Home and garden briefs: Occidental's Western Hills ready for spring season

Western Hills, the famed rare plant garden in the hills of Occidental, re-opens for spring Friday, April 11, with a third season of plant sales, public tours and an expanded Friday-to-Sunday schedule.

Co-owner Tim Szybalski said the garden has been slowly evolving, with a new outdoor event space added to serve garden clubs, horticultural societies and corporate groups. Four bridges have been restored and the "big house" that once belonged to the late founders Marshall Olbrich and Lester Hawkins is undergoing a major renovation that involves saving the original adobe walls.

"We have expanded our propagation efforts and now offer a broader selection of plants for sale from the garden," Szybalski said.

The plant sales provide income to restore the historic garden, which gained international fame in the 1970s and 1980s for its collection of rare and unusual plants.

Propagation efforts have concentrated on the garden's more unusual plants as well as identifying vendors who have comparable plants. Among them is the Pitkin Marsh Lily, an endangered perennial herb that is endemic to certain wetland areas of Sonoma County.

Szybalski said an endangered Wollemi pine was added to Western Hills' collection last year.

"And we just added a companion. The Wollemi was called the 'Botanical Find of the Century' and a 'living fossil' when it was discovered in a remote gorge in Australia in 1994," he said.

Another addition to the garden is a Sequoia Sempervirens 'Yurok Prince,' gifted to Western Hills by the American Conifer Society. The new redwood cultivar is one of a few specimens of a low-growing, horizontal branching shrub that recently was found in Oregon.

Guided tours of the extensive display garden are available by appointment. Admission is $10. To make an appointment, call 872-5463 or email Stacie@WesternHillsGarden.com. 16250 Coleman Valley Road, Occidental.

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