Botanical paradise with a view: Mary and Lew Reid garden

This post continues the tour of the private gardens in Sonoma County, California I had the privilege of visiting as part of Pacific Horticulture Society’s Summit 2016. The first garden we saw was garden designer Roger Raiche’s place in Guerneville. Stop #2 was Mary and Lew Reid’s garden outside of Sebastopol. This is how it was described in the 2016 Summit program:

Mary and Lew Reid’s garden is 25 years old and ever changing. Lew, who never passes up a chance to grow a plant, and Mary, a landscape designer, have the pure pleasure of creating this beautiful garden painting high above Sonoma County’s lowlands, The zone 8 setting makes it possible to grow just about anything, and their garden is filled with plants from all over the world. What matters most to them is the juxtaposition of foliage colors and textures. Carefully considered, these carry the garden throughout the year. You’ll see it in its autumn glory.

It took quite a while to get there from the first garden. The roads were getting narrower, and the houses fewer in number and farther apart. Eventually we realized that this was not going to be your ordinary property. I didn’t know how large it was at the time, but a search of public records revealed that it’s 55 acres.


In the photo above you see the entrance to the fenced section of the property. The area where we parked, off to left, had room for a dozen or more cars, Oh, to have the luxury of so much space! (I allowed myself a brief moment of indulgence just now but stopped before I got carried away.)

Kathy and I ambled through the garden at a leisurely pace, taking pictures left and right. It rained twice, just a few minutes at a time, but conditions were perfect for photography otherwise.


I can only dream of large trees like these


Cabbage tree (Cussonia paniculata) from South Africa


Dawn redwood (Metasequoia glyptostroboides) from Hubei Province, China. This tree was planted by the previous owners and is an offspring of the material originally brought into the U.S. by the UC Botanical Garden at Berkeley.


This fellow attracted a lot of attention…


…stumping quite a few of us…


…until somebody more knowledgeable than me stepped forward with an ID: cunco rojo (Colletia ulicina) from Chile. Here’s a post about it.


Lovely variegated dogwood (Cornus sp., not sure which)


Massive Agave americana ‘Mediopicta alba’ in a large urn


Tapestries of color and texture on a grand scale: that’s where this garden excelled


Just look at this! To my eyes, this is perfection.


Everybody was talking about the phlomis in the foreground. You see the seed heads in many photos below. Apparently it’s Phlomis russeliana, or Turkish sage.


California fuchsia (Epilobium sp.) is at its best at this time of year


More Phlomis russeliana


Look at these textures and colors!



And the views!


More textural perfection


Even a tree-sized banksia!


Not sure which species


Grasses and Leucadendron salignum


Leucadendron salignum


One of the most beautiful manzanitas I’ve ever seen


Truly a living sculpture!


I’ve never been a big fan of barberry (Berberis sp.) but I’m ready to change my mind after seeing this


Red Berberis and Manfreda undulata ‘Chocolate Chip’


Echeveria ‘Imbricata’ and purple sage (Salvia officinalis 'Purpurascens')


Echeveria ‘Imbricata’ and some sort of groundcover grevillea?


More tapestry perfection


More views


Another peek…


…or two at the Agave americana ‘Mediopicta alba’. Also check out the blooming yucca behind it.


Another beautiful manzanita. I wish I knew which species. Manzanitas (Arctostaphylos) baffle me. There are over 145 Arctostaphylos taxa in total, of which maybe a dozen are endemic to Sonoma County.


What might this tree be? Another dogwood?


This is definitely a dogwood, Bentham’s cornel (Cornus capitata)


Bentham’s cornel (Cornus capitata)


Imagine a garden so big you could have tranquil spots to relax…


…or gaze out at your plant collection


The large dawn redwood (Metasequoia glyptostroboides) in front of the house seen from the other side


Apparently it’s a male

The main residence itself is perfectly nestled into the landscape. It doesn’t stand out like a sore thumb the way so many newer houses do. That made me love this property even more.


Lily pond


Pool and grapevine-covered pergola


Simple but beautiful patio


I assume this is the master bedroom. Check out the plants!


One final view of the patio

Before we knew it, an hour had gone by and it was time to move on. I was so happy to have visited the Reid’s place that I’m sure I had a Cheshire cat grin on my face when I climbed into the car. Their garden had everything I love: space, a view, and a choice collection of plants from similar climates all over the world—impeccably curated, grown and maintained.



  1. I'd love to see this garden in spring, and again in mid-summer.Well, anytime really. Sure wish we'd had time to see a couple more of the private gardens if those we did see were representative of the quality !

  2. I started reading this last night in bed but had to stop when I got to that image of the Cussonia paniculata, wow. I wasn't sure I was seeing it correctly with sleepy eyes. That is just magical.

    Then the Colletia ulicina, crazy cool! And that Agave americana ‘Mediopicta alba’ in the urn...omg! Then the lush borders with seed heads and grasses, and on and on...thank you for the extensive coverage, what a garden!

    1. I think I need to release my Cussonia paniculata from its terracotta prison. Who knows what it might turn into?

      You wouldn't believe how awestruck most folks in our group were--and many of them are seasoned designers!

  3. This was a magnificent tour post! Soft, overcast light brings out the incredible foliar colors this garden excels at. Interesting that when I saw it, it was with the conifer society, whose members zeroed in on the dawn redwood, etc, but not so much everything else!

    1. That dawn redwood is special, no doubt, but there is SO MUCH MORE! This is the kind of garden where every specialized plant society finds something to ooh and aah over.

  4. what glorious photos!!! I love that you try to i.d. everything too. Thanks so much for sharing!

    1. LOL, the need to identify everything is both a blessing and a curse. Sometimes I wake up at night anguishing over a plant ID!

  5. I hope that the Reids have made some provisions in their wills to preserve this garden and open it to the public when they are no longer around. I find it fascinating because there are so many plants new to me that fit California style gardens.

    1. I often think of what will happen to private gardens of real horticultural merit when their owners are no longer able to care for them (or die)?

  6. Oh my! I wouldn't even know where to start in commenting on this garden. It's perfection! That Cusonnia is incredible. I've considered but not purchased a Cussonia, thinking they might be too Dr Seuss-ish for me, but that one is simply beautiful.

    1. I think you need to embrace your inner cussonia! Annie's Annuals has at least 5 species, at least in their Richmond retail nursery. I think I have four now, all in pots. They've proven themselves in our hot Sacramento Valley climate and would make excellent trees in the ground.

  7. Hmmm,I'm going to have to revise the appropriateness of the placement of the A.americana Mediopictas I've planted. I had NO IDEA they got that big, gulp! Sue

    1. Sue, if you put them in a smaller pot, they'll stay smaller. Plus, I think there's some variation between individual plants.

  8. Wow. Wow. Wow. (Repeat). Great the way that 'Mediopicta' is in the pot so the whole plant is above ground level--surely most of the root system is into the surrounding ground. And everything else is equally awesome.

    1. Gail, good point about the 'Mediopicta alba' having grown into the ground. In pots they typically stay quite a bit smaller.


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