6 Unique Garden Tours in Sonoma County
The following six Sonoma County gardens take a unique spin on your average "garden tour."
Hallberg Butterfly Gardens, Sebastopol
Unlike an enclosed butterfly house, the Hallberg Butterfly Gardens are an open-air network of flowering pathways through pollinator-friendly vines, thickets, and meadows. These are the oldest butterfly gardens in the U.S., unwittingly created in the 1920s by avid gardener Louise Hallberg; she planted a California native vine, Dutchman's Pipe (Aristilochia californica) for its distinctive burgundy and white blooms, which turned out to be a main food source for the caterpillars of black-and-teal Pipevine Swallowtails (see photo above).
Now visited by more than 50 varieties of butterflies (including those Swallowtails), this is a spectacular place to commune with some of nature's most beautiful creatures. The nine-acre gardens are open by appointment for self-guided tours from April through October, Wednesday through Saturday, between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m.
Bamboo Sourcery Nursery and Gardens, Sebastopol
Set on 7-1/2 sustainably-farmed acres in Sebastopol, this family-run bamboo nursery with demonstration gardens has been open for more than 35 years, offering 300 different kinds of bamboo from around the world.
Open Tuesday through Saturday from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., appointments are recommended if you'd like a guided tour with a bamboo expert; (call (707) 823-5866). Otherwise, Bamboo Sourcery is a delightful place to stroll or relax on your own, offering a soft, green dose of open-air wellness. Wear sturdy shoes to navigate the steep, hilly layout of nooks and crannies, and be sure to grab a map by the entrance.
Garden Valley Ranch, Petaluma
A former Petaluma cattle ranch dating back to the early 1800s, Garden Valley Ranch now produces field-grown cut garden roses, selling and shipping them to the floral trade around the country. On this five-acre property's "Picnic + Flower Foraging Experience" tour — offered most Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays during bloom season — you'll be able to see more than 10,000 bushes of 60-plus rose varieties, as well as pick your own roses and take them home.
Features of this stunning property includes a Gertrude Jekyll-type display border of roses, perennials, shrubs, and annuals arranged in color sequence; a Pond Garden with a koi pond, 100 varieties of hydrangeas, and 30 of magnolia; a Fragrance Garden; and a nursery that (when fully stocked) sells more than 400 varieties of roses.
Occidental Arts & Ecology Center, Occidental
This 80-acre research, demonstration, and advocacy center aims to re-nourish the Earth's soil and restore biodiversity by teaching people how to create "permaculture" gardens. Designed for sustainability and subsistence, this style of garden seeks to mimic a successful natural ecosystem, regularly repleting its own soil with organic matter and enabling communities to live off its produce without the use of pesticides.
Though not open for drop-ins, the Occidental Arts & Ecology Center (OAEC) does give tours from April through October on the first and third Sundays of the month, 1-2:30 p.m. Its 100% organic-certified Mother Garden Nursery is also open from April through October, Saturdays and Sundays from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Sculpture Garden at the Museum of Sonoma County, Santa Rosa
Set in the heart of downtown Santa Rosa, the sprawling campus of the Museum of Sonoma County features two buildings — one focused on regional history, the other on contemporary art — as well as a whimsical sculpture garden you can tour on your own.
Echoing elements of the Sonoma County landscape — grass, bushes, rolling hills, towering redwoods — this garden is the setting for about a dozen large-scale pieces by California artists. From John Pashlik's aluminum-and-rock "Power Plant" (see above) to Bruce Johnson's 16-foot-tall "Sequoia," featuring old-growth redwood, copper, and slate, this is art you can walk around and through. Laminated maps identifying the sculptures are available on loan from the front desk of the history building.
Western Hills Garden, Occidental
Western Hills Rare Plant Nursery was originally opened in 1959, and remained an Occidental fixture for decades. Now under new ownership (by married couple Hadley Dynak and Kent Strader) and renamed the Western Hills Garden, this three-acre landmark has been extensively renovated with help from a slew of local volunteers. It reopened for public tours and plant sales in Spring 2022.
Set within a redwood forest, this horticultural hotspot features winding paths, 60-year-old exotic trees, and lots of color. Plant collections from Australia, Asia, South America and Africa include camellias, conifers, dogwoods, ferns, hellebores, lilies, irises, magnolias, maples and rhododendrons. Western Hills Garden functions as both a nursery and a gathering place for plant lovers.
Tours are by appointment only on Tuesdays and Thursdays, and are $12 per person. If you'll have children in tow, be sure to ask about the garden's kid-friendly scavenger hunt.
Just Planting a Seed
These are only six of the gorgeous gardens you can visit in Sonoma County. For more ideas, read Visit Sonoma Botanical Garden, Explore Sonoma Flowers and Winery Gardens, and 10 Sonoma Wineries with Gorgeous Gardens, or check our listings of Outdoor Activities in Sonoma County and click on Parks/Gardens.
Written by Melanie Wynne