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Where to “Stop and Smell the Roses” in Silicon Valley

Photo by David Laws

The best gardens open to the public from San Jose to San Mateo

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While they don’t always feature roses, this itinerary describes places to relax and enjoy the some of the finest publicly accessible gardens in Silicon Valley’s Santa Clara & San Mateo counties.

These directions  begin in San Jose in the south and follow the San Francisco Bay shoreline north to San Mateo. Be sure to plan your trip to allow for dense traffic conditions throughout the area.


San Jose Gardens

As one of the most racially diverse communities in the nation, San Jose enjoys an exotic collection of garden styles and plants representing many nations and cultures.

The Japanese Friendship Garden in Kelley Park is modeled after Korakuen Garden in San Jose’s sister city of Okayama. Cherry trees overlook koi ponds, waterfalls, and a tea house.

Overfeldt Gardens is home to the Chinese Cultural Gardens. A large tile-roofed Friendship Gate, statues, and pavilions are dedicated to Chinese patriots.

A Peace Garden at the Rosicrucian Egyptian Museum in the Rose Garden district of San Jose is an educational garden, with plants authentic to the 18th dynasty city of Akhetaton in ancient Egypt.

Golden Gate Park superintendent John McLaren designed the San Jose Municipal Rose Garden as a series of crescents and rectangles around a fountain in 1931. Also in San Jose, the Heritage Rose Garden,  bordered by a Courtyard Garden and Historic Orchard in the Guadalupe River Park and Gardens complex, displays more than 3,000 varieties of antique, modern and miniature roses in a radial pattern.

Hakone Gardens, Saratoga was created in 1918 in the style of a 17th-century Zen hillside retreat. Shaded hillside paths and ponds are lined with azaleas, camellias, and sculptured trees.


Mountain View

Few tech campuses feature anything more than utilitarian strips of drought tolerant plants around acres of parking lots. The Googleplex HQ is unique both in its landscaped courtyard plaza with brightly colored tables and patio umbrellas in Google’s signature primary colors that links to the adjacent modernist waterfalls of Mountain View’s public Charleston Park.


Palo Alto, Stanford & Menlo Park

Palo Alto’s Elizabeth F. Gamble Garden includes an historic home, tea house, and formal and demonstration gardens. Visitors stroll through a series of compact garden rooms, including a Cherry Allée, and Mediterranean, Rose, Wisteria, and Woodland settings.

An Arizona Cactus Garden designed in 1880s by master gardener Rudolph Ulrich and the surrounding Stanford University campus are remnants of landscaping from the Stanford family stock farm estate. Dean of western landscape designers Thomas Church contributed to several intimate courtyards and borders in the central campus.

Note that Church’s iconic design for the Sunset Magazine offices in Menlo Park is featured in older guide books but is no longer open to the public following the 2015 sale of the property.

Pedro de Lemos’s Spanish-Colonial architecture and courtyards at Menlo Park’s philanthropic Allied Arts Guild date from 1929.


Woodside Gardens

An easement held by the Garden Conservancy preserves gardens by Arts and Crafts architect Charles Greene at Green Gables, Woodside in perpetuity. They are open only for special events. Many other fine private gardens, including those at Oracle’s Larry Ellison Japanese compound, are scattered across this community that has been described as the Beverly Hills of high-tech.

Prominent designers Bruce Porter and Isabella Worn created one of the finest private gardens in the nation at Filoli, gold baron William Bourn’s 1915 country estate. The Georgian Revival Mansion and 16-acres of grounds, arranged as a succession of garden rooms each with a distinct character, are owned by the National Trust for Historic Preservation.


San Mateo Arboretum

Oak, cedar, and redwoods planted over 100 years ago as part of the William Kohl estate shade San Mateo’s Central Park Arboretum. A secluded Japanese Garden with tea house and koi pond opened in 1966.


Explore Another Silicon Valley and San Jose Itinerary

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