The Ruth Bancroft Garden

The Ruth Bancroft Garden in Walnut Creek was the first garden we visited on the third day of the Fling. I found it exciting, surprising, and sometimes entertaining (largely due to the sculptures). I don’t see gardens built around succulents as beautiful, though, and this was not an exception to that rule. I realize there are others who feel strongly otherwise.

agave spike
Agave flower spike.

For me, a beautiful garden is lush, warm, exuberant, colorful. I find succulent gardens to be rather cold, ironically enough. And succulent gardens in arid, forbidding settings even more so. It’s kind of like the difference between a pet cat and a pet lizard. I find cats far more appealing and cuddly. However, I would fight to the death for your right to have a pet lizard.

big aloes

Even so, I enjoyed our visit to this garden, and I’m very glad I got to see it.

The visit was enhanced because it occurred during their annual sculpture exhibit and sale. And speaking of cats, we were tempted to take these home with us, but they were out of our price range.

cat sculpture

At this point I had pretty much given up on trying to remember plant names. I do know that’s a barrel cactus below. If they had given all the plants names this obvious, I might have had a better chance to remember them.

Barrel cactus.

I appreciated the many big, dramatic plants. I’m a sucker for big plants.

weird barrel trees


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The mix of plant textures we found was very intriguing.

russian sage aloe

cactus and tree


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There were some things that were just a bit odd looking.

weird red flower


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You can see we weren’t the only ones taken aback.

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It’s a good thing we did the Ruth Bancroft garden first thing in the morning – it was already hot when we got there. An odd thing about the Bay Area is the vast differences in climate in such a small area. That day it was 105F in Walnut Creek. In San Francisco, less than an hour’s drive away, it was 75F.

Fortunately, this cow was able to stay cool by hitting the surf. Springs made her look like she was rolling with the waves.

surfing cow

The Ruth Bancroft Garden was once farmland where the owners grew apples and walnuts. Ms. Bancroft took a part of the land for her very extensive collection of succulent plants. The farm was eventually rezoned for residential development, but a non-profit organization was given the garden to be maintained and kept open to the public.

weird leaves plant

This is not a native plant garden. Ms. Bancroft travelled far and wide to arid and desert regions in order to obtain specimen plants. A number of plants require protection from the occasional frosts that occur in Walnut Creek.

35 Comments on “The Ruth Bancroft Garden”

  1. It’s always fun to open your mind and explore something new, isn’t it? This looks very similar to some of the gardens explored by GWA members in Tucson last year. I have great respect and admiration for those who can deal with such challenging conditions. Easy to see the universal truth “right plant, right spot” at work here!

  2. RBG was certainly an interesting change from the other gardens we saw! I loved seeing how huge some of the plants that we grow as potted specimens grow when they’re given favorable conditions! Don’t think I’d want a garden made exclusively of succulents/cacti but enjoy them used as sculptural elements among other plants.

  3. Hello Jason, very interesting and some particularly quirky sculptures, but a dry garden full of succulents is too alien and far from my style comfort zone to fully appreciate. This is from being cosseted by a wet temperate climate that allows for full-on lush green profusion (in a good year!).

  4. I agree completely with your assessment of succulent gardens. My family has had both cats and pet lizards. Lizards are interesting creatures, but one is unlikely to curl up in your lap and let you pet it! This garden is certainly fascinating, and I think it is the perfect backdrop for some of the wacky sculptures. It is a great place to visit, but I wouldn’t want to live there, though I might want to take just a touch of it home to my own garden.

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