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Greener Pastures: East Bay Gardens

Experience wonderlands of plant life in these enchanted local gardens, which are now brightly in bloom.


A reflecting pool and a stately mansion sit on the verdant Blake Garden property.

Photo by John Lambert Pearson

Winter and spring rains can still be savored in the form of this summer’s flowers and foliage. So head to these lesser-known East Bay gardens, which are showing off the leafy beauty they acquired during the rainy season. They’re the ideal spots to while away a sunny afternoon.


Blake Garden, Kensington

A quiet grande dame of East Bay horticulture, Blake Garden was designed by Mabel Symmes, an early student in UC Berkeley’s landscape architecture program, and planted beginning in 1922. The 11-acre estate in the hills above Berkeley and El Cerrito was deeded in the late ’50s to the university’s landscape architecture department. Today, visitors wander through a series of gardens, from a dappled reflecting pool flanked by Chinese ceramic figures, to a serene redwood grove and a paradise of plants abuzz with butterflies and bees. Kids dash through a tunnel of twigs, and painters set up easels, while the Bay glimmers beyond. 70 Rincon Rd., blakegarden.ced.berkeley.edu.


The Sensory Garden, Pleasanton

Set within Centennial Park, the Sensory Garden branches out from the usual attention to color, form, and scent to consider texture, taste, and even sound. “We encourage people to touch or rub the plants,” says Daniel McCright, who tends the small, densely planted garden with members of the Livermore–Amador Valley Garden Club. “The sound comes from pollinating insects and hummingbirds, plus wind through the grasses.”

Daylilies in sunset colors, paper-crisp purple statice, and deep pink crape myrtle are in bloom this month. Peppermint-scented geranium and bright yellow Carex grass grow in waist-high beds, set at just the right height for observing, touching, and listening to the garden. 5353 Sunol Blvd., lavgc.org.


On the second Saturday of each month, master gardeners give advice and talks at Livermore’s Demonstration Garden. Photo by Carol Vander Meulen.

Earth Friendly Demonstration Garden, Livermore

In summer, the flowers of a dry-climate garden aren’t the showiest, but their subtle beauty rewards a closer look. You’ll see dashes of purple (Buddleia), pink (rosy buckwheat and UC Davis All-Star butterfly rose), and orange (hummingbird-beloved California fuchsia) amid the July foliage at Livermore’s Demonstration Garden. 3575 Greenville Rd., acmg.ucanr.edu/demonstration_gardens.


Regional Parks Botanic Garden, Berkeley

A wonderland of native species, this 10-acre Tilden Park garden is crisscrossed with paths and wooden bridges out of a fairy tale. Each plant is furnished with a museum-​​style label listing its provenance, Latin name, and other details. Travel the length of California, botanically speaking, as you roam through ferny forests, spiky cactus, and in July, splashes of scarlet monkey flower and beardtongue. Wildcat Canyon Rd. at S. Park Dr., Tilden Regional Park, nativeplants.org.


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