Threatened Garden, Western Hills Rare Plant Nursery and Garden, Sonoma County, California

June 5, 2010

Threatened Garden

Click here to view historical and recent photos of Western Hills.

In The New York Times on May 12, 2005, Dan Hinkley, founder of the Heronswood nursery in Kingston, Washington, described Western Hills Rare Plant Nursery and Garden as “his personal mecca.” He noted that “there is a realness and trueness and originality to the place.”

Unfortunately, Western Hills Rare Plant Nursery and Garden, located in western Sonoma County about 60 miles north of San Francisco, is in foreclosure and its future is in question. The Garden Conservancy is actively seeking partners interested in participating in an effort to save Western Hills.

Please send an e-mail to if you are interested in helping or would like to receive periodic updates.

History of Western Hills
Western Hills is the creation of Marshall Olbrich and Lester Hawkins, who inspired a generation of gardeners to take an interest in new and unusual plants, many of which they introduced into cultivation in North America. The garden is a three-acre collection of trees, shrubs, and perennials, created to fit the rolling topography of the coastal foothills with manmade features of pond, rills, and meandering pathways. Beginning in the 1960s, it became a destination for gardeners from northern California, around the country, and other parts of the world to learn about rare and unusual ornamental plants and innovative garden design. Olbrich and Hawkins took a special interest in plants suited to cultivation in the Mediterranean climate of California’s north coast.

Robert Stansel and Joseph Gatta acquired the garden in 2007 with the hope of establishing it as a public garden and educational resource for the region. They continued to operate the nursery and open the garden to the public. The Garden Conservancy designated Western Hills a “preservation assistance garden” in 2007 and has offered its expertise to help sustain the garden while developing a strategy for its long-term preservation as a public garden. The Garden Conservancy established a volunteer group that has been taking care of the garden and conducted a plant inventory and assessment. A “Friends of Western Hills” group has been organized and is looking for further local support.

Read what Western Hills’ founders had to say about their garden, plants, and garden design in general:

“Planting the Plantsman’s Garden”by Lester Hawkins in The Pacific Horticulture Book of Western Gardening, edited by George Waters and Nora Barlow, Godine Press, 1990.
Also, “The Garden of Marshall Olbrich” in The American Man’s Garden by Rosemary Verey, 1990

Our goal
The goal of the Garden Conservancy is to ensure the garden’s long-term preservation, ideally as a public garden open to visitation, managed by a nonprofit organization organized for this purpose. Local leadership is necessary for this to succeed. It would require people who are willing to invest in the property and professionals who would manage the garden and nursery and create programs to once again inspire gardeners, especially those in the Bay Area and northern California.

Photographs and recent media coverage
Click here to read feature articles from the March 15, 2010 ://”>San Francisco Chronicle and Sonoma County’s March 12, 2010 Press Democrat.


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