By Don Burns, Correspondent—San Francisco Chronicle Home and Garden

The San Mateo Arboretum Society’s annual garden tour features lectures and plant sales. Five unique local gardens, including one garden considered by many to be one of the most beautiful in San Mateo County, will be featured May 10 on the 22nd annual San Mateo Arboretum Society Hillsborough Garden Tour.

The self-guided tour, which takes place from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., is always a feast for gardening enthusiasts. This year’s tour will inspire anyone interested in the latest swimming pool designs, water gardens and koi ponds, arbors and vines, English-style perennial borders, formal rose gardens, fountains and patio furniture.

Well-known local horticulturists will be stationed at each garden to answer questions about the gardens. Informal lectures on flower arranging, bonsai and orchid culture are scheduled, as well as a plant sale. Proceeds from the tour benefit the San Mateo Arboretum in Central Park (adjacent to El Camino Real in San Mateo between Fifth and Ninth avenues). The San Mateo Arboretum Society (SMAS) uses the funds from the tour to identify and label the arboretum’s century-old trees, maintain the historic Kohl Pump House and care for the hundreds of roses in the Marion S. Panaretos Rose Garden. The arboretum and rose garden are open from dawn to dusk. Admission is free. This year’s tour features three Hillsborough gardens, one garden in Burlingame and one in San Mateo. The gardens range in size from approximately 1⁄2 acre to more than 21⁄2 acres.


El Cerrito Avenue. As a special treat for this year’s tour, the SMAS is including a lovely 2-1⁄2 acre garden – its second appearance on the garden tour. After first being featured on the 1995 tour, many visitors agreed this lovely Thomas Church garden is definitely one of the most beautiful gardens in San Mateo County. Since its last appearance on the tour, the pink jasmine vines on David Kato’s dramatic metal arbors have matured beautifully, covering the arbors with fragrant white flowers and evergreen foliage. The scores of different perennials and ground covers have similarly matured and fully complement Kato’s rockwork around the pool and waterfall.

The Church-designed rose garden features climbing roses on arches and bush roses set in a sea of colorful rose companion plants. English and Spanish lavenders add purple and blue flowers and gray foliage to the garden. Deep blue columbine, assorted pink dianthus and patches of white alyssum have been added for color and contrast.

Numerous garden ornaments add to the intimacy and charm of this expansive landscape. A custom-made barrel birdhouse and a Thai spirit house add an exotic flavor to the gardens adjacent to the rose garden. Other garden art includes wooden squirrel hose guides, bronze statuary, a cherub birdbath, Chinese egg jars and a weathered concrete wishing well.

Many interesting plants peek out from between stepping-stones. Fleabane is especially effective. Its abundant daisy-like flowers can be seen throughout the garden naturalizing between stepping stones with common thrift (Armeria maritima), snow-in-summer and white alyssum.

Among the garden’s many other delights are the animal-shaped ivy topiary collection on the back patio, the vegetable garden near the pool, the woodland garden plus the greenhouse and lath house. Garden tourists will want to figure at least an hour to walk, talk and gawk at this truly unique garden.

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