The Norcal Nomad

Traveling in Northern California

A Suburban Retreat: The Ruth Bancroft Garden

Written By: Deborah Linnekin - Apr• 14•14

One of the places that I never visited, but had heard a lot about is the Ruth Bancroft Gardens in Walnut Creek. The garden is known for its succulents but also has many varieties of drought tolerant plants that are perfect for the arid California climate and of special interest this year as we face record drought conditions.

The front Gate to Bancroft Road

The front Gate to Bancroft Road

The garden was once part of a 400 acre walnut and pear orchard until Ruth’s husband, Philip Bancroft, Jr. gave her 3.5 acres for a new garden. The original garden planting was completed in 1972. Some of the original plants are still gracing the property. Towering yew trees are one prime example I noticed. I felt dwarfed beneath them.

As you enter the gates to the gardens there are a few paved parking spaces and a gravel area for some of the overflow. There is also an area with plants for sale and an office you need to visit before touring the gardens. (You can proceed directly to the plant purchase area without paying an entry fee.)

Inside the office you can pay your entrance fee and do a little shopping for hats, gardening books and garden ornaments before you get your tour book and a quick orientation to the garden. Then it’s off on a self-guided tour. We also received a page about the plants that were currently in bloom. This sheet is updated each month and is a great help in identifying the various plants and blossoms in the garden.

A view of the path

A view of the path

As you wind your way through the garden there is the feeling you have left suburbia behind and entered a garden provided by nature. The plants are mounded and layered to provide an interesting vista with shade provided where necessary. The gravel path winds welcomingly through a series of garden areas that offer different vistas and ideas for planting your own spaces.

The Pond at Ruth Bancroft's Garden

The Pond at Ruth Bancroft’s Garden

One of the prettiest spots was the pond with its water lilies and goldfish creating the feel of a desert oasis: it reminded me of ponds in Hawaii that are surrounded by palm trees rather than yuccas and Eucalyptus. The yuccas do look a bit like palm trees, though.

The garden is dotted with benches and tables and chairs arranged to allow you a quiet moment or a chat with a friend. We spent a bit of time catching up on things while enjoying the garden breeze and the nearby blooms.  I was especially intrigued by the weeping tree that looks like a eucalyptus.

The back of the garden is marked by the Folly, a beautiful green structure reminiscent of earlier times, it reminds me of what I picture the Victorians would have built in their gardens, but I always picture it in white for some reason. Although there are other buildings on the property the Folly captured my heart.

The Folly

The Folly

One of the most surprising things I learned: that Ruth, now 105 years old, still lives in the house on the adjoining property! The garden has been open to the public since 1992, but her private garden is still private though viewable through the fence. One day I hope to have a chance to see her beautiful iris’s up close because they are a visual delight from the far side of the fence.

The garden is currently open Tuesday through Sunday 10Am – 4 PM. To reach them about events or special tours call (925) 944-9352. They are located at 1552 Bancroft Road, Walnut Creek, CA. I hope you get a chance to see this remarkable garden; it is very beautiful, unusual and restful.

For more information you can visit them online at

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