An astonishing diversity of gardens fourish in Sonoma County, thanks to the region’s Mediterranean climate and rich soil. Even in the dead of winter, something beautiful blooms here. Of course, just like anywhere else, spring and summer boast the greatest proliferation of colorful blossoms.
Here are three gorgeous gardens to view at their prime during spring and early summer:
Garden Valley Ranch
Located on a former cattle ranch, Garden Valley Ranch (498 Pepper Road, Petaluma, 707-795-0919) contains more than 10,000 rose bushes (of 60-plus varieties) on its nine beautiful acres. The ranch produces field-grown cut garden roses, selling and shipping them to the floral trade around the nation. On a tour you’ll get to see the stunning rose fields and much more.
One major garden feature is a Gertrude Jekyll-type display border measuring 220 feet long by 14 feet wide. Containing roses, perennials, shrubs, and annuals arranged in color sequence, it’s edged in beautiful local stone.
Then there’s the Pond Garden (koi pond, 100 varieties of hydrangeas, 30 of magnolia); the Fragrance Garden; and the nursery, which has more than 400 varieties of roses in stock.
Several 1880s ranch buildings have earned National Historical Landmark status. The vintage cottage, with 10-foot ceilings and a claw-foot bathtub, is available for a two-night minimum stay.
Self-guided tours are $5 a person; and docent tours are $10 a person (reservations required). The ranch is open for touring 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., Wednesdays through Sundays, events permitting (please call ahead).
Russian River Rose Company
Nestled in Healdsburg’s Dry Creek Valley on stunning acreage surrounded by mountains and just a quarter-mile walk from the Russian River, the Russian River Rose Company (1685 Magnolia Drive, Healdsburg, 707-433-7455) features 650 varieties of roses, and more than 2,000 individual plants ranging from ancient Species roses to 21st century hybrids.
There are tea roses dating from the 1800s, cluster-flowered Polyanthus, ultra-sweet-smelling Noisettes, and miniature roses. There’s also a wonderful butterfly garden and a gorgeous Rose Allee — a series of eight 12-foot by 12-foot iron arches set on a path through a vineyard and rose fields. Each arch is covered with a different “theme” of rambling roses.
The "Perfume Harvest Tours" in April and May provide an unforgettable fragrant experience with a full, hands-on demonstration of the distillation of perfume roses into rose oil. And other special weekend classes, workshops, and events are held year round; check their events calendar for details.
The extensive outdoor nursery specializes in rare and specialty roses, focusing on those that grow well in Northern California. The nursery is also brimming with irises and hummingbird- and butterfly-attracing annuals and perennials.
Take a self-guided tour for the price of the garden map ($2) or enjoy a tour led by owner Jan Talmasoff for $4.50 per person (reservations required). The classic perfume harvest tours are $10.95 on Thursdays or $14.95 other days; and the deluxe gourmet perfume rose harvest tours (reservations required) are $50 per person, which includes the perfume tour, a rose-infused menu of nibbles, a rose champagne toast, exclusive viewing of rare perfumes and atomizers, and entry to the display garden. The Russian River Rose Company's show garden and nursery are open weekends in the spring, for special events in the fall, and by apppointment year-round.
Kruse Rhododendron State Reserve
Located on Sonoma County's northern coast a few miles south of Gualala, Kruse Rhododendron State Reserve (25050 Coast Highway 1, at mile marker 43, 707-847-3221) offers one of the prettiest walks you’ll ever find — especially from early spring to mid-June, when the 317-acre reserve’s enormous number of spectacular rhododendrons burst into bloom. What a sight to take in, all that pink vibrancy nestled into the elegant green forest of second-growth redwoods, Douglas fir, and tanbark oak.
With the spring streams running, you’ll also see enormous numbers of ferns and wildflowers. Other plants include California huckleberry, which also carries pink flowers in spring and purple berries in summer, and flowering shrubs such as Pacific wax myrtle and various salal evergreens.
To get an overview, take the 2.25-mile round-trip loop trail. You can download a loop trail map as well as a park brochure with map for Kruse Rhododendron State Reserve and the adjacent Salt Point State Park.
Kruse Rhododendron State Reserve is open daily from sunrise to sunset (dogs and bicycles are not allowed on the trails). Entry is free, but the restrooms are closed due to service/budget cuts.
Just the Beginning
These are only three of the many gorgeous gardens available for viewing in Sonoma County. For more ideas, look through our listing of Sonoma County gardens.
Written by Sonoma Insider Suzie Rodriguez