As a gardener, Glen Lajeski leads a double life.
During the week, he lives in an historic Italian-style enclave in Los Angeles with minimal outdoor space and where any green thumb efforts are confined to pots and terraces.
But when the whistle figuratively blows at Disney Studios — where Lajeski is a music marketing vice president — he and partner Gerald Etcheverry round up their eight dogs and hit the open highway. Their seven-hour commute ends past midnight up a gravel road in the middle of nowhere, on a remote mountainside in north Sonoma County.
This is their wildland garden, snuggled into the middle reaches of their 160-acre Split Rock Springs Ranch, a world apart from Hollywood.
Weekends they live like a couple of happy kids washed up on a desert island paradise. Home is a fanciful encampment of tent bungalows, with an outdoor kitchen deck, an al fresco shower beside a seasonal waterfall and decks extending out to a lovely little pond stocked with orange and white koi.
Surrounding this year-round summer camp for grownups is a lush naturalistic landscape. The tents appear to be hidden within some vaguely subtropical forest growing wildly around them. But in fact, it is a carefully thought-out garden of multiple rooms that they have cleared, planted, tended and watched grow over time.
The magical gardens of Split Rock Springs Ranch are just one stop on an unusual guided tour sponsored by The Garden Conservancy. On June 18, the national nonprofit dedicated to preserving historically significant gardens will take visitors on a rare tour of five gardens, several of which are breathtaking in their singularity and remoteness.
"Exuberant Gardens Along Route 101 North," open to the public, is an offshoot of an April seminar in San Francisco by the Garden Conservancy called "How We Garden Now." The design seminar aimed to spark a conversation about gardens "with integrity," spaces that adhere to some principles of design, maintain solid ecological infrastructure, reflect their region and still are beautiful.
In other words, sustainability does not have to mean a sacrifice in esthetics.
The tour includes a stop at "Villa Galactica," an old concrete-walled power station repurposed into a house that clings to the edge of an arroyo, with a miniature Italian formal garden in back. It's the weekend retreat of landscape architect Todd Cole.
Tour-goers also will visit Walden Studios in Geyserville, a stunningly sophisticated landscape inspired by its agricultural roots, designed by the respected landscape architect Andrea Cochran.
Other stops include Barbara Schlumberger's honeybee sanctuary; "The Melissa Garden" designed by Kate Frey; and the organic garden at Medlock Ames tasting room in Alexander Valley, with its sleek, metal beds mixing edibles and ornamentals in a 1-acre space that appears both authentically agricultural and stylishly contemporary at the same time.
"Each of these five gardens has a sense of where they are, and they draw on the esthetics of the place. At the same time, they are paying attention in different ways," said Betsy Flack, the Conservancy's West Coast Program Coordinator. "They are all exuberant, they have character and they're memorable, and the owner has been an intricate part of the process."
With Split Rock Springs Ranch, Lajeski and Etcheverry are "trying to be fairly light on the land" by their capturing, storage and use of the natural springs and by planting in a way that is sensitive, she said.