Participants in the “Earthly Paradise” conference in Palo Alto explore the Arizona Garden on the Stanford University campus. Originally designed for the Stanford family by Rudolph Ulrich c. 1881, this Victorian garden was restored by volunteers. Photo © Susan Chamberlin, 2003


Landscapes of the Napa Valley

Annual Conference of the California Garden and Landscape History Society
June 11-12, 2005, Napa Valley, California

This conference will give participants a perspective of the Napa Valley, past and present, plus an intimate look at the landscape usually reserved for locals. There will be lectures to provide historic context, tours of six private gardens located throughout the valley, a reception at the historic Spottswoode estate, and a wine tasting.

Lectures begin at 1 p.m. in St. Helena on Saturday, June 11. Gardens chosen for visits the next day have been selected to offer a view of the evolution of Napa Valley landscape design: an 1870’s Victorian garden in German American Style, an exuberant Victorian gentleman’s garden, two classic Thomas Church gardens created in 1959 and 1973, and two recently-created contemporary gardens.

At this writing confirmed speakers for the Saturday lectures in St. Helena include Pam-Anela Messenger on landscape architect Thomas Church’s work in the Napa Valley and Linda Struve, whose family owned Aetna Springs Resort for many years. Joe Callizo will speak on agriculture in the valley before grapes dominated.

A Saturday evening reception will be held at the Spottswoode Estate, where several rare trees remain from the original 1885 Victorian garden, which was inspired, in part, by the Hotel Del Monte in Monterey.

On Sunday we will tour six Napa Valley gardens (including two by Thomas Church), the grounds of the Schramsberg Vineyards (founded in 1862), Allan and Chotsie Blank’s Villa Insteada (originally a Church garden), Marion Greene’s modernist garden, and the Bradley garden, once a property of the Bourn family (of Filoli and Empire Mines fame). Bourn also built Greystone in Napa, originally a warehouse and later the Christian Brothers Winery; it now houses the Culinary Institute of America’s California campus and Greystone Restaurant.

For a map and four, self-guided Historic Walking Tours send a check for $4 to:
Napa County Landmarks
1030 First Street, Napa, CA 94559
Phone: 707/255-1836

To learn more about the history of the area: Molly Chappellet’s Gardens of the Wine Country contains photos and history for several of the properties we will be touring. Also worth a look: Napa Valley Wineries by Thomas Maxwell-Long and Ghost Wineries, by Irene W. Haynes. Silverado Squatters by Robert Louis Stevenson is a charming little book written while he was on his honeymoon in the Napa Valley, and many of the places he mentions are still around. A Salon at Larkmead: a charmed life in the Napa Valley edited by Drew Sparks and Sally Kellman is a compilation of the writings of Lillie Coit’s mother, Martha Hitchcock, that focus on daily life (including garden activities) in the early days at their home, Larkmead.

Free time on Saturday morning before the lectures will allow conference participants to relax in the picturesque town of St. Helena, see the Robert Louis Stevenson Museum, or set off to sample the Valley’s numerous attractions.

Inexpensive or free attractions in the Napa Valley include Chateau Montelena (with an old Chinese bridge over a pond and a winery that retains the feeling of a bygone era before seemingly everything went upscale,) the Beringer Winery (with its lovely old house and gardens,) or the Robert Mondavi Winery (housed in a building by the mid-century architect, Cliff May.) Calistoga, a nice old town north of St. Helena, has spas, a Russian community church, and the Sharpsteen Museum.

Reservations, entry fees, and ample time are required for some of the following sites, so investigate in advance and plan accordingly.

The better part of a day may be necessary for a visit to the eleven different garden areas at Peter Newton’s Sterling Vineyards in Calistoga (see “The Best of Both Worlds: a Conversation” between Peter Newton and George Waters in Pacific Horticulture, Summer 1992, pages 40-52) or to Gil Nickel’s Far Niente in Oakville, where there are also lovely gardens. In Napa itself is Copia, the American Center for Wine, Food, and the Arts, (founded by Robert and Margrit Mondavi), which has cutting edge, organic, edible-plant gardens among its multiple attractions, while the eclectic Hess Collection Winery in Napa has “one of the most impressive private art collections that is on display for the general public in the state of California.” Also in Napa is the di Rosa Preserve, a collection of contemporary art displayed both indoors and out, and the Hakusan Sake Gardens, where rice wine tastings are offered and there is a Zen-style rock garden.