It’s been a tough two years for garden voyeurs.
The spring of 2020 promised more than 20 garden tours in Southern California, popular fundraising events that would allow participants to wander through other people’s private spaces, closely examining their plants and landscape designs.
The onset of COVID-19 quickly canceled those events, however, even though they were outdoor tours. At that point, we weren’t even sure how the disease spread — remember wondering if it was safe to open your windows? — so no one felt comfortable with strangers gathering on their property, garden fans or no.
Some organizations tried virtual tours, with people paying to look at landscapes online, but it was a sad substitute for walking in the fragrant green of real, live SoCal gardens, with bees humming on the flowers and lizards skittering underfoot.
So thank goodness for 2022 (and COVID vaccines), because the garden good times are back, with at least 17 SoCal garden tours scheduled in April and May.
Here’s a chance to explore yards of every design, such as Mike Esparza’s “Man Garden,” a lush, shade-dappled retreat behind his 1926 Tudor home in Long Beach. He took out the old boring lawn in front and back, dug trenches along his fence line to keep back an invasion of bamboo shoots from his neighbor’s yard and then rejected the plans his first landscape architect offered for the backyard because “it was just a bunch of browns,” as in plants with mahogany leaves.
“I wanted a man’s garden with a lot of texture and color, but I didn’t want frilly flowers,” he said. “I wanted something that stays year-round, with texture and color.”
So his friend Gary Putnam, an employee of Brita’s Old Town Gardens in Seal Beach and an amateur landscaper, helped him come up with a design. They arranged hoses on the bare ground to come up with a yin-yang-type design for the compact backyard, separated by a rocky dry riverbed that curves between the two sides, capturing rainwater and runoff. He’s added a patch of AstroTurf to ensure an even green color year-round and then surrounded it with plants native to California, Australia and South Africa.
“It’s not really a garden; it’s a setting,” Esparza said. “I wanted it to be like a room. We’ve actually had parties where we brought our furniture from in the house to outside and created kind of a living room outdoors.”
There’s almost every shade of green in this garden, with accent colors mostly in white or orange, such as the wisteria that covers his pergola with white blooms two weeks a year and the Rise and Shine redbud (Cercis canadensis ‘JN15’) whose yellow and orange leaves seem lit from within when they’re hit by the sun. There are pathways throughout the garden and lots of little surprises — like tree trunks sprouting huge staghorn ferns, the grinding stone that belonged to his grandmother, an apricot-colored climbing rose by the gate and a Banksia ericifolia with its gold flowers growing up like corn cobs from the feathery stems.
Esparza still works full-time, doing inventory at the Port of Long Beach, so his mom, Libby Esparza, assists in weeding and sweeping. But the biggest maintenance job is keeping all his thriving plants from getting too big and overwhelming other aspects of the garden, such as the huge stones he carefully chose as accents or the pergola with its hanging, removable wall panels and Chinese Chippendale design.
This is Esparza’s 13th year opening his garden for the Mary Lou Heard Memorial Garden Tour, and he enjoys showing it off, especially for this cause.
Mary Lou Heard went through a terrible divorce in the 1970s, when she moved to Southern California. She was hospitalized with depression for a brief period and credited her work with plants as helping her recover, said foundation President Jennifer McInteer. She had a love for cottage gardens and started growing plants in her apartment and selling them at the Orange County Market Place swap meet until she was able to open her now-legendary nursery, Heard’s Country Gardens in Westminster.
Heard started the tours in 1994 to help support the Sheepfold crisis center for women, McInteer said, and when she closed her nursery in 2002, shortly before she died from cancer, the Mary Lou Heard Foundation continued her work.
“Mary dreamed of a garden tour by and for real people. Some gardens are just unattainable for most of us. But these are real gardens created by regular people who love gardening,” McInteer said.
“We have seven well-meaning volunteers who make the decisions, and a lot of them are, ‘Well, Mary Lou did it that way, so we should too.’ There’s no tickets to the tours. We print out a list of the gardens, distribute them to nurseries and online, and then put a donation jar at each garden. We normally raise $17,000 to $26,000, and we hope this year can be a banner year. … I’m aiming for $50,000!”
Most of the other garden tours below have admission fees but all are designed as fundraisers to support causes in their community. Note that almost all of these gardens are at private residences, so pets are generally not welcome, and some property owners may request that visitors wear masks, so come prepared.
Check out our list below and start making plans. At the very least, you’ll come away deeply inspired.
Prisk Native Garden Open House, a rare (and free!) opportunity to tour the blooming garden of California native plants and wildflowers at William F. Prisk Elementary School, 2375 Fanwood Ave. in Long Beach (the garden is behind the school, at the corner of San Vicente Avenue and Los Arcos Street).
The 7,500-square-foot garden was started in 1996 by the school science teacher, Candy Jennings, with help from her husband, Alan, neighbor Frank Duroy and native plant enthusiast Mike Letteriello, and is now designated as a Certified Wildlife Habitat by the National Wildlife Federation.
The annual open house was canceled the last two years due to COVID-19 but is open for visitors this year from 1 to 4 p.m. and admission is free. facebook.com/prisknativegarden/
The Garden Conservancy Pasadena Open Days Tour: Explore four elaborate private gardens at historic homes in Pasadena and South Pasadena with advance registration only at each garden.
Tickets are $10 per garden ($5 for members) and only available online. No day-of walk-ins or cash payments will be allowed. Children under 12 are free and do not need to be preregistered if accompanied by a registered adult. Masks are required at the discretion of the garden owners, so come prepared. opendaysprogram.org
19th Theodore Payne Native Plant Garden Tour features more than 30 gardens around Los Angeles, with self-guided tours of private spaces devoted to at least 50% native plants on the Eastside of L.A. on April 23 and the Westside on April 24, from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. both days.
A ticket gets you into all the gardens on both days plus admission to the after-party at L.A. State Historic Park on April 24 from 5 to 8 p.m. Participants will get a map in the mail once they purchase their tickets for $40 ($35 for members). nativeplantgardentour.org
Riverside Community Garden Tour “Homegrown Harvest” is free this year, featuring six gardens with free, self-guided tours between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. both days. Addresses and garden details will be published on the Riverside Community Flower Show Assn. website shortly before the tour dates. riversideflowershow.info
The 28th Floral Park Home and Garden Tour in historic North Santa Ana features tours of homes and gardens from the 1920s to the 1950s from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. both days, as well as a vintage automobile display, food from local restaurants and shopping at its “Street of Treasures.”
There’s also a wine and beer garden open from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. on April 23 and 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. on April 24. Proceeds from the event support the program’s scholarship awards to students graduating from Santa Ana high schools or attending Santa Ana College and living in Santa Ana.
Tickets for the tour are $45 if purchased in advance online by April 18 or $50 if purchased the day of the event. floralparkhometour.com
Claremont Garden Club’s Claremont Eclectic is a tour of six local gardens from 1 to 4:30 p.m., starting at the parking lot of the California Botanic Garden at 1500 N. College Ave. Tickets are $20 and can be purchased online or in person at Claremont Heritage, 840 N. Indian Hill Blvd. in Claremont’s Memorial Park, or Rio de Ojas, 250 N. Harvest Ave. Pick up tour maps, brochures and physical tickets between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. at the botanic gardens parking lot.
The tickets include free admission to the California Botanic Garden that day. Proceeds from the tours help support the Claremont Garden Club’s activities and fund its donations to local school gardens, Claremont Heritage, Sustainable Claremont Green Crew for children’s planting tools, Uncommon Good and the city of Claremont to replace some trees. claremontgardenclub.org
Foothill Creative Arts Group “Art of the Garden” 27th Garden Tour includes self-guided tours of four extraordinary gardens in the foothill communities of Pasadena, San Marino and Sierra Madre from 10:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.
Tickets are $30 if purchased before noon on April 23, $40 thereafter. Photography, pets and children under 12 are not permitted on the tour. The Creative Arts Group Gallery will be open at 108 N. Baldwin Ave. in Sierra Madre. creativeartsgroup.org
Morongo Basin Conservation Assn. Desert-Wise Landscape Tour returns to in-person tours after two years of virtual online tours due to the pandemic. This year’s tour involves five Morongo Basin landscapes in Yucca Valley, Joshua Tree and Landers along with docent-guided visits to the Mojave Desert Land Trust and Joshua Basin Water District Demonstration Garden.
The tour focuses on wise-water-use techniques, extensive use of native plants, restoration of disturbed desert lands and energy-saving strategies. Registration provides an online tour guide, including directions to the sites.
Tickets are $10 online ($5 for association members). They also can be purchased in person the day of the event at the Mojave Desert Land Trust, 60124 Twentynine Palms Highway in Joshua Tree, between 9 a.m. and noon. mbconservation.org
April 30-May 1
Mary Lou Heard Memorial Garden Tour features self-guided tours of 42 gardens from Long Beach to San Clemente from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. both days. A list of the gardens and their addresses is on the Mary Lou Heard Foundation website, but plan ahead because some of the gardens are open to visitors on only one day.
The tour is free but donation jars will be set out at the gardens to support the Sheepfold, a crisis center for women and children in Orange that has long been the beneficiary of the foundation’s annual garden tours. heardsgardentour.com
Redlands Horticultural & Improvement Society 2022 Spring Garden Tour features six Redlands gardens open for self-guided tours from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. both days as well as a plant sale on April 30 from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. next to the historic Prospect Park Carriage House, 1352 Prospect Drive, in Redlands.
Tickets and maps of the tour gardens are available at Sunshine Nursery, Cherry Valley Nursery, Gerard’s Market and Art Association in Downtown Redlands, and, on the day of the tour, at the Asistencia, 26930 Barton Road in Redlands. Tickets are $15, children 13 and under enter free. redlandsgardenclub.com
Inspired Garden Artistry presents “Blooms With a View Spring Garden Tour” and vendor fair, a self-guided tour of nine private gardens in View Park-Windsor Hills, View Heights and Ladera Heights, including a sports lover’s dream yard, which features a basketball and tennis court, putting green and pool; a drought-tolerant courtyard inspired by California missions; a Mediterranean-style garden retreat; and an “entertainer’s paradise” with a treehouse bar.
When the tour began in 2001, former L.A. Times Garden Editor Robert Smaus called it “one of the best organized and most hospitable garden tours I’ve taken” and dubbed it “Blooms With a View” — a name that stuck. The tour runs from noon to 5 p.m. and starts at the south entrance to Ladera Park, 4750 W. 62nd St., where the vendor fair will be open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Tickets for the tour are $30 if purchased by April 19 and $35 thereafter; children 12 and under are free. Proceeds from the 2022 tour support the Bridge Builders Foundation, Bugle Horn Autism Support Group and Kids 4 College. inspiredgardenartistry.com
The 24th Livingston Memorial Visiting Nurse Assn. & Hospice Camarillo Garden Tour features art exhibits and demonstrations, live music, refreshments and a garden-themed boutique in addition to tours of five Camarillo gardens from noon to 4 p.m. Artists from the Pastel Society of the Gold Coast will give demonstrations at each garden.
Tickets are $25 online. Proceeds benefit the association’s hospice program in Camarillo. imvna.org/gardentour/
Laguna Beach Garden Club 17th Gate & Garden Tour begins at the Laguna Beach County Water District’s Bruce Scherer Waterwise and Fire-Safe Gardens at 306 3rd St. in Laguna, with special buses shuttling tour goers to the “quintessential Laguna neighborhood” where the tours will occur.
Artisanal margaritas and Mexican fare will be available for purchase along with free homemade baked goods and other refreshments. Artists will be working during the tour, painting canvases in several gardens. Money from the tours goes to support school gardens, local scholarships and community projects.
The tours run from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m, with last entry scheduled at 2 p.m. Timed tickets are $60 plus a $5.28 handling fee online or $65 the day of the tour, if the event is not sold out. lagunabeachgardenclub.org
West Floral Park and Jack Fisher Park Neighborhoods Open Garden Day in North Santa Ana features 10 garden tours in two tree-lined neighborhoods of vintage homes from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. The event includes live music, art displays, garden talks and demonstrations, cooking demonstrations and vendors selling food and garden products starting at 9 a.m.
Advance tickets are $20, or $25 the day of the event. Children 12 and under free. Pick up tickets and tour maps at Santa Clara Drive and Westwood Avenue. opengardenday.com
The 25th Newport Harbor Home & Garden Tour features stops at seven homes and gardens near Newport Harbor High School, along with lunch, a “boutique” of home decor and accessories vendors and an afternoon reception at Barclay Butera Interiors between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. The home and garden tours are from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.
Tickets are $95 and available online. The event is a fundraiser for the Newport Harbor Educational Foundation to support academic programs, faculty professional development and other programs and supplies at Newport Harbor High School. newportharborhometour.com
San Clemente Garden Club 2022 Garden Tour features self-guided tours and live music at five San Clemente-area gardens from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Tickets can be purchased online before the event for $30 ($25 each for purchases involving four or more). Day-of tickets are $40 and must be purchased in person, at a location that will be announced on the website after 6 p.m. on May 13. Proceeds from the tour support the San Clemente Garden Club College Scholarship and Junior Gardeners programs as well as conservation organization and civic beautification projects within the city of San Clemente. sanclementegardenclub.com
The Garden Conservancy Los Angeles Open Days Tour features five of Los Angeles’ premier private gardens with advance registration only at each garden. Short descriptions of each location are available online.
Tickets are $10 per garden ($5 for members) and available online only. No day-of walk-ins or cash payments will be allowed. Children under 12 are free and do not need to be preregistered if accompanied by a registered adult. Masks are required at the discretion of the garden owners, so come prepared. opendaysprogram.org