The Peninsula is flush with large-scale gardens like Gamble Garden, Filoli and Montalvo, but if we look in our own communities we will most certainly spot fertile ground that is tended to by a municipality or a community- or ecology-based nonprofit. Some of these gardens are sowed with wildflowers, some are natively diverse and some are an apothecary's dream. These are the gardens hidden in plain sight that are there for you when you need them.
Nature has the power to restore and heal us, so the next time you're walking from the post office to the library or attending a birthday party at the local park, look a little closer at the landscape at your feet. Most likely, someone designed that to make you a little less stressed and a little more at ease.
Over the course of a weekend without rain, I poked around a few Peninsula neighborhoods and found a number of gardens that were installed for just this purpose. The UC Master Gardeners of San Francisco and San Mateo counties (UC ANR) have a hand in several of these tiny plots of respite.
"All of these public gardens serve as an educational tool for both children and adults who want to learn about growing and caring for California native and drought tolerant plants," longtime master gardener Anita Galeana said. "Through our work, we hope the public will learn that plant and vegetable gardens contribute to both our ecosystem and well-being."
From the number of people I encountered exploring these spots, my outing proved that people are enjoying them, even if unintentionally.
Allied Arts Guild, Menlo Park
Nestled within a quaint neighborhood on the south edge of Menlo Park is the Allied Arts Guild, a cluster of historic Spanish-style buildings designed by architect Pedro de Lemos. The buildings hold artisan workshops and retail spaces, a cafe and several conference rooms and outdoor gathering spaces for rent. It's also home of the nonprofit Allied Arts Guild Auxiliary, which owns the property. The gardens received a complete overhaul by PGAdesign in 2006.
Besides refurbishing the existing gardens, the design team also added two new courtyards. Annuals mingle with hearty Mediterranean perennials, and natives grow throughout the garden. Most species are identified. With fountains bubbling and the sound of tinkering from jewelers and woodcarvers, it's a serene space to wander and enjoy.
Allied Arts Guild, 75 Arbor Road, Menlo Park. Hours are Monday-Saturday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Central Park, San Mateo
A 16-acre park like San Mateo's Central Park requires many hands to keep it thriving and inviting. The San Mateo Arboretum Society, headquartered in the Kohl Pumphouse, maintains the park's rose garden, the Victorian garden surrounding the pumphouse and the hummingbird and butterfly native garden, in addition to a small garden at the park's 9th Avenue entrance.
President Kevin Wilkinson said that approximately 50 of the 250 members actively volunteer to maintain the gardens and keep the nursery up and running.
"Our members range from high schoolers to some over 90 years of age," Wilkinson noted.
The Japanese garden (free entrance) is maintained by the city, and the master gardeners of San Francisco and San Mateo counties partner with the San Mateo Arboretum Society and hold drop-in Q&A workshops and plant lectures in the pumphouse.
San Mateo Central Park, 50 East 5th Ave., San Mateo. Japanese Garden hours are Monday-Friday, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. and Saturday-Sunday, 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Redwood Grove Nature Preserve, Los Altos
If I lived within walking distance of this 6-acre sanctuary, I'd have a daily forest-bathing date with myself. The Redwood Grove Nature Preserve is conveniently located along University Avenue in Los Altos. Park on the street and enjoy being surrounded by tall redwoods. Along with the city of Los Altos, the preserve is maintained by Grassroots Ecology. Currently, Adobe Creek is full and running.
I spotted caterpillars hanging out on leaves, colorful finches flying between shrubs and plenty of people quietly absorbing nature. Oaks and a native meadow fill the park beyond the redwoods where you'll likely hear kids playing in the distance.
Redwood Grove Nature Preserve, 482 University Ave., Los Altos. Hours are 6 a.m. to 9 p.m. every day.
Heritage Park, Mountain View
What can you find at a 1.2-acre neighborhood park? A lot if you consider Mountain View's newest parks project. Heritage Park celebrated its grand opening in 2016 after years of planning, including the relocation of the Immigrant House, an 1880s-era restored building that served as housing for the countless immigrants who lived and contributed to the area's growth. The park project, in conjunction with the city, was made possible by fundraising from Friends of Immigrant House and the donation of private land (and the owner's 1930s-era windmill). Besides these features, the park also hosts over 100 trees, a demonstration garden and native beehives. It's a reminder of the area's agricultural riches.
Heritage Park, 771 N. Rengstorff Ave., Mountain View.
Arizona Garden, Stanford University
Though this desert oasis at the southwest edge of the arboretum isn't in the middle of a city or neighborhood, it is within close proximity to thousands of people who attend, work or visit the Stanford University campus every day. Jane and Leland Stanford commissioned the garden in the early 1880s, and in 1997 a plan to restore it got underway. Today, hundreds of cacti specimens are tended to by students and staff.
Once you read up on its history and spend some time here, it will make perfect sense why the founders and designers of this educational institution pushed back from the typical Victorian-style gardens and created something wild and unexpected.
Arizona Garden, Stanford University, 450 Jane Stanford Way, Stanford. Park at the lot at Welch and Quarry roads and follow the path past the mausoleum.
SFO Terminal 1 and Terminal 2 Sky Terrace
Air travel can be stressful, and the folks at SFO have found different ways to alleviate some of that anxiety, in this case through plants. The airport's landscape division installs and maintains over 46 acres of interior and exterior green spaces. Besides providing comfort, plantings do their part to offset greenhouse gas emissions produced at the airport.
SFO's public information officer Doug Yakel talked about the importance of green space at the airport, saying, "Not only does the landscaping team focus on low-water plants, they also incorporate found items that speak to the airport's recycling mission."
New water-wise gardens were recently installed near Terminal 1, and Terminal 2's outdoor observation deck, Sky Terrace, offers plantscapes with 180° views of all four runways.
SFO's Sky Terrace, San Francisco International Airport. Terminal 2 is pre-security. Hours are Friday-Monday from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.
San Carlos Native Plant Habitat Garden and Library Herb Garden
Situated between San Carlos' City Hall and library is a garden teeming with life. It was designed and is maintained by the UC Master Gardeners of San Mateo and San Francisco counties, along with the city of San Carlos. A diverse palette of plants encourages a year-round bloom for pollinators and birds.
Master gardeners are there once a week maintaining the plants, and they are always happy to talk about what's growing. The group recently installed an herb garden, organized by climate and cuisine, inside the gates of the library. Cafe tables are nearby for your enjoyment. Borrow a cookbook, sit next to the Mediterranean plants and get inspired.
San Carlos Native Plant Habitat Garden, 610 Elm St., San Carlos.
Sophia Markoulakis is a contributing writer for The Six Fifty, a sister publication of Palo Alto Online, covering what to eat, see and do in Silicon Valley.