Mountain Views News     Logo: MVNews     Saturday, November 24, 2012

MVNews this week:  Page 11



 Mountain Views News Saturday, November 24, 2012 

One Of A Kind: Featuring unique homes and gardens and the people who create them 

Story by Chris Bertrand Photography courtesy of the Ruth Bancroft Garden


A true “dirt gardener” 
is one who plants and 
weeds their own garden. 
I met Ruth Bancroft, 
now 104, back over 
a decade ago, in, of 
course, her garden. In 
her nineties, she was still 
one of those true dirt 
gardeners, a name I also assign to myself. 

 Somewhat to my husband’s and neighbors’ 
puzzlements, I live to garden, divide, propagate, 
prune, weed and fuss in the garden, occasionally 
way after dark by the light of the outdoor 
spotlights, if that’s all that time allows. Ruth and I 
are a rarified breed, I guess. But I digress.

 Ruth and I were introduced while she was busy 
on some horticultural project, in the now historic 
garden bearing her name, in the middle of Walnut 
Creek subdivisions in the suburbia of East Bay 
San Francisco. Known to start gardening around 
eight nearly daily, she was dressed, as usual, in 
a tailored shirt, white, I think, working beside a 
large wheeled yard cart. 

 “Mother wasn’t one for t-shirts,” chuckled 
her daughter, Nina Dickerson. I was almost 
completely unschooled and unexposed on the 
topic of succulents. It was this visit, and this 
garden that sparked my own interest in the 
amazing diversity of succulents, as well as the 
drive to incorporate more and more succulents 
into my Sierra Madre landscape when we moved 
to LA shortly thereafter.

 Imagine my surprise when a clipping about an 
“interesting garden” arrived in the mail last year 
from my mother in Chicago. The masthead said 
Wall Street Journal, which immediately caught 
my attention, as the paper isn’t known for its hefty 
horticultural coverage. As my eyes scrolled down 
the article, I realized I was reading about Ruth and 
her garden.

 The Bancrofts are a pedigreed academic family, 
with ties to UC Berkeley, where Ruth’s father 
in law was a classics professor. Today, the 
university’s Bancroft library, named after Hubert 
Bancroft, holds many of the volumes from the 
elder Bancroft’s collection, donated in 1905. Most 
of Hubert’s 39 volume, California History series 
still lines the shelves of the 4,000 square foot main 
home at the six acre family compound in Walnut 

 Ruth’s garden journey is eloquently summed 
up on the garden’s website. “In 1972, at age 
64, Ruth Bancroft planted the first plants in 
her soon to be dry garden oasis. This year it 
will be 40 years ago that Ruth embarked upon 
her masterpiece of garden design. Throughout 
its history, The Ruth Bancroft Garden has 
continued to inspire and educate its visitors. 
Ruth’s vision is as alive and relevant as ever.”

 Ruth’s gardening migrated from collecting 
trillium in the Berkeley Hills toward 
succulents, when she bought a few of the 
plants from a gardener in Berkeley, decades 
before they became a fascination and gained 
wide acceptance, especially in minimal water 

 In 1972, as suburbia encroached on the 
Bancroft’s walnut farm, subdivisions 
advanced. “Mom had already begun her 
succulent collection when the family farm had 
to be sold,” according to Dickerson, “but it 
was all in pots in a protected area. My father 
offered to let Mom develop a garden there 
after the trees were removed. Previously her 
entire garden had to be watered by moving 
hoses and sprinklers around. This new garden 
would have an automatic sprinkler system, 
which would save Mom lots of work.”

 Already in her sixties, Ruth proceeded 
through trial and error over the next decades, 
collecting specimens from around the world, and 
learning what would survive in the Walnut Creek 

 A big undertaking, “The folly,” an English term 
for outdoor pavilion,” in the garden was designed 
by a family friend, and then built over a summer 
“with the help of a teenage boy. He worked all 
summer and at the end, Dad gave him a flatbed 
truck that had been used on the farm, according 
to Dickerson.”

 It is said that this unusual garden, ahead of its 
time in many ways, helped spark the Garden 
Conservancy, which is “dedicated to creating 
an organization that would identify the best 
American gardens and find ways to save them for 
the education and enjoyment of the public. Since 
1989, the Garden Conservancy has helped over 90 
exceptional gardens across America survive and 
prosper,” according to the group’s website, www.

 According to Dickerson, “Mom continued to 
work in and direct the gardeners well into her 
90’s. At age 96, she complained to her doctor that 
she tired so easily. ‘I was out in the garden spading 
for three hours and I had to go into the house and 
rest.’ Remembers Dickerson. Remember what 
I said about being a true dirt gardener? Even 
after she was no longer able to go out much, the 
head gardener, Charlotte consulted with her on a 
weekly basis, getting her ideas.”

 Ruth’s garden was eventually deeded to The 
Ruth Bancroft Garden, Inc. in 1992, and many 
preparations went into getting ready for the event, 
a highlight of which was a dedication by author, 
Angela Lansbury. Best laid gardening efforts 
missed but one spot, remembers, Dickerson with 
a smile. “Mom worked hard to get the garden 
into tip top shape. When Angela Lansbury came 
to the house, Mom looked up and out of the rain 
gutter above the front door was growing a large 

Today, The Ruth Bancroft Garden, grown 
from the tiny seed of one woman’s dream, has 
been recognized as one of the best in the world 
by various organizations including National 
Geographic Traveler, according to Dickerson. 
They have deemed their mission to “preserve 
this exceptional example of garden design and 
to continue to develop its collection of water-
conserving plants for the education and enjoyment 
of the public,” according to their website.

 What will you find on a visit to the garden? In 
addition to enjoying a stroll through the cascades 
of sometimes mountainous succulents, cacti and 
other plants requiring minimal water, the garden 
offers workshops, Sunset Socials, family events, 
the Sculpture in the Garden, a plant nursery and 
personalized dry-garden advice. All started with 
“One Woman – One Vision – One Extraordinary 

 The Ruth Bancroft Garden is located at 1552 Bancroft 
Road in Walnut Creek, CA. Visit their website at www. or call them at 925-944-9352. 


You recently read here about formulating your offer based on the information included 
in a CMA (Comparative Market Analysis). You can fine-tune that offer by 
applying current market trends. Trends may vary by region, state, city, and even the 
neighborhood, so do your homework.

You and your agent can study a lot of available statistics - the CMA, local listings’ 
DOM (Days on Market), and list to sale price ratios. The CMA compares similar 
properties, while the DOM figure gives you an idea of whether you’re looking at a 
buyer’s market or a seller’s market (in which you’ll have more competition and less 
negotiating power). If possible, look at DOM for listings within a mile of the home 
you want to purchase - it’s that area-specific.

Let’s move on to the average “List Price to Sales Price Ratio” (LP:SP). Like it sounds, 
it’s simply a percentage based on how closely the final sales price corresponds to the 
price at which the home was listed. A house that sells for the asking price has an 
LP:SP ratio of 100%. So a house that lists for $175,000 but sells for $160,000 has an 
LP:SP of 91%.

Look at the these ratios for the homes on the CMA that most closely match yours, 
and you’ll have a sound basis for what percentage of the list price to offer.

We’d like to hear from you! What’s on YOUR Mind?

Contact us at: or
mountainviewsnews AND Twitter: @mtnviewsnews

Mountain Views News 80 W Sierra Madre Blvd. No. 327 Sierra Madre, Ca. 91024 Office: 626.355.2737 Fax: 626.609.3285 Email: Website: