Unique Sonoma County Flower Experiences
It's easy to enjoy the spectacular spring flowers of Sonoma County — just open your eyes, and stroll along a forest, mountain, meadow or vineyard path. Or visit any of the region's parks, for a brilliant display rolling across the landscape like a hand-stitched tapestry.
Flowers are so abundant here, that restaurants not only showcase them in vases on the tables, some serve the edible varieties in all their delicate glory right on the plate. So take time to stop and smell the roses — then nibble on a dandelion, too.
You can spend an entire afternoon at the Kendall-Jackson Wine Estates & Garden (5007 Fulton Road, Fulton, 707-576-3810), exploring its two-and-a-half-acre Eden. Sip some wine and stroll the culinary gardens, the sensory garden showcasing plants with aromas found in wine, and the Blooms of Bressingham flower palace.
Be sure to savor the edible flower collection, too — you may never look at those delicate blossoms the same way again, after you've realized how tasty they can be on the tongue. Complimentary, self-guided Garden Tours are offered daily (weather permitting). Private garden tours and wine tastings are available for groups of 10 or more.
The best seats in the Sunflower Caffé (421 First St. W., Sonoma, 707-996-6645), a downtown Sonoma eatery, are on the garden courtyard beneath vine-laden trellises, in a cozy nook next to the fountain.
The Wine Country platters range from cheeses with quince paste, toasted almonds and Costeaux French Bakery sourdough, to a salumi plate piled with imported speck, Toscana salami and mortadella alongside a Field of Greens hard-boiled egg, sourdough loaf, sweet butter, sliced apples and fruit mostarda.
But whatever you order, your plate is guaranteed to arrive pretty, finished with a flourish of local edible blossoms, perhaps including licorice-like anise hyssop, cucumber-kissed borage, peppery nasturtium, or sweet-tart pansy. Then, of course, there are the snazzy sunflower murals on the walls, for a nice bit of eye candy to set the mood.
Self-Guided Vineyard Tours
You may not think of vineyards as rich in flowers — it's about the grapes, after all - but as you walk through rows of vines as part of the Sonoma County Vineyard Adventures, there's much to admire even beyond the lush carpets of wild mustard blossoms growing between the vine rows in spring.
Many wineries plant rose bushes at the end of each vine row, since the flowers act as 'canaries in the coal mine' to warn about many plant diseases. Others plant luxurious gardens simply because they are so beautiful. And lots of wineries feature patios for lingering among the estate-style plantings, sipping a lovely glass of wine. The Vineyard Adventures program allows you to take no-appointment, self-guided vineyard tours at six different wineries.
The opulent Ferrari-Carano Vineyards & Winery (8761 Dry Creek Road, Healdsburg, 707-433-6700) features five acres of diverse gardens that, when first dreamed up in 1987, took founder Rhonda Carano 16 months simply to plan and complete the initial planting.
Each area has its own mood, starting with the Italian/French parterre style of the master garden showcasing classic, geometric shapes. The Enclosed Garden at the front of the estate has a more relaxed park-like setting abundant with trees, shrubs, perennials and annuals.
You can spend hours leisurely strolling the meandering paths and foot bridges along a rippling stream, waterfalls and fish-filled ponds, discovering more than 2,000 species of trees and shrubs conveniently marked with identification tags.
Enjoy bronze sculptures from world-renowned artists, and don't miss the full acre show garden with massive flower plantings in the fashion of Butchart Gardens in British Columbia. Just in time for spring: More than 10,000 tulips and daffodils burst through the earth for a lavish carpet of color. There's even a Tulip Hotline (707-433-5349), to track the best bloom times.
A state park dedicated to flowers? Indeed. Adjacent to Salt Point State Park, Kruse Rhododendron State Natural Reserve (25050 Coast Highway 1, Jenner, CA, 707-847-3221) is former ranch land that now thrives with second-growth redwood, Douglas fir, grand firs, tanoaks, and a dizzying array of rhododendrons.
Each May these spectacular flowers burst into bloom and color the deep green of the forest with brilliant pink blossoms. Five miles of hiking trails weave amid the flora, past Pacific wax myrtle and California Huckleberry, while the brilliant to pale pink rhododendrons festoon the forest ﬂoor from about mid-April to mid-June.
The park is located approximately 20 miles north of Jenner on Highway One, near milepost 43; admission is free.
Poppies, Poppies, Poppies
Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz was lured by poppies, and it's true that it's hard to resist the charms of the official state flower of California. Crane Creek Regional Park (5000 Pressley Road, Rohnert Park, 707-539-8092) is a treasure for viewing the spectacular blossoms known as 'California Sunlight,' or 'Cup of Gold.'
With its broad grassy meadows and bubbling seasonal creek, the 128-acre park is a great place to picnic amid the beauty. For even more activity, trails are perfect for hiking, bicycle riding, and horseback riding, or sporting types can try their hand at an 18-hole disc golf course.
The Kunde family has owned its ranch at Warm Springs Road and Highway 12 in Kenwood for some 110 years. Yet each spring, the hillside at Kunde Family Winery (9825 Sonoma Highway 12, Kenwood, 707-833-5501) jolts to renewed life, with a new crop of California poppies.
Keith Kunde loves the gorgeous little flowers, and cultivates thousands of the red and gold beauties amid the vineyards. The effect is stunning, literally stopping traffic as cars pull to the side of the road to take in the view. It's much better to actually enter, though, and savor some wines in the tasting room overlooking the fields.
Plant Your Own
Seeing the gardens may inspire your green thumb. It's the Mother's Day Plant Expo and Open House to the rescue, held each May at Luther Burbank Home & Gardens (204 Santa Rosa Ave., Santa Rosa, 707-524-5445). From 11 a.m. to 3 p.m., would-be florists can purchase flowers propagated from the gardens or grown from seeds related to world-renowned Burbank creations. The sale also includes vegetable plants and grafted varities of Burbank's fruit trees.
Tour the Burbank home as part of the Open House (admission $3, free for children under 12), which also includes special children's activities and projects.
You can also explore the beauty of this historic city park at your leisure. The gardens are open daily, free of chrage, from 8 a.m. to dusk. Drop-in guided tours of the gardens, home, and greenhouse are offered April to October, for $10 for adults; $8.50 for children 12-18, seniors, and college students with ID; and children under 12 are free with an adult. Group and children's tours are available with advance reservations.
Written by Sonoma Insider Carey Sweet