s
s
Sections
Search
We don't just cover the North Bay. We live here.
Did You Know? In the first 10 days of the North Bay fire, nearly 1.5 million people used their mobile devices to visit our sites.
Already a subscriber?
iPhone
Wow! You read a lot!
Reading enhances confidence, empathy, decision-making, and overall life satisfaction. Keep it up! Subscribe.
Already a subscriber?
iPhone
Oops, you're out of free articles.
Until next month, you can always look over someone's shoulder at the coffee shop.
Already a subscriber?
iPhone
We don't just cover the North Bay. We live here.
Did You Know? In the first 10 days of the North Bay fire, we posted 390 stories about the fire. And they were shared nearly 137,000 times.
Already a subscriber?
iPhone
Supporting the community that supports us.
Obviously you value quality local journalism. Thank you.
Already a subscriber?
iPhone
Oops, you're out of free articles.
We miss you already! (Subscriptions start at just 99 cents.)
Already a subscriber?
iPhone

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.

They see the entire land, in essence, as a garden. In spring, the meadows and open space are abloom with white narcissus. An entire hillside is planted with California lilac, Ceanothus and Firethorn.

The ranch is not merely a playground for Etcheverry and Lajeski, who markets Disney films like the hit "Pirates of the Caribbean" series through music. Weekends are working getaways. Since they bought the property five years ago, they have worked the land themselves with the help of one ranch hand. The weekend warriors managed to plant 1,400 olive trees on 30 acres — mostly Italian varieties.

Most of the land remains untouched. Eventually they hope to build a retirement home across the road. In the meantime however, their tent compound serves as a cozy getaway.

Lajeski is a lifelong gardener who has partnered with close friend, lifestyle guru Renny Reynolds, to create a Japanese maple garden for the historic Hortulus Farm near New Hope, Pa. He said a friend scouted the Sonoma County property for him, declaring that "it will change your life."

"We drove here and got out of the car and looked at each other and said, yeah. The terrain is so much like Yosemite. We have year-round springs and a fabulous waterfall," said Lajeski. He's a fan of English gardens who sits on the board of the Royal Oaks Foundation, the American arm of England's National Trust.

He and Etcheverry live with their champion poodles, a champion Doberman and several Jack Russells out of three tents made by Sweetwater Bungalow, a Sonoma County company, with fabric walls stretched around wooden frames but with real windows and doors.

The encampment is surrounded by multiple ponds and wild gardens of Iris, Euphorbia, cattails, water marigolds, Grevillia and Gunnera. The centerpiece is a former mudhole degraded by wild pigs and gophers that the pair cleaned out and replenished with spring water. Now it looks like an inviting little swimming hole.

"I use the water as an element to tie all the tents together," Lajeski said.

He seems unfazed by a weekly commute that would be grueling to most mortals.

"I'm a country person," he declared. "It's nirvana when you get here."

You can reach Staff Writer Meg McConahey at meg.mcconahey@pressdemocrat.com or 521-5204.

Show Comment