Master Gardener Spring Garden Tour

Apr 13, 2024 | 2024 Articles, Arts & Entertainment, Going Green, Mallory Moad

by Mallory Moad

Winter is over and spring is finally here. So if you’re in the mood for an adventure in the great outdoors after emerging from hibernation (and who isn’t?), perhaps something affordable and close to home that will delight and possibly inspire you, listen up.

On Saturday, April 20, the Master Gardener Association of Fresno County will present their annual Spring Garden Tour. This year the day-long presentation will showcase five beautiful and unique private gardens located throughout Fresno, plus the Garden of The Sun, the Master Gardener program’s demonstration garden. There will be floral gardens, water-wise gardens, drought-tolerant gardens, and gardens that focus on sustainability and visual design. If spending time in these lush surroundings doesn’t cure the last of your winter blahs, I don’t know what will.

The Master Gardener Association of Fresno County (or Master Gardeners, for short) is a non-profit organization that is dedicated to providing information and education to the public through classes held at the Garden of The Sun and various Fresno County Public Library branches, and events like the Spring Garden Tour. That’s right – this is more than just the opportunity to get some fresh air and look at pretty plants. Each garden will be staffed by Master Gardeners who will serve as docents, providing information about the flora on display and answering any questions. It isn’t unusual for the green-thumbed creators of these urban oases to make an appearance as well. All plants will be labeled and there will be resource tables for those who might be inspired to start a garden of their own. But if you just want to observe and enjoy the view, that’s perfectly OK, too.

Prado Garden

According to Linda Kelsey, a first-year Master Gardener and half of the tour’s two-person publicity committee, the tour has been operating for 32 years. It’s the main source of fundraising for the Master Gardeners program, with all proceeds going to its support. Linda was already familiar with the Spring Garden Tour before she began her coursework, having been attending since the mid-1990s. “I have always liked it for all the information it offers and just the aesthetics of strolling through the lovely gardens each year.” With a mother who was an avid gardener, cultivating plant life is in Linda’s DNA. “From early on I was going to nurseries with her and would be allowed to pick out a six-pack of pansies for me to plant and care for.”

Hughes Garden

The Master Gardeners Spring Garden tour is a big production, both for the owners of the gardens and the hard-working people behind the scenes. The gardens included in the tour are chosen a year in advance, with the process for the next year beginning not long after the current tour has ended. People can nominate their own gardens but sometimes it’s a matter of word-of-mouth or suggestions. “I’ve heard of Master Gardeners driving by an interesting looking place and inquiring,” Linda explains. “We try to get a variety so everyone can find something that captures their attention.” She adds that a number of factors are considered, including the appearance of the garden at the time of the tour (what looked great during the fall might not have the same impact in spring) as well as traffic flow and parking at the locations. The majority of the gardens are in established neighborhoods and respect for the residents is a top priority.

One of these neighborhoods is the Wilson Island District in the heart of Fresno’s Tower District. That’s where you’ll find what home gardener, Joanne Clark describes as an “English garden in some respects, water tolerant in other aspects. Most descriptive would be a little eclectic.”

Clark Garden

She had been visiting the tour for many years with her husband and friends and although she always found it enjoyable, never imagined she’d ever be more than a spectator. It’s an Ugly Duckling story of sorts. Joann explains that when she and her husband bought their home in 2012, “The curb appeal was dismal. I set forth to employ a designer and installer. I thought this is a great example of when problems evolve to become pleasing-to-the-eye possibilities.” But Joanne’s participation is about more than transforming an embarrassing eyesore into praise-worthy eye candy. It’s also an affectionate tribute to her dear husband who passed in September. “I know he is shaking his head and saying, ‘Sweetheart, do we really need to do this?’ All the while telling everyone, ‘Hey, we are on the Master’s Garden Tour this year!’”

Thomas Newton is one of two Master Gardeners who will be exhibiting the results of their education and expertise (the others are home gardeners) and his unusual contribution is a first for the tour. His garden isn’t a garden in the traditional sense. It’s a farm. Instead of roses and lilacs, you’ll find plums and peppers. “My farm is devoted to food production,” Thomas explains with enthusiasm. “I grow veggies, various stone fruits, and herbs.” There are different varieties of tomatoes, corn, beets, and lettuce, as well as berries, watermelon, cantaloupe, green zucchini, and yes, peppers, just to name a few. The farm is environmentally supportive, with pollinator-attracting plants – bees love ‘em – growing around the perimeter. Thomas and his team go beyond gardening for pleasure. This is a working urban farm with a purpose. “We are one of four farm-to-table farms donating high-quality food to the Fresno Mission.” Thomas’s garden is also wheelchair accessible and all paths are ADA compliant.

Thomas Newton’s garden includes chickens.

The Spring Garden Tour is as enjoyable for the volunteers as the visitors. “The Spring Garden Tour allows me to see the gardens slowly transform into pristine works of art.” That’s Master Gardener, Evette Jenike. “As a docent, I enjoy talking with the public and answering any questions they may have, and hearing their comments about plants that catch their eye.” Evette also appreciates how the tour gives her the opportunity to meet and exchange ideas with other Master Gardeners.

Because the Spring Garden Tour is self-guided, with attendees providing their own transportation, every effort is made to group the gardens geographically in order to make the driving route as efficient as possible. There is no shuttle service so carpooling is strongly encouraged to cut down on traffic and parking issues in the neighborhoods. Linda Kelsey recalls the time the Red Hat Ladies took ride-sharing to the next level and rented limousines for the occasion.

Thomas Newton’s farm is a different kind of garden.

Tickets include a map so don’t worry if your navigational skills are sub-par. It is recommended that you bring water as it can get warm walking outside no matter how picturesque your surroundings (and dehydration can really ruin your day). In the past, some gardeners have chosen to include live music – a classical guitarist or string quartet, for example – to add to the ambiance. But don’t expect food trucks, craft vendors, rock bands, or a carnival atmosphere. The emphasis is on the gardens and the gardeners. The tour isn’t a competition, either, with ribbons and bragging rights. It’s a celebration of what happens when you combine a love for nature, artistry, generosity, and getting your hands dirty.

My name is Mallory Moad and I believe those among us who can grow plants have a magic touch.

The Spring Garden Tour of Fresno County Master Gardeners takes place on Saturday, April 20 from 9:00 am until 4:00 pm. For more information, including how to purchase tickets and a taste of what each garden offers, visit

Mallory Moad is a visual/performance artist, vocalist in the jazz band Scats on The Sly and a proud Central San Joaquin Valley native.


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