Almanac

Viewpoint - May 8, 2013

Guest opinion: Passing on appreciation of heirloom plants

by Anne Hillman

In the joint Spring Real Estate special section, the Palo Alto Weekly and the Almanac ran an excellent article by Kate Daly titled, "Big Estate Prices — Slow Sales." She quoted several prominent real estate agents who described the current market, its challenges, and their strategies to entice local buyers and those from other parts of the world. Agent Ken DeLeon commented, "What's kind of surprising, is how young these buyers are, in their late 30s and 40s."

His remark reminded me that several years ago, a young couple in their early 30s bought a large local property formerly owned by Dr. Cuthbert Hurd (1911-1996). Mr. Hurd, a computer scientist and entrepreneur, was instrumental in helping IBM develop its first general-purpose computers, but his real passion was botany. He had spent a lifetime breeding and nurturing native plants, in particular, a rare form of Arctostaphylos now prized as the Hurd manzanita. He had huge mature specimens of the gorgeous yellow-blossomed California Fremontia on the property, also known as flannel flower. One of its subspecies is already a federally listed endangered species. These trees were glorious. They were wild. They belonged.

The buyers were a delightful couple and like any of us, had their dreams about the land they'd purchased. When I asked how they liked the manzanita, they said, "Oh, we cut them all down. They were just weeds." They also cut down a 30-foot high Fremontia at the entrance to the driveway. They didn't know. Perhaps no one had told them about the rarities they'd inherited.

I don't think we can expect the young — often exceedingly busy with their families and their work — or buyers of any age who've never gardened here, whether they're local or from other regions or continents, to understand the nature of the land they will inhabit. They need to be educated about how to sustain and care for its many gifts.

The late Mabel Crittenden, a local author of several guides to the wildflowers and trees of east and west, tended countless wild species in her garden. She gave me a wild penstemon that has exploded into bloom every year for the past decade (unlike the hybrids, which need frequent replacing). After her home was put on the market, I longed for the courage to ask for some of her plants, and wondered how her garden fared after her home was sold; last week, I learned that her entire collection of botanical treasures had been turned into a very large lawn. How local gardeners would have longed for an opportunity to take those rare plants home. Perhaps if agents were to make new homeowners aware of treasures like these, their local garden clubs might have an opportunity to transplant them before a new landscape was installed.

Few properties in this amazing Bay Area are without a tree or plant or other wildlife that needs tending. If, when we listed our homes for sale, we also passed down information about the living species around our homes, then perhaps our hardworking real estate agents would be able to inform their clients. And then, along with the bottle of champagne, their parting gift to a satisfied buyer might be one of Mabel Crittenden's Guides to native California wildflowers and trees.

Anne Hillman is the author of Awakening the Energies of Love and the Dancing Animal Woman. She lives on Alamos Road in Portola Valley

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