Famous Occidental garden is for sale, again

The New York Times likened this destination for gardeners to a “Tiffany’s” for plants.|

The fabled Western Hills Garden, for years a destination for collectors of rare and unusual plants, is once again for sale.

The nearly 3-acre property on Coleman Valley Road in Occidental, where the late Marshall Olbrich and Lester Hawkins introduced a generation of gardeners to a broader world of plants suitable for Mediterranean climates, is listed for $1.79 million.

When Chris and Tim Szybalski, both engineers from Moraga, bought the property in 2010 for $430,000 after a foreclosure, gardeners heaved a sigh of relief. Fans feared someone would buy the land and neglect or even remove the garden The New York Times once likened to a “Tiffany’s” for plants.

The Szybalskis spent the next decade, with the help of volunteers, restoring the overgrown garden and trying to identify and inventory its extensive and extraordinary collection of mature plants, many half a century old.

“We are hopeful to find someone who loves the garden as we do,” Tim Szybalski said. “We worked hard over the last 11 years to bring the garden back as a destination for serious gardeners and to preserve the legacy. To that end, more than 50 garden clubs and societies have toured the garden over that time period.”

He said there has been a lot of interest in the property but acknowledged that “taking on the garden is a daunting task.”

“We do need the right match. Of course, there are always two components: someone who is financial capable, but we’d really like to see someone with the wherewithal to continue with the garden,” said Doug Bohling, the listing agent with Artisan Sotheby's International Realty.

In addition to restoring the garden, including rebuilding footbridges, enlarging a pond, adding a waterfall and upgrading the irrigation system, the Szybalskis restored the two-bedroom, two-bathroom main house. The site also includes a barn studio, an octagon house, a greenhouse, a propagation house and a stone-lined commons area for gatherings.

In a heated real estate market where properties are being scooped up rapid-fire, Bohling said this listing is being handled slowly and with care.

“I feel confident we’re going to get the right person with the right background that’s going to show up. But it’s going to take longer than a normal listing in Sebastopol,” he said.

Olbrich and Hawkins bought the property in 1959 and set up a homestead, ripping out poison oak and blackberries and creating the beginnings of what would become one of the West’s great gardens. They opened Western Hills Rare Plant Nursery in 1973. For years it was a magnet for horticulturists and plant collectors. They left it to longtime employee Maggie Wych, who devoted herself to maintaining the garden’s original vision before selling the property 15 years ago.

Graywater tour

During a drought, make use of the untapped water sources right in your own home in the form of graywater.

The nonprofit Daily Acts, which teaches sustainable living practices, will lead a tour of two to three Petaluma homes with laundry-to-landscape graywater systems.

This tour will offer a chance to see systems both indoors and outdoors, talk to homeowners about their experience installing their graywater systems and see gardens designed specifically to use all the laundry water produced.

Tour-goers are asked to check out Daily Acts’ Graywater Action webpage for an overview of laundry-to-landscape systems ahead of the tour and to bring their questions.

The in-person tour is 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. June 19. The meeting address will be provided in a follow-up email after participants register. Participants are asked to follow COVID-19 safety protocols, including wearing masks and maintaining social distancing. To register, visit dailyacts.org/events-cal/petaluma-graywater-tour.

You can reach Staff Writer Meg McConahey at 707-521-5204 or meg.mcconahey@pressdemocrat.com. OnTwitter @megmcconahey.

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