A Gardener's Eco-Trip to Occidental

Occidental Arts & Ecology Center

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A Gardener's Eco-Trip to Occidental

Nestled in the redwoods, the tiny enclave of Occidental is a favorite with outdoor adventurers and eco-travelers.

At the center of challenging biking terrain and surrounded by miles of trails, it's also a few miles from both the Pacific Ocean and the Russian River. Depending on the weather and their inclination, visitors can easily go biking, hiking, fishing (deep sea or from land), tide pooling, rock climbing, river or ocean kayaking, canoeing, horseback riding, hang gliding.

Occidental is also home to two compelling but very different gardening destinations: the Western Hills Garden and the Occidental Arts & Ecology Center.


Western Hills Garden

Created in 1960 by Lester Hawkins and Marshall Olbrich as the Western Hills Rare Plant Nursery, this three-acre garden once achieved worldwide fame for its beautiful landscaping, glimpses of wildlife and exotic plantings from Australia, East Asia, the Mediterranean, and South Africa (as well as native California plants).

After the death of Hawkins (1985) and Olbrich (1991), the garden remained open under new owners but slowly languished; it was eventually closed. Three years ago it was purchased by Bay Area residents Tim and Chris Szybalski, who kept the garden closed while returning it to its former glory. As the pond re-emerged and brush was cleared, wildlife made a return: ducks, turtles, fish, heron, hummingbirds.

The garden finally opened for tours again this spring (2013), and azaleas, camellias, hellebores, and rhododendrons have once again been on display. Right now, as summer approaches, dogwoods, iris, puyas, wachendorfla, beschorneria, and other gorgeous blooms are beginning to appear. In fall and winter the beauty of exotic trees will come to the fore.

You can visit on Saturdays from 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Admission: $10 a person. For information or to make an appointment, call 707-872-5463 or email [email protected].

Western Hills Garden, 16250 Coleman Valley Road, Occidental 95465. www.westernhillsgarden.com.


Occidental Arts & Ecology Center

OAEC is one of the few nurseries in the Bay Area that is completely California Certified Organic (C.C.O.F.), including all ornamentals, potting mixes, amendments, and foliar sprays.

Whenever possible, they use pots that have been returned to them. They also use 'Envirostake' pot tags, which can be recycled curbside and degrade in landfills. All plants have been started by gardeners on-site from seed, much of it collected from the Mother Garden or propagated vegetatively from mother plants in the gardens or nursery.

This spring and summer, for the first time ever, the organic nursery at the Occidental Arts and Ecology Center will be open to the public on a regular basis — every weekend from May 25 through June 30 (and again from Sept. 7-Nov. 3), 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Perennial plants will be featured.

For more information, phone 707-874-1557 x101 or email [email protected].
Occidental Arts & Ecology Center, 15290 Coleman Valley Road, Occidental 95465. www.oaec.org.

Suzie Rodriguez