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The Secret Gardens of Old Monterey

Pacific House Memory Garden walled garden in the Monterey State Historic Park, Monterey California.
Pacific House Memory Garden walled garden in the Monterey State Historic Park, Monterey California.
David Laws

Visitors who enjoyed The Secret Garden, that classic of English children’s literature, will delight in exploring the walled gardens of Old Monterey. Monterey State Historic Park’s “Walking Path of History” links a collection of significant historic buildings throughout downtown. Several are set in intimate gardens hidden behind high stone walls. While they don’t promise the life-transforming experience of the novel, these “secret” gardens do offer free, peaceful oases to rest amid the bustling streets of the popular tourist destination.

Secluded garden at The Old Monterey Inn, Monterey, CA
David Laws

Most visitors begin their walk at the Custom House Plaza Visitor Center. The Pacific House Memory Garden behind the adjacent two-story adobe museum (20 Custom House Plaza) held the original Spanish bull and bear fighting pit. Iconic landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted created the colonial-style walled courtyard in 1926. Shaded by four venerable southern magnolia trees set around a raised pool and fountain, the garden is a popular venue for local celebrations.

Wisteria vines trail over high stone walls and the overhanging veranda of the mellow two-story Whaling Station adobe (391 Decatur Street). A patio and rose garden at the rear is shaded by gnarled pepper trees and one of the largest of Monterey's many ancient, twisted-trunk Australian Tea trees.

Giant Monterey Cypress trees seen in historic photos no longer shade California’s First Theatre (Pacific and Scott) but the space retains the style of a typical cottage shade garden. Stone-edged, terraced paths meander between borders of colorful bedding plants with one devoted to varieties of Hellebores.

Local building materials combined with New England details of the Larkin House (464 Calle Principal) provided a model for the popular early 20th century Monterey-Colonial style of architecture. Beginning in the 1920s, the granddaughter of Thomas Larkin, the first (and only) U.S. Consul to Mexican California, developed the modern walled garden. Mature trees, flowering shrubs, and a rose covered-arbor shade raised terrace beds packed with perennials.

The Cooper-Molera Adobe house and farm buildings (525 Polk Street) secured behind high adobe walls depict California life in the mid-1800s. The garden was created in the 1980s to include only plantings and techniques appropriate that earlier time; no pesticides or piped water. A small orchard holds fig and apple varieties and the vegetable plot cultivates essential domestic, culinary, and medicinal herbs.

In pursuit of his lover, author Robert Louis Stevenson lived here (530 Houston Street) for several months in 1879. A dry barren plot in his time, the current Stevenson House gardens were laid out in the 1940s in a romantic cottage style with winding paths and densely planted beds of cineraria, fox gloves, and poppies in the shade of a rare Dawn redwood.

Where to Stay?
Just a few minutes’ walk from the Larkin House, the Old Monterey Inn, a grand 1929 three-story, half-timbered Tudor manor-style B&B at 500 Martin Street, embraces the secret garden theme. An acre of lush English-style gardens shaded by mature live oak, cedar, and holly trees offers secluded sitting areas set amid whimsical fountains, trimmed box hedges, and formal planting beds. Alternative accommodations are offered by numerous independent and chain hostelries across the Monterey Peninsula.

California Gardens Mobile App
California Gardens is mobile travel app, free from iTunes, that describes over 200 gardens that are open to the public on a scheduled or occasional basis. It includes arboretums, botanical gardens, public parks, college campuses, hotels, nurseries, wineries, and private estates that showcase the extraordinary variety of plants that thrive across the diverse climate regions of the Golden State. Download California Gardens from the Apple iTunes App Store (free) or Google play for Android.