Green thumbs up


The secret’s out: The Ninth annual Secret Garden Tour of Old La Jolla to be held Saturday, May 19 from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. is one of the premiere social events of the year, besides being La Jolla Historical Society’s biggest fund-raiser.

As always, this year’s tour will reveal gardens and homes that reflect the charm and often tucked-away hidden scenery of enduring old La Jolla - all decked out in their spring splendor. Included in the exhibition is live entertainment, delightful music performed by local musicians, displays by local interior designers and merchants and La Jolla artists working on paintings capturing each home and garden’s unique beauty.

Longtime La Jollan Georgeanna Lipe will serve as honorary chair of this year’s garden tour. An internationally recognized artist, lipe has recorded the beauty of countless La Jolla gardens in her remarkable watercolor paintings over the years. She has also been a staunch supporter of La Jolla Historical Society since it’s founding, and has often participated as an artist painting in Secret Garden Tour gardens.

The roots of The Secret Garden Tour of Old La Jolla go back to 1999 and two members of the La Jolla Historical Society, Realtor Linda Marrone and Susan Vandendriesse. The tour is a facsimile of a similar event held elsewhere in the United States benefiting an art museum. Transplanted here, it’s grown and blossomed becoming a signature community event.

“Susan was the one who observed a similar secret garden tour on the East Coast,” said Betty Vale, garden tour event chair who also tends the gardens at The Bishop’s School. “She mentioned it to her friend, Linda, who was very involved with historic homes in La Jolla, and they proposed it be a fund-raiser for La Jolla Historical Society.”

Vale said participants know what to expect from the garden tour.

“We’re following the same format as ever that we’ve been very successuful with,” she said, adding the event is the fruit of the labor of a 38-member historical society committee borne through months of planning since last summer.

Gardens selcted for the tour are not on an exclusive list. Said Vale: “It really boils down to members of the garden selection committee driving around and when they see a home that looks interesting with a nice garden ...”

Alyce Quackenbush, an interior designer who’s done table settings at four or five previous secret garden tours, was one of the gardeners recruited this year on the historical society’s tour. And, perhaps not coincidentally, her home is historic. “The house was built around 1923 and originally belonged to Gregory Peck’s family,” said Quackenbush.

“It was very important to us to keep the look of a cottage: So many of them are disappearing around La Jolla.”

Quackenbush said hers is a cottage garden. “It does have a pond in the back with goldfish, big ones,” she said.

Quackenbush and her husband both love to decorate. He went all out preparing for this year’s garden show. Said Alyce: “He made a wonderful iron patio table for the backyard. It’s under a pergola.”

The location of the Secret Garden Tour rotates annually to a different part of La Jolla. In past years, the tour has been held in the historic Beach-Barber Tract, in the Muirlands, in La Jolla Shores and in the Upper and Lower Hermosa areas in Bird Rock.

Another gardener on this year’s tour, Alicia Booth, was flattered that the historical society considered her work worthy of public exhibition. “I was approached by one of my neighbors who’s on the (historical society) committee,” said Booth. ‘I said, ‘Do you think my garden is ready for this?’ They said, ‘Yes.’ I didn’t know how much work it was going to be. It’s a learning process. I enjoy it.”

Asked why she’s fond of gardening, Booth had a ready answer. “When I plant something, I like the response, like to see it start budding, putting out new leaves. The garden has to do what you do to it.”

Gardening, however, can be a frustrating experience. Said Booth: “It’s trial and error. Sometimes you wish you’d asked more questions before you bought it (plant) like, Is it good in this kind of water and sun conditions?”

Booth said her garden is an admixture of old mature plants and new growth. “I have some azaleas that are probably 30 years old,” she said. “I recently discovered the beauty of succulent plants. It’s an informal garden, a mish-mash of everything. We added a little, simple fountain in the back.”

Adding to the excitement of the day and to preserve the privacy of garden homeowners, the locations of the gardens will be kept secret and will be revealed the day of the tour to those with reservations at Wisteria Cottage, the future home of La Jolla Historical Society.

For John H. Bolthouse, III, the La Jolla Historical Society’s new full-time executive director, this will be his first secret garden tour. It comes at an opportune time, as Bolthouse is in the process of initiating an extensive capital campaign to raise the funds necessary to remodel Wisteria Cottage, formerly John Cole’s Bookstore, to make it a suitable repository to house not only the society’s extensive historical archives, but also to create new public exhibit space, including a public meeting room.

“Right now we’re in the quiet phase of our capital campaign,” said Bolthouse. “We intend to raise $2 million for restoration of Wisteria Cottage to include public exhibit galleries and education programs, as well as a new, modern archives facility. Hopefully, we’ll launch or capital campaign with the public later this fall.”

La Jolla Historical Society recently launched a self-guided, 1 1/2-hour walking tour of Old La Jolla costing $5, which gives participants a map detailing historical structures in and around the downtown Village.

The Society is also involved in efforts to bolster its membership, which topped 1,160 recently. “We’ve gotten 70 new members in the last six months,” said Bolthouse, “and we’ve also done pretty well at retaining members.”

Bolthouse added the historical society is always looking for volunteers.

Bolthouse was upbeat about the La Jolla Historical Society’s future. “I’m excited about the future,” he said, “not just about Wisteria Cottage, but because we’ve got some great programmatic initiatives rolling out as well as a new lecture series and more walking tours and oral histories.”

A new slate of officers was also elected by the historical society at its April 30 annual meeting. Roger Craig is the group’s new president. Judith Haxo, immediate past president, is remaining on the board as a vice president. Sharilyn Gallison remains on the board as treasurer. Ruth Covell is the board’s new secretary.

La Jolla’s connection to its rich heritage, the La Jolla Historical Society’s offices and archives are located at 7846 Eads Ave. in La Jolla. They are open to the public Monday through Friday, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.

For more information call (858) 459-5335 or visit