Take a step inside Ruth Bancrofts secret garden.
Photography: Timber Press Team1 of 13
Photography: Marion Brenner2 of 13
The Secret Garden
A distinctly private person, Ruth Bancroft created her garden for herself, but she was always happy to share it with others who were intrigued with her selection of plants. A major task of the Garden Conservancy was to spread the word about this seemingly secret garden to those who might benefit from its many messages: the value of texture and form over flowers, the dramatic compositions possible with big-and-bold forms, the diversity inherent in the world of succulents, and the important role these beautiful plants can play in water conservation for an arid (and drying) climate. And now, Johanna Silver, the Ruth Bancroft Garden, Marion Brenner, and Timber Press have produced this magnificent book to enchant and educate even more garden enthusiasts with the story of this inspired plantswoman and the brilliant garden she created.
Photography: Marion Brenner3 of 13
How the Seed Was Planted
It was an accident that Ruth became a pioneer of dry gardening in the American West. Her lifelong love of plants, all of them, from wildflowers to roses eventually led to an especially deep dive into cactus, succulents, and other dry-adapted plants from arid climates around the world. More than any other genre of plant she collected, the dry palette bit her the hardest. Her love affair started with a small rosette-shaped, fleshy-leaved aeonium. The architectural, ornately symmetrical forms of the genus stole her heart. And while she did not design her garden out of any desire to prove a point about water-wise gardening, their adaptations to dry conditions make these plants even more enchanting.
Photography: Courtesy of the Ruth Bancroft Garden4 of 13
In the Beginning
Ruth and Phil at work filling the pond. The pond planted (above) and the view as Lester intended (below), straight through the garden from the pond oasis (just out of sight in the foreground).
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An Area for the Little Guys
Ruth saved bed 6, with its permanent shade structure, for small, tender succulents that prefer filtered light to full sun.
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Photography: Marion Brenner6 of 13
The Guy That Started it All
Ruth’s original cactus, Cereus hildmannianus.
Photography: Marion Brenner7 of 13
Blue Agave flexispina and chalky white Dudleya brittonii throw inflorescences upward. Mangave ‘Macho Mocha’ and Opuntia santa-rita, while different shapes, have matching green and purple speckled colors, making for a magnificently unified scene.
Photography: Marion Brenner8 of 13
Pops of Color
Dark purple Aeonium ‘Zwartkop’, far right, adds height to the planting, while the bright green rosettes of a hybrid aeonium form a mound on the right.
Photography: Marion Brenner9 of 13
Highs and Lows
Ruth’s garden is full of stunning architecture. Here, columnar Oreocereus celsianus and Cleistocactus shoot upward from mounding Deuterocohnia, a terrestrial bromeliad. Yucca treculeana adds a dramatic backdrop.
Photography: Marion Brenner10 of 13
While odd-looking, Peruvian Cereus ‘Monstrosus’ is remarkably easy to grow and highly resistant to rotperhaps the reason it survived so long and grew so tall in Ruth’s garden.
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Photography: Marion Brenner11 of 13
Terrestrial bromeliads offer bright summer blooms. A clump of Dyckia in the foreground sends up orange inflorescences, while those in back are more yellow.
Photography: Marion Brenner12 of 13
The Beauty of Texture
Deuterocohnia mounding like it is at the bottom of the sea.
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Ruth was 63 when she planted the garden, and 83 when it opened to the public. She continued working daily well into her nineties. At a doctor’s appointment at age 95 she complained of not having as much energy as she used to. When the doctor asked for an example, Ruth replied that after working with a digging fork for three hours in the garden, she had to come in for rest. At 100, Ruth decided she needed to use her walker, and her daily work in the garden came to an end. Her loyal staff adore her, and with the house still a stone’s throw from the garden, separated by a fence, they pay weekly visits and keep Ruth in the loop about what is happening outside. Even with declining mobility, Ruth has not stopped learning. She fills her days with reading, opera, classical music, and arranging any seashells into thoughtful miniature compositions, which she likens to small landscape designs.