The Path of History self-guided walking tour in downtown Monterey, California, not only leads visitors to homes and adobes built in the days of early California, but also to a surprising number of historic gardens.
Not every old structure has a beautiful garden, but many of them do, surviving through the decades thanks to the nurturing of local volunteer gardeners.
Witness the dedication of the Historic Garden League, which maintains numerous historic gardens throughout Old Monterey. This organization also developed the gold-and-green Casa del Oro Garden as the gateway to the Monterey State Historic Park in Custom House Plaza, and has restored and developed gardens at the Doud House and the Perry Downer House at the corner of Scott and Van Buren.
The HGL is just one of the volunteer corps that tends historic gardens in Monterey – still others look after the gardens at Cooper-Molera Adobe and the Old Whaling Station garden, for instance.
Here’s a quick look at a selection of Monterey’s secret gardens. Most are an easy walk from each other in the downtown area of Old Monterey and are open daily to the public.
• Although California’s First Theatre building at Pacific and Scott has been closed for many years due to seismic concerns, the beautiful gardens behind the theater are open for viewing. A gorgeous shade garden with fuchsias and hydrangeas, the garden also has some lovely surprises, like dwarf spotted lilies and a huge espaliered “cup of gold” vine (Solandra maxima). Numerous wooden benches invite visitors to stay and contemplate.
• Seeking a slightly more formal style? Take a gander at the front of Merritt House on Pacific Street as you walk by. Originally the home of a judge, the adobe is now part of an inn. Tree roses line up along a path leading visitors to the front door, and nearer to the Pacific Street sidewalk, rhododendrons, hydrangeas and agapanthus give it a pleasant old-fashioned look.
• Even when blooms are spent in the Larkin House garden, the beauty of the old stonework and wood remains. Built by Thomas Larkin in 1834, the only U.S. consul to serve under Mexican rule, the garden came into being in the early 20th century under the care of Larkin’s granddaughter. As in other old Monterey gardens, roses take center stage here on a wooden arbor, along with camellias, hollyhocks, rosemary, succulents and ferns. The garden can be entered either from Calle Principal or Pacific Street.
• The Sensory Garden is a lovely passageway between the Monterey Conference Center and Monterey State Historic Park, designed to employ the senses. In addition to sweet-smelling flowers like lavender and salvia, there are the textures of different ornamental grasses and waxy leaves of citrus, and the silvery sound of a tinkling fountain. The raised brick planters are just the right height for sitting and enjoying views of flax and hydrangeas, as well as the historic bell salvaged from San Francisco after the 1906 earthquake.
• There are remnants of Monterey’s past industry at the Old Whaling Station, which still has a sidewalk made of whalebone and huge iron cooking pots that were used for rendering blubber. The historic building also has a lovely garden with winding brick pathways that’s often used for receptions and parties. Operated and maintained by Junior League of Monterey County, the Whaling Station can be found in the Heritage Harbor area off Pacific Street.
• If you wish to go a bit further afield, blooming visions await at the Monterey Museum of Art’s La Mirada garden on Via Mirada, just off Fremont Street. A profusion of roses, old and more recent, waits behind hand-built stone walls; an adjacent shade garden is a more recent addition. For hours and directions, see www.montereyart.org.
Tours are available for some of the gardens; to arrange for a tour, see www.historicgardenleague.org or http://www.parks.ca.gov.