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Secret Garden Tour blooms to sold-out audience for 8th year

The eighth annual Secret Garden Tour of Old La Jolla features picturesque gardens, storybook homes, rare plants and even a smattering of turtles and tortoises.

The increasingly popular garden tour, La Jolla Historical Society’s biggest fund-raiser, will be Saturday, May 20, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. at closely guarded home sites not to be revealed until the day of the event.

As usual, the tour features not only some of the finest homegrown horticulture, but live entertainment as well, including performing musicians, working artists, table settings done by interior designers and arts and crafts exhibitors.

“We make probably around $40,000,” said Pat Dahlberg, La Jolla Historical Society’s executive director. “It’s our hope to see it grow each year toward our goal of netting $100,000.”

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For the third consecutive year, Diane Dawson has co-chaired the event along with Betty Vale. This year’s offering will be better than ever, Dawson promised, including the addition of an extra-special garden for VIP Platinum Tour ticket buyers.

“We have an eighth garden,” she confided, “about two acres. And the thing that’s unique is not only is this a lovely garden, but there are 40 pieces of contemporary sculpture on the property.”

Dawson said La Jolla Athenaeum-trained docents will be at the landmark Platinum Tour garden to answer questions and discuss the garden’s intricacies.

Sue Copp is showing her meticulously maintained Muirlands Tudor-style home and garden on this year’s tour. Like many properties featured every year on the tour, their home has an interesting story behind it.

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“My husband was born and raised here,” she said, “and his parents bought it from the original owners. We raised our children here. It was planted by Kate Sessions, and the original plantings and old trees are still here.”

A highlight of the Copp garden is an exotic monkey puzzle, a tall, ornamental Chilean evergreen tree with pointed leaves, edible nuts and hard wood.

“The monkey puzzle is an arboreal oddity,” said historical society’s Dahlberg, “with tangled, rope-like branches. It was named because South American monkeys have a hard time figuring out how to climb among the sharp-pointed leaves.”

Copp said preparing her garden for the tour has been a lot of hard work, but it was a labor of love.

“I’ve spent almost every day for a year trying to upgrade it,” she said, “not just the plants but the hardscape in the garden, the walkways, trying to restore them to their original form.”

Since her garden is historic, Copp feels a special obligation to preserve it.

“I feel I’ve been a custodian,” she said, “being responsible for taking care of it.”

Recently arrived from Arizona, Virginia Barbey and Jan Gobel have a myriad of gardens at their ivy-covered, English-cottage style Beach-Barber Tract home, which will be on display May 20.

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“We have five separate gardens here,” said Barbey. “We have a fern garden, a lower garden with an outdoor fireplace that is very interesting and a garden on the other side of the house. We have tortoises and box turtles and lizards. There are little themes, more or less, for each garden.”

Gobel said their pride and joy is a little cactus garden where they’ve planted saguaro cacti they hope will grow.

“With our gardens, we’re mostly putting annuals in,” he said, “seeing how things go, what belongs where.”

The corner lot is in a prime spot for


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