No. 40: The Gardens at Lake Merritt

Sensory garden, Lake Merritt

The sensory garden is planted with drought-tolerant Mediterraneans like lavender, rosemary, sage and citrus. The torii gate in the background was given by Oakland’s sister city, Fukuoka, in 1969.

This demonstration garden is worth a separate visit from your tour around the lake. Right now, the bee-and-butterfly garden is in full bloom and the edible and community gardens, just about ready for harvest.  (But please, if you didn’t plant them, don’t eat them!)  Photography students are everywhere, and easily finding  targets for their lenses.

Butterfly attractors

Butterfly attractors.

The garden is divided into sections, including a drought-tolerant sensory garden, Bay-friendly landscape, rhododendron, vireya, and palmetum. In the center, next to a series of cascades and pools, is a striking torii gate donated by the Junior Chamber of Commerce of Fukuoka, Japan — Oakland’s sister city. The best picnic spot in the garden is nearby, claimed by two young families.

Behind the torii gate is a shady citrus garden and a splendid crescent of succulents and cacti. Turn a corner, and you are suddenly in a formal Italian-style garden that complements the cherub-covered Easterbrook Fountain. The landscaping is such that the garden seems larger than it actually is, a series of outdoor rooms, each with its own personality.



Unfortunately, the bonsai garden has shorter weekend hours and was still locked up during my morning visit. A number of us pressed our eyes to cracks in the fence to try to get a glimpse anyway.

On Oct. 13, the Autumn Lights Festival fundraiser will fill the garden with fire, light and sound works by local artists. It being the Bay Area, food trucks will provide refreshments.

Getting there: The Gardens at Lake Merritt are at 666 Bellevue Avenue, near Children’s Fairyland and the Lake Merritt Boating Center. The 20th Street BART station is a moderate walk away.

Cool stuff in the neighborhood: This is a very family-friendly corner of the lake: Besides Fairyland, the Rotary Nature Center and playground are nearby. Grand Avenue is lined with cafes and restaurants; Los Cantaros restaurant and taqueria and Bacheeso’s are within walking distance and offer views of the park.

More information: About the festival and the gardens from the Gardens at Lake Merritt volunteer organization.

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