For people prone to addictive behavior, the Clayton Historical Society's 20th anniversary Garden Tour could be downright dangerous.
Digging in the dirt of the quaint town nestled in the valley below Mount Diablo has taken over the lives of a good segment of the population, according to Linda Cruz.
After living in San Francisco, which she describes as "all cement," Cruz and her family found affordable homeownership in Clayton. Gardening provided a peaceful escape from the politics and turmoil of her days.
"I joined the garden club, then I became the president, then I started doing docent tours of the historical society's garden, then I started taking agricultural classes at DVC, and now I'm hooked," she gasps.
Proving she's not alone, this year's tour offers a peek at favorite gardens of the past and premium gardens promising to grow far into the future.
The tour's ambitious agenda reflects the city's gold mining and railroad origins while dispersing neighbor-to-neighbor warmth. With today's 24/7 work environment, there's limited opportunity to lean on the fence and chat with the folks next door. Clayton residents say the garden tour feeds the soul of the community while raising essential funds to support the historical society and museum.
For Karen McMillan, the tour is an opportunity to honor her father, Ted Mundy.
"For 10 years, he has been showing up at 6 a.m. with a maple bar," McMillan says. "We sit on a bench
The maple bar -- "a sweet doughnut thing," she explains, -- fuels the four hours they spend recreating a garden unlike any other in the East Bay.
A one-room miner's cabin they built, adorned with tools and fronted by a hitching post where a saddle waits for its rider, is a replica of the home McMillan's 78-year old father knew as a boy.
From his bare-as-bones childhood, a fertile, imaginative mind emerged, and McMillan says growing up with her father's topiaries that looked like bunny rabbits and palm tree sculptures made out of automotive parts was like living in Disneyland.
"I try to get inside his head because he has a unique view. And my mother, bless her heart, when he decided he was going to do this garden with me, she put up with Clorox bottles filled with rocks for years!" she exclaims.
Because her father was ill for the last four years and is recently improved -- "including gaining back that sparkle in his eye," McMillan says the garden is a healing balm and a reminder of life's fragility.
"He grew a pine tree for me for seven years and he's been training a Japanese maple bonsai for 12 (years). I'd love for people to see my father's talent," she concludes.
Just across the lane from McMillan, the Carlston's English country-style garden boasts planting soil hauled all the way from Berkeley, rocks from the Clayton Quarry, and some of the area's most mature trees, including a 300-year-old valley oak.
And on Pine Hollow Road, Jon and Lisa Van Brusselen feed a mixture of ammonia, Epsom salt and beer to their 110 palm trees.
"Everybody raved about that garden," Cruz recalls. "Jon is a wonder with palm trees."
Then, she tosses out one of those delightful tidbits you learn only on a garden tour, stating, "Owls love palm trees and owls eat gophers and roof rats."
Clayton's self-guided tour offers both folklore and solid instruction, with experienced homeowners eager to share information about native plants, drought-resistant gardening, or innovative solutions for difficult terrain, like the Kaplan's hillside garden.
The Clayton Valley Garden Club will hold a sale with more than 240 plant varieties, plus bird and butterfly houses, on both days of the tour. Fifty percent of the proceeds from Sunday's plant sales will be donated to the Clayton Historical Society Museum for educational garden demonstrations. A farmers market on Saturday morning will be open and offering produce and musical entertainment.
WHAT: 20th annual Clayton Gardens Tour
WHEN: 10 a.m.-4 p.m. May 19-20, rain or shine
WHERE: Gardens throughout Clayton Valley; self-guided tour starts at Clayton Historical Society Museum, 6101 Main St., Clayton
TICKETS: $20 at the museum open 2-4 p.m. Sunday and Wednesday; at www.claytonhistory.org; or at R&M Pool Patio & Gardens, 6780 Marsh Creek Road, Clayton
INFORMATION: Call the museum at 925-672-0240 or visit www.claytonhistory.org
AND PLANT SALE
WHAT: Clayton Valley Garden Club plant sale, with 240 plant varieties, plus bird and butterfly houses. Fifty percent of Sunday's sales donated to historical society for educational garden demonstrations
WHEN: 8 a.m.-1 p.m. Saturday, May 19; 10 a.m.-1 p.m. Sunday, May 20
WHERE: Endeavor Hall, 6008 Center St., Clayton (Saturday); Historical Society Museum, 6101 Main St. (Sunday)