The Marin Art & Garden Center in Ross, an 11-acre pesticide-free oasis, is home to not only stunning gardens but also theater companies, horticultural societies, art and history organizations and an antique shop. Open dawn to dusk and free to enter, the center is certified as a habitat sanctuary by the National Wildlife Federation.
In 1856, James Ross settled on this land, which was part of a Mexican land grant. It was later purchased by the Kittle family. In 1943, Caroline Livermore, president of the Conservation League, acquired and preserved the property, which evolved into today’s Marin Art & Garden Center and was established as a “living memorial.”
What you’ll find
Stop by the main office, where you can get a map and a list of the center’s trees and shrubs – and where your well-behaved, leashed dog can receive a treat. Cross over a little bridge to enter the gardens. Several microclimates allow for a wide variety of both formal plantings and natives. The center is also home to seasonal Kittle Creek (named after the Kittle family), a nature trail and more than 30 bird species.
Don’t miss the Magnolia Grove, a circle of outward-leaning magnolias. These are the daughters of Marin’s famous 135-year-old magnolia, which was in the grove’s center until 2006, when it expired. Also visit the pond, fountain and the gazebo topped by a huge dawn redwood (a species long considered extinct) planted from seed gathered in China. You’ll also see a giant sequoia brought from Yosemite Valley in the 1880s.
Next amble through the Rose Garden. The garden contains more than 150 varieties – English roses, hybrid teas, climbers and miniatures. Just northeast of the Rose Garden is the small Memory Garden, a peaceful glen perfect for meditation and quiet contemplation. A supine stone maiden keeps you company.
Peer into the Bottle House, which once stood on colorful bottle glass. Looking inside, you can still see some of the bright colors. In front of the Bottle House, a video display attached to a live camcorder shows baby owls in their nest.
Planted by basket weaver Charles Kennard, the Native Basketry Garden, near the nature trail, is filled with elderberry, tule, redbud, willows, leatherwood and other native plants traditionally used for basket weaving. Kennard also teaches classes in weaving baskets made from the reeds in the garden.
The Butterfly Habitat Garden contains larval host plants to attract many species of butterflies. The little pond swarms with dragonflies, and a bat box offers daytime roosting for bats. Colorful annuals and perennials bloom in summer and fall.
The Succulent and Native Plants Garden features drought-tolerant succulents and cacti in a plethora of shapes and colors. Boulders, coarse soil and sloping ground ensure drainage. Local succulent aficionados donated some of the plants.
For more information, call (415) 455-5260 or go to www.magc.org.
After the walk
Stroll southwest on Sir Francis Drake Boulevard to College Avenue (about a half mile), crossing from Ross into Kentfield. At the corner of Sir Francis Drake and College is the Taqueria Mexican Grill de Marin (1001 Sir Francis Drake Blvd.), where you can sit outside and eat Mexican fare. Just past the restaurant on College, take a walk through the College of Marin campus. Corte Madera Creek runs through here. (Unfortunately, it is culverted at this point and not at its most attractive.)
Stop to browse at First Street Books (850 College Ave.), which has books as well as an ample selection of greeting cards. Nearby is the Half Day Cafe (848 College Ave.), serving breakfasts, lunches and brunches. If you want to create your own lunch, stop in at Woodlands Market (735 College Ave.), a gourmet supermarket with a deli, bakery and cafe.
By bus from San Francisco, take the Golden Gate Transit bus Nos. 70, 80 or 101, which stop at various places throughout the city. At the San Rafael Transit Center, catch the No. 22 going south to Sir Francis Drake and Lagunitas boulevards. Cross Sir Francis Drake to the Marin Art & Garden Center. For a complete schedule, go to www.goldengatetransit.org.
By car from San Francisco, cross the Golden Gate Bridge and continue north on Highway 101. Exit at San Anselmo/Sir Francis Drake Boulevard, continuing on Sir Francis Drake for about 2.5 miles. The Marin Art & Garden Center will be on your right.
Photo: Google Image