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Community gem in San Rafael's Falkirk

  • Dot Zanotti Ingels
  • Falkirk Cultural Center is a 19th-century country estate listed on the National Historic Register. The Queen Anne Victorian, designed by Clinton Day, was built in 1888 by Ella Nichols Park, and purchased by Capt. Robert Dollar in 1906.

    Falkirk is named after Dollar's birthplace in Scotland, and his descendants occupied the house until 1970. The estate was saved from demolition in 1974, and the cultural center is now owned and operated by the City of San Rafael.

    The grounds are lovely and fully open to the public, but meeting the center's maintenance needs requires a significant effort. In collaboration with Falkirk and San Rafael, Marin Master Gardeners have spent the past few years establishing five gardens that demonstrate various aspects of sustainable gardening practices and water conservation. The gardens are adjacent to the vintage, working greenhouse on the estate.

    These public gardens belong to everyone so think of them as your own. Get to know them at Second Saturdays, a new series of talks that include hands-on demonstrations and experiences that will cover various aspects of home gardening. The first begins at 9 a.m. Sept. 8, with Master Gardener Glenn Smith discussing "Growing and Dividing Cymbidiums." On Oct. 13, Green Jeans Garden Supply owner Kevin Sadlier will discuss "How to Grow Southern Hemisphere Plants in Marin" with Green Jeans Garden Supply owner Kevin Sadlier.

    We encourage everyone to come to learn and to work after the talks. You will meet the Master Gardeners working in the Falkirk Gardens and really get to know this gem of a non-edible community garden.

    The five gardens include:

    • A dramatic Succulent Garden that presents the interesting variation of forms, colors, and texture these plants exhibit.
    • The Beneficials Garden provides shelter and forage for native bees, butterflies and hummingbirds.
    • The Mediterranean Garden presents plants from five areas of the world — California, Chile, South Africa, Australia and the Mediterranean basin — that share our climate of wet winters and long dry summers.
    • The Lathe House Garden is in the process of renovation. It is being planted with many perennials that have been propagated from seed by Master Gardener Sandy Waks. It has the feeling of a cottage garden with a variety of plants coming into flower all the time.
    • The Under Oaks Garden is planted with examples of plants that need no summer water and other characteristics that make them suitable for living under our oak trees. Master Gardener Elizabeth Finley has chosen big bold grasses such as Festuca californica "California Fescue" and Doug Irises plus ground covers that flourish in dry shade.

    There is wonderful educational signage and the plants themselves are all labeled. It is easy to know what you're looking at and admiring. You can see how and where the plants can work in your home garden. It takes the guesswork out of looking at small nursery pots and trying to decide.

    Classes are followed by a "work party" where members of the community can work alongside Master Gardeners putting into practice those valuable skills utilized in sustainable gardening. It's fun and a great learning experience. You can help with propagation, pruning, composting, mulching and irrigation system repair. Now and then there are cuttings available to take home.

    Bring your pruners, your gardening gloves, family and friends and make it a regular practice.