Jack London State Park Visit
Sometimes you just have to get out of the house! Sometimes you have to get out of town! I did. I ran away to the Jack London State Park in Glen Ellen and took a docent led tour of the Cottage Garden.
The park is what remains of the seven ranches referred to as Beauty Ranch that author Jack London and his wife Charmaine purchased beginning in 1905 in The Valley of the Moon. The couple built their dream home, Wolf House, on the property, but shortly before they were to move in it burned to the ground. They lived in the Cottage until 1916 when London died. Charmaine continued to live in the cottage until 1934 when the House of Happy Walls was completed in 1934.
Jack London took up organic gardening while living at Beauty Ranch. He had a vineyard on the property, but there is no mention of him making wine.
The home farm portion of the ranch became a dude ranch between 1944 and 1946. It was operated by Eliza London Shepard, Jack's step sister and ranch manager.
Charmaine died in 1955 and the property was turned over to the State in 1960. In 1997, Jenny Randal took on the job of reviving the Cottage Garden. She remains today and led our tour.
Jenny treated us to a power point presentation of photos going back to the early twentieth century when Jack and Charmaine London created Beauty Ranch. Once Wolf House was destroyed and they were forced to make their home at the Cottage, they created the garden that Jenny has been working on for over fifteen years. Her research is based on photos, correspondence, and writings of the London’s.
The garden area was surrounded in those days by a snow fence. Perhaps this kept the deer and assorted critters such as bobcat and mountain lions away. The old photos show several large live oak and black locust trees and one huge palm tree adjacent to the garden. Most of the black locust trees are gone, but several young ones remain with the oaks and the even grander palm tree.
A pond was built in the garden and it was surrounded by cannas and Shasta daisies. It was filled with Koi then as it is now.
The daisies may have been a gift from their creator Luther Burbank, another resident of Sonoma County at the time. There are photos of the two men together on the Burbank website, but Jenny does not think the two men were close friends.
The garden that is there today is a "cultural garden" meant to depict what was probably planted there at the time the London's were in residence. If so, the list in a long one and includes many of the plants I have in my own garden. Even before the tour started I made a list of what I saw planted there. I think you will find most of these familiar to you:
yarrow, roses, California poppies, Salvia, daylilies, Clivia, iris, Agapanthus, peony, Nepeta, Bears Breech (Acanthus mollis), society garlic, Euphorbia, rosemary, callas, periwinkle, violets, nasturtium, bamboo, Shasta daisies, Santa Barbara daisies, scented geraniums, Penstemon, agave, ginger, Buddleia, lilac, Pride of Madera, fortnight lilies, lavender, Cistus, verbena, lungwort, nut sedge, California fuchsia, breath of heaven, and Gaillardia.
California poppy. (photo by Jennifer Baumbach)