The secrets of some favorite gardens revealed in annual tour


An eye-catching eighth garden has been added to the seventh annual Secret Garden Tour of Old La Jolla on Saturday, May 21, from 10 a.m. to 4 p

This year’s version of the tour, one of La Jolla’s signature social events, is bigger than ever and more spread out, encompassing eight sites in Lower Hermosa in Bird Rock and the Muirlands.

The self-guided garden tour, sponsored by La Jolla Historical Society as its primary fund-raiser, is sold out. There are a few tickets remaining for the Platinum Tour, which furnishes transportation to each of the gardens and includes dinner afterwards with gifts at La Jolla Country Club.

The garden tour spotlights homes and gardens reflecting the charm and beauty of Old La Jolla. The event is also an art festival, with musicians performing, artists capturing individual gardens in a variety of media, interior designers showcasing indoor and outdoor place settings and landscape designers putting their finest flourishes on the coastal community’s most dramatic plantings.

Diane Dawson, secret garden tour chair for the third straight year, said a dramatic Muirlands garden has been added to the mix of featured properties.

“We have added an eighth home, a five-acre estate from the prominent Scripps family with a grotto garden and a wedding cake walk,” said Dawson. “Who has ever heard of a garden with those things in them? That’s really unique.”

Dawson said tour guests will be delighted by the lush overgrown estate garden that also features a home designed by a famed early La Jolla architect, Tom Shepherd.

The roots of The Secret Garden Tour of Old La Jolla go back to 1999 and two members of the La Jolla Historical Society, Linda Marrone and Susan Vandendriesse. The tour is a West Coast take on an East Coast event held in Cape Cod, Mass. that benefits an art museum. It was Vandendriesse’s idea to transplant the tour here, where it has thrived and taken on new dimensions.

La Jollans exhibiting their gardens this year on the tour had lots to say about what’s gone into their efforts, and why they do it. Gardeners, like Mary Nan Marcum in Bird Rock, extolled the therapeutic value of the recreational activity.

“My garden is more than just landscaping,” said Marcum. “I go for color and softness and beauty of flowers.”

A rose lover, Marcum said that when she moved from Rancho Santa Fe to La Jolla she told her real estate agent not to show her any properties that didn’t have a garden.

“We found this garden, which was drought-tolerant,” she said, “and I completely redid it because I need the serenity of color and grass. It’s therapy for me.”

Marcum has a sign in her garden which reads: “A garden, a place where the heart can bloom.”

“It’s the best therapy, cheaper than most other types,” Marcum said, adding she feels blessed to reside in southern California where you can garden pretty much year round.

“I love my very private garden,” Marcum said. “We call it my secret garden.”

Dawn DuCharme admitted fixing up her garden to get it ready for the May 21 tour has been a real project.

“We’re actually putting our house up for sale,” she said, “so we’re killing two birds with one stone.”

In the past, DuCharme has had interesting accent pieces in her garden, miniature fairies that she had set up in trees to appear as if they’d taken up residence. Garden tour organizers caught wind of that and put that information into their tour brochure.

“I had to redo the fairyland,” DuCharme said.

There is a friendly competition between gardeners who’ve exhibited on the Secret Garden Tour. Area gardeners learn from another on the tour, getting ideas from others and using them to enhance their horticultural works of art.

DuCharme is taking design elements she’s liked from the woman who owned her garden before her and from things she’s seen on past garden tours, and she is adapting the best of those elements to enliven her horticulture.

“When we bought this house, the lady who’d lived here had the most amazing plants,” DuCharme said. “It was a big mishmash, but she had the most different plants I’d ever seen before. I wanted something different, different plants that people would be really interested in seeing.”

It’s a huge responsibility to come up with design elements which will please the more than 700 people who will be picking through garden plots and critiquing what is, or isn’t, in them.

“Those people are really going to be checking out every little nook and cranny,” DuCharme said. “It’s a little intimidating.”

La Jolla Presbyterian Church at 7715 Draper Ave. will be the staging area for garden tour guides handing out maps revealing the locations of the secret gardens. Park by the church on Draper or Eads avenues, or in the church’s underground parking lot off Kline Street. Tickets will be distributed from tables in the patio area.

Call (858) 726-0227.