Monday, April 29, 2013

Northern California's Horticultural Jewel: Maple Rock Gardens

Strolling through the five acres of botanical wonders at Maple Leaf Gardens in Penryn last week, a ladybug flew into my mouth.

I’m not surprised. This estate is jaw droppingly beautiful. I literally walked around with my mouth agape, pleasantly shocked at the wide variety of plants as well as the amazing landscape features nestled in this north facing slope of garden delights in Placer County. 

Maple Leaf Gardens had it start about 30 years ago, a 30 acre parcel owned by Frank and Ruby Andrews, with an unobstructed view of the Sacramento Valley to the west and the Sutter Buttes to the north (on a clear day). 

Ruby converted three acres of the former fruit orchard/cattle pasture surrounding their house into her personal garden retreat, complete with granite paths, hidden gardens, Japanese maples and a Japanese garden, roses, an English vegetable garden, walled perennial gardens and bird houses.

Frank Andrews’ contribution: a 1,000-foot long G-Scale railroad, meandering through the landscaped gardens. And the most amazing part of their horticultural nurturing: Ruby watered it all, by hand.


In 2011, Scott Paris, owner of High Hand Nursery in Loomis, purchased the property to be his family's home. Seeing the potential of the site, Scott set out to put his signature landscape design skills to the acreage, creating what could be the finest private garden in Northern California.

If you have ever visited High Hand Nursery in Loomis and marveled at the wide variety of plants offered for sale, you know Scott has a real passion for plants. Maple Rock Gardens is turning Scott Paris’ passion into a living jewel of a Northern California dream garden, a place for other gardeners to visit and to be inspired.

One of his first tasks was “automating” the garden chores: installing drip irrigation and sprayers throughout the expanded garden area, along with thick beds of mulch surrounding all the plantings to control weeds, lessen evaporation and moderate soil temperatures. 


“You can’t let the garden get ahead of you,” says Scott. “You’ve got to stay ahead of the garden to keep it as a place of enjoyment, not a burden.”

He then proceeded to bring in plants from all over the world, including what could be the best collection of peonies in California, over 200. Unusual conifers, succulents and perennials also are interspersed throughout the now five acre (and growing) garden area.  

Work is ongoing to add a food garden, producing enough vegetables and fruits (from heirloom fruit trees) to supply the High Hand Café, a part of High Hand Nursery in Loomis. Sunset magazine also has a test garden here.

“We are already producing more food than the restaurant can use,” explained our tour guide during our visit, horticulturist Tally Scully.
The tour group that I was tagging along with was from a garden club in the area. More than one of them said to me, “This looks like the Butchart Gardens in Canada.” Indeed. They, too, were transfixed at what they saw: a beautiful balance of plants, with great attention to their color combinations and repetition of patterns, planted correctly according to their needs of shade or sun.

Maple Rock Gardens will be open on Saturday, June 1 for tours during "Bloomtastic, A Celebration of Gardening". The $10 admission  donation will benefit Placer County Agriculture programs, another passion of Scott Paris, a big supporter of locally grown produce and plants. For advanced tickets and more information, visit .

Words do not do this place justice. Nor do pictures. But here are a few, anyway. Because I couldn’t stop taking pictures while I was there. With my mouth open.

Tally Scully points out a very impressive Loropetalum chinense

Weeping cherry, Prunus subhirtella 'Pendula Plena Rosea'

Smoke tree, Cotinus 'Golden Spirit'

Peony, Paeonia itoh 'Bartzella'

"Bowl of Beauty" peony and "Lime Rickey" heuchera

Careful! Don't step on the railroad track.

the low-growing yew, Taxus media 'Everglow'

David Austen rose, 'Graham Thomas'

Bridal wreath Spirea, Spirea vanhoutteii and Lavandula stoechas

Heirloom apple tree

Part of the working G-Scale railroad track

Over 1,000 irises here. Behind is the Thuja 'Golden Globe'

Red Dragon Japanese maple

Globe blue spruce

Glechoma hederacea 'variegata' (variegated ground ivy)

One of the "hidden gardens"

Cedrus deodora

Portions of Maple Rock Gardens being converted to vegetable gardens

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