Northwest with striking views of Mount Rainier, which unfortunately for us, wasn’t visible during our visit!
Envisioned by Ione and Emmott Chase and designed in part by noted landscape architect Rex Zumwalt, Chase Gardens features serene woodland plantings, naturalistic alpine-inspired meadows, stylized rock gardens, and Japanese-inspired pools. Plant choices including native conifers, Japanese maples, colorful rhododendrons, and a diversity of ferns incorporate the natural topography of the land to harmonize the gardens and surrounding landscape.
We’ve worked in partnership with Chase Garden to steward this conservation easement since 1995. The property is protected by a conservation easement in part because it provides significant public benefit by preserving this open space in perpetuity and by preserving this outstanding example of Pacific Northwest garden design. Chase Garden is also located within an aquifer recharge area, and adjacent to designated agricultural resource lands.
Our annual visit with the garden’s caretakers ensures the terms of the easement are upheld and supports ongoing restoration projects. The Conservancy is fortunate to have such excellent, dedicated, and knowledgeable stewards managing Chase Garden.
Louise Agee Wrinkle Garden
Left to right: Pamela Governale, Louise Agee Wrinkle, Norman Johnson, Grace Haynes, James Brayton Hall
In November, The Garden Conservancy's President and CEO, James Brayton Hall, and Director of Preservation, Pamela Governale, visited Louise Agee Wrinkle and her garden in Mountain Brook, Alabama. During their visit, they interviewed Louise, landscape architect Norman Johnson (founder of Garden Design Magazine), landscape architect, John Wilson, and Grace Haynes, Senior Home and Garden Editor at Veranda.
We are working on a documentary film about the splendor of this Southern native woodland garden and look forward to sharing our progress in the coming months. This project is a part of our Documentation Program that The Suzanne and Frederic Rheinstein Fund for Garden Documentation generously supports, with additional support from Camille Butrus and Gil Schafer.
Learn more about our Documentation Program
Anne Spencer House and Garden Museum
From left to right: James Brayton Hall, Shaun Hester Spencer, Brent Leggs, Pamela Governale
The Garden Conservancy recently finished filming interviews for our documentary film about Harlem Renaissance poet, civil rights advocate, and garden designer Anne Spencer at the Anne Spencer House and Garden Museum in Lynchburg, Virginia.
The Garden Conservancy's President and CEO, James Brayton Hall, and Director of Preservation, Pamela Governale, spent time at this historic site with Shaun Hester Spencer, museum curator, director, and granddaughter of Anne Spencer and Brent Leggs, Senior Vice President, the National Trust for Historic Preservation and Executive Director of the National Trust’s African American Cultural Heritage Action Fund.
We look forward to sharing this film with you all in 2023!
Learn more about our Documentation Program