OAKLAND -- The Victorian garden at the Camron-Stanford House on the edge of Lake Merritt is ready for viewing, one of the most important events to happen to the house in decades and too momentous for a single day of celebration.

The museum has set aside this entire weekend for a Garden Gala fundraising luncheon and free docent-led tours and is inviting the public to share in the festivities.

For the past 40 years, the Camron-Stanford House Preservation Association has had a plan to create what could have been a Victorian garden in 1880s Oakland but lacked funding to implement it. Receiving a grant last year put the project into active mode.

Camron-Stanford House Preservation Association members Bill Hinkamp, left, Frankie Rhodes, second from left,  Jean Wieler, Ann Swift, and Bobbi Feyerabend,
Camron-Stanford House Preservation Association members Bill Hinkamp, left, Frankie Rhodes, second from left, Jean Wieler, Ann Swift, and Bobbi Feyerabend, right, are photographed in the new Victorian garden at Camron-Stanford House on Monday, April 28, 2013 in Oakland, Calif. The museum will preview the Victorian-era garden with events on May 4 and 5. (Aric Crabb/Bay Area News Group)

"What we've created is a horticultural history lesson," said Ann Swift, board president and retired Piedmont City Clerk. "It is our hope that it will be used by garden clubs, horticulture students and people studying early California gardens and wanting to see one up close and personal."

Though not original to the house, the garden has been designed using photographs and documentation of other gardens in Oakland at the time, including those within properties that ringed Lake Merritt. Special care went into selecting plants for the garden.

"We were assisted by botanical historian and landscape architect Thomas A. Brown," Swift said. "He checked plant catalogs from Oakland from the 1880s to be sure that the species we selected were available at that time in Oakland."


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Created as an educational tool, the garden demonstrates as much of Victorian culture as it does horticulture and, like the interiors of Camron-Stanford House, is designed in the Victorian Decorative style.

Board member and landscape architect Bobbi Feyerabend of Montclair has been involved with the project for 20 years and describes connections between the garden design and Victorian society.

"There are nice places to walk because Victorians believed in fresh air and they liked a lot of different plants that had special meanings to them which was called the 'Language of Flowers.' They would make bouquets of special plants, like rosemary for remembrance and roses for beauty, that would send a message," she said. "All of these things were taken into account when the garden was designed."

The back garden represents the first phase of the museum's full landscape plan and represents one of the last major pieces of the preservation originators' vision as well as enlarging the museum's ability to serve and interest the public.

"The garden provides a beautiful place for people to rent for weddings and where other events can take place," said Jean Wieler, board member and Piedmont resident. "We plan to develop education programs around horticulture, Victorian gardens and appeal to school groups and garden clubs. We will be doing many docent-led programs and tours and will be seeking volunteers interested in being involved."

Maintaining the garden, completing the landscape plan for the front garden and developing programs requires funding, and day one of the celebratory opening addresses that need. The Garden Gala promises three talks by garden experts, including keynote speaker Dr. Judith Taylor, author of "Tangible Memories: Californians and Their Gardens"; Jill Perry, curator of the San Jose Heritage Rose Garden; a tour of the garden led by Bobbi Feyerabend; and a gourmet luncheon served on the veranda.

"Day two is our gift to the community, an absolutely free day to come, take guided tours of the garden, enjoy tea and snacks on the veranda, visit the gift shop and go into the house to the period rooms to see what the interior of a Victorian house would look like," Swift said. "At 12:15 p.m., Mayor (Jean) Quan will perform a ribbon cutting."

The garden, facing Lake Merritt, is an asset to all of Oakland and one that can be viewed through a period wrought-iron fence year-round. It's a piece of Oakland's history, long envisioned and now ready to be shared.

FYI
Camron-Stanford House Museum is located at 1418 Lakeside Drive, Oakland, 510-874-7802, www.cshouse.org.
The gala luncheon is from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday. Tickets are $75 each for museum members and $100 for nonmembers and guests. For more information, go to www.cshouse.org/news/victorian-garden-grand-opening-weekend.
Free public tours will be held from 11:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday. Timed tickets are free but should be reserved at 510-874-7802, www.cshouse.org. Free parking with tour ticket, available at Alco Park, 1220 Jackson St.