Patricia Carpenter's garden sanctuary in the country

Patricia Carpenter has been a gardener for almost 50 years. She created her first garden as a student in the UC Davis Community Garden. Since then, she has accumulated a lifetime of experience, knowledge and, yes, wisdom. And yet, after having seen and done it all, she’s as excited about plants as somebody just starting out. Her enthusiasm is infectious, and she and I have become fast friends after running into each at various UC Davis Arboretum functions and events.

Recently I had the opportunity to visit Patricia’s garden out in the country west of town. It’s a peaceful spot, bordered in the front by fields and in the back by a slough and more agricultural land beyond. And the neighbors on either side are far enough away that she enjoys a level of privacy we city dwellers can only dream of.

Patricia’s own garden (the focus of this post) is 1 acre, divided into multiple areas with plants ranging from natives to exotics and vegetables. It’s a lush and exuberant testament to Patricia’s love of plants no matter where they’re from. “This is the time of year my garden is crazy wild, but I love it, and I love the fall,” she says.

She also manages two other gardens, both another acre in size: One is the verge in front of her property—a drainage ditch between the road and a bike path as well as another strip separating the bike path from the fields beyond. The other is a portion of a neighbor’s property which Patricia and volunteers working with her have transformed into a California native garden. I’ll show you photos of these additional spaces in a second post.

If you get the distinct impression that Patricia is no ordinary gardener, you would be right. In addition to sharing her knowledge with the local community as a docent at the UC Davis Arboretum, Patricia has put in 1,000+ hours as a UC Master Gardener, volunteered as a coordinator for school gardens, worked as a garden coach, and led countless workshops. She is also a Garden Ambassador with the California Native Plant Society (CNPS) and has written extensively about the native plant gardens under her stewardship, including this 5-part series in Pacific Horticulture.

Patricia Carpenter next to a Helianthus maximilianii from the central and southwestern US

The photos below were taken in mid- to late-afternoon on October 15. The light was wonderfully rich, bathing Patricia’s garden in a warm light.

As I mentioned earlier, Patricia’s lot is about 1 acre in size. The house is set back a bit from the road, separated by the front garden. There’s no shortage of flowers, but the main focus here is on foliage.

Below the pistache tree, which is beautiful in the fall, there’s a pomegranate, lots of cannas (in too much shade to bloom, but pretty nonetheless), succulents, and roses

This 4 ft. canna is a favorite of Patricia’s. It has wonderful green seed pods.

I love how the plants in the wild area form drifts of complementary colors and textures:

The big shrub in the back is Salvia ‘Waverly’, on the bottom right is some kale

Now we’re walking past the house into the back garden:

Salvia ‘Amistad’

The back garden is a treasure trove of plants from all corners of the earth, more often than not arranged in striking combinations:

Euphorbia rigida, ladybells (Adenophora liliifolia), and purple oxalis

The plants are given plenty of room to stretch out, even allowed to encroach on spaces normally reserved for humans (like furniture). Letting go of the need to control everything is a sign of a mature (and wise!) gardener.

Helianthus ‘Sunstone’, a cultivar of H. salicifolius, the willow leaf sunflower

Fruits on flowering quince

Salvia guaranitica

Greenhouse on the left

Pink Japanese anemone (Eriocapitella × hybrida ‘September Charm’)

With so much space at her disposal, Patricia has been able to create a garden that feels mellow and relaxed—unlike my tiny garden which is so densely planted that it seems frenetic.

Tall plumbago (Ceratostigma plumbaginoides) with pink nicotiana behind. Perennial Maximilian sunflower (Helianthus maximilianii) at the top; 'Pink Lavender' society garlic (Tulbaghia violacea) behind the bench.

Lady’s bedstraw (Galium verum). In the old days, it was used to stuff mattresses. Patricia says it smells nice when dried.

One of four bird’s nest compost piles, each with its own whimsical decorations. Patricia also has 13 GEOBIN composters. None of the green waste leaves the garden.

This was one my favorite vignettes

Thoughtfully combined plants forming a lush tapestry: Salvia ‘May Night’ , white candytuft (Iberis sempervirens), bearded iris (Iris × germanica), and succulents.

View toward the house. The tree is a honey locust (Gleditsia triacanthos).

It’s a large house, but it takes a back seat to the plants

This gives new meaning to the term “succulent bed.” The bed frame came with Patricia to Davis when she was a student. Now it’s slowly rusting away.

Mostly aeoniums and sedums

As befits a garden of this size, there are plenty of areas for sitting...

...and lounging...

Gazebo in the tropical garden. Next to the elephant ears (Alocasia sp.), the small tree at the top right is Manihot grahamii (its roots are the source for tapioca); the plant at the lower right is palm grass (Setaria palmifolia).

In the green pot to the right of the gazebo is hoja santa (Piper sanctum), an aromatic herb with a smell similar to root beer that is used in Mexican and Central American cooking

The pink flowers belong to Cashmere bouquet (Clerodendrum bungei)

Another view of the hoja santa (Piper sanctum)

...and stretching out:

Patricia says that by the end of the summer, the tropical garden is a jungle

More views of the house:

Small greenhouse attached to the main house

Front porch. The lawn (right) will be replaced with a special turf blend that needs less water. Patricia wants a bit of negative space between the house and the front garden—something for eyes to rest on and feet to walk on.

More Japanese anemones. I remember seeing them a lot in Portland, but they’re not commonly used here in the Sacramento Valley. The box at the front door, by the way, was a shipment of bulbs, Patricia told me afterwards.

Japanese anemone (Eriocapitella × hybrida ‘Honorine Jobert’). Patricia has been growing it for 30+ years.

Edible squashes and pumpkins, too, grown by Patricia or bought locally

This post is merely an introduction to Patricia’s garden and only scratches the surface. I’m sure I’ll be back before long for more photos!

A big “thank you” to Patricia for providing plant IDs.

© Gerhard Bock, 2022. All rights reserved. To receive all new posts by email, please subscribe here.


  1. What a lovely garden Patricia has developed. How does she have time to do all those other things and work in her own space? Could see spending many happy hours lounging in the hammock, on the porch or the gazebo. I look forward to seeing more of her garden.

    1. Patricia is a bundle of energy. Even if I had twice as much time for gardening as I do now, I'd only accomplish a fraction of what she gets done.

  2. Does Patricia care for her own garden without volunteer help. I know you said she has some volunteers but I wondered if they helped in her personal garden as well as other gardens she works on. I just can not imagine how she does it all! Nancy Mumpton

    1. She has volunteer help in her own garden as well. It must be fun working with her. I bet the volunteers regularly go home with cuttings, divisions, etc.

    2. My volunteer interns are great! I have always wanted to keep track of their time but in reality, they are busy people and have a garden of their own, go on fun trips and have families….. If we get to play in the garden together once a month, we are happy. Benefits for interns: education, hands on experience, bouquets of flowers whenever they want to cut them, plants, cuttings, seasonal walkabouts and a consultation in their garden when needed. My benefits: Help, of course, and sometimes shared plants and produce, but more importantly, FOCUS. I assume other gardeners get as distracted as I do. For example, if I am lucky enough to have 3 interns on one day for a couple hours plus me, that is 8 hours! So we tackle a big job I hate to do or never seems to get done, like the annual cleanup of the boysenberry row. Some of the interns love edibles or natives or dye plants; some love yanking things out and some love fiddley tasks—I mostly try to do what they enjoy most. Lucky me!

  3. Amazing that it looks this lush and green in October after such a hot summer -- not an easy thing to do with her "cottagey" style of planting (not a single agave!) I first saw Piper sanctum at the Austin fling -- and coming home noticed it growing on my own street in neighbors' gardens! Weird that I hadn't clocked it before...

    1. Gerhard forgot to mention that we got a 4 inch rain in mid-September. Usually in Octobler the fall garden is nice but it is starting to shut down a bit. But not this year -- it is crazy big and green and, I think, each plant doubled in size this past month. An all my compost piles are pretty full already.

  4. I'm very envious, both of Patricia's garden and your opportunity to stroll through it. I love the garden's easy-going style - and the greenhouse attached to the house (something I lobbied for when we moved into our current house but didn't get). Her succulent "bed" is nicer than any others of that kind I've seen.

  5. "Letting go of the need to control everything" in the garden is a quality I strive for with varying degree of success :-D
    That lovely hammock would be a constant refuge for me, as this is a massive garden to manage, even with some volunteer help.
    The succulent bed is fun. I haven't given up on creating a succulent "tapestry" like it one day. I like the whimsy of the bird’s nest compost pile... I've always wonted to compost but the thought of attracting rodents puts me off. All the green/brown matter is diligently collected for the city pick up.

  6. I love that the plants in Patricia’s garden are given right of way and are allowed to do their own thing. Wonderful that she has been able to share her gardening knowledge with the community in a myriad of ways.


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