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click to enlarge The Fern Cottage gazebo and garden. Photo by Amy Stewart.
  • The Fern Cottage gazebo and garden. Photo by Amy Stewart.

The annual HBGF Tour makes a stop in Ferndale

The Humboldt Botanical Garden Foundation’s annual garden tour is set for Sunday, June 24 from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Ten gardens in Ferndale, Fortuna and Eureka will be open for the day, and you’ll also be able to visit the botanical garden site itself at College of the Redwoods. Construction of the garden is under way, there is a bright, shiny new greenhouse on the site, and there will be lots going on there throughout the day. I’ll be at the garden signing books from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. and donating the proceeds to HBGF, and there will also be a raffle for prizes that include a night at the Benbow Inn, art and plants and flower pots.

One of the gardens on the tour this year is Fern Cottage in Ferndale. If you’ve never been to this historic home, it is well worth the trip. (It’s at 2121 Centerville Road, just a few miles out of town.) This house, which was built in 1866, was the home of Joseph and Zipporah Russ and their descendants. It is filled with the family’s original furnishings, and this summer the home will be open for tours every Wednesday through Sunday. Although a tour of the home is not included as part of the garden tour, you can call ahead and make a reservation to see the home during any of their open hours. Tickets are $7, children 7 and under are free, and you can book a tour by calling 786-4835 or sending an email to info@ferncottage.org.

But I drove out to Ferndale to see the garden, and that’s what you should do, too, as you’re planning your garden tour route. Jacquie Ruszala, who works as a caretaker for the home along with her husband Daniel Jackson, took time out from her garden tour preparations to show me around.

The home is surrounded by narrow perennial beds filled with cottage garden favorites like foxglove, alstroemeria, columbine and geraniums. Elegant old elm trees that predate the house shade the lawn. But the real attraction for me was the back of the house, where a kitchen garden, orchard and chicken coop provide produce and eggs for the house, with extras going to the Ferndale farmers market on Saturday.

When Jacquie took over the kitchen garden about five years ago, there weren’t many flowers planted among the garlic, greens and other crops. But she wanted to add some color and grow more flowers to cut for the house, and she also knew that a vegetable garden surrounded by flowers would attract beneficial insects. Now there’s a wide border of annuals, perennials and bulbs, and it really does bring life to the garden. When I was there, the peonies and irises were in bloom, but even if these flowers fade before the tour, there will be campanulas and other cut flowers coming along right behind them.

The chickens are a particular delight. They are housed in a roomy coop at the back of the garden, and they are free to hop out of the coop and wander through a small, fenced-in orchard. This is chicken living at its finest. They munch on the grass, scratch around in the dirt, wander off to lay an egg when the mood hits them, and grumble over the amorous attentions of the rooster. If you’ve ever considered getting a flock of hens, or if you just like to lean on the fence and fantasize about the small farm lifestyle, this is the stop for you.

Although the produce is not certified organic, Jacquie doesn’t use any chemicals in the garden, and she builds up the soil all year long with cow manure supplied by a neighbor. The bugs do a good job of keeping the pests down; when I was there, she was excited to show me an aphid infestation that had enticed the local ladybug population to set up camp and enter into an ecstatic communal mating ritual.

This is the sort of thing I look forward to on the garden tour. I’m less interested in the decks and terraces and water features that the owners spent months installing — not that I don’t admire the effort — but what I like is to get out and see a garden at work. I like to check out the compost pile and look at the bugs and admire the transitions that gardens make over the year. It doesn’t matter to me if the peonies have already stopped blooming and the dahlias are not yet up. I like lively gardens that are in constant motion. That’s what you’ll see at Fern Cottage and all over the tour this year. I hope to see you there.

Tickets for the garden tour are $15 for members and $20 for nonmembers. You can buy them at garden centers and garden gift shops around town, or visit www.hbgf.org to download an order form. For more information, call the HBGF office at 442-5139.

Speaking of garden tours , the North Coast chapter of the California Native Plant Society is trying a new garden tour concept this summer. Instead of holding the entire tour in one day, they are hosting an Open Garden Series. A different garden will be open every few weeks; to get the complete schedule, call Pete Haggard at 839-0307 or phaggard@suddenlink.net.

The first garden will be open this Saturday, June 16, from 10 a.m.-3 p.m. in Eureka. The homeowner ripped out blackberry bramble and planted native berries, skunk cabbage, cattails, Douglas iris and more. Call Pete for directions, and don’t forget to ask about the rest of the Open Garden days on July 15, July 22 and August 18. There are no tickets to buy in advance, but they’d appreciate a $5 donation at the garden.


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Amy Stewart

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