UC Marin Master Gardeners

Eco-Friendly Garden Tours

Demonstration Gardens at Falkirk Cultural Center
Interesting and Educational

1408 Mission Avenue at “E” Street
San Rafael, CA 94901
415 485-3328


Garden Designers: UC Marin Master Gardeners  

Before and after photos and planting plans will be available in the historic greenhouse for viewing. Plant lists will be on site and plants are labeled.

Description: The gardens are located on a section of the lovely eleven-acre Falkirk Estate, a 19th Century Country Estate listed on the National Historic Register and now owned and operated by the city of San Rafael as a public park and cultural center.  The UC Marin Master Gardeners were asked to design and install gardens on an unused section of the property adjacent to the gorgeous turn-of-the-Century Greenhouse.  Before pictures show empty, rocky areas that are now four flourishing separate gardens; A Dramatic Succulent Rock Garden, A Mediterranean Climate Garden, An Under Oaks Garden, a Moon Garden, California Diversity Garden, and  Habitat Gardens. The gardens were planted in the last five years and are now thriving. This is a veritable treasure trove of sustainability practices, from irrigation and plant selection, to habitat-friendly elements.


What to Look for in These Gardens:

The elegant 1927 working Greenhouse is used for propagation and plant cultivation by UC Marin Master Gardeners. 

Permeable Paths and Reused Materials: The paths throughout the gardens are made of permeable decomposed granite and much of the materials used are locally sourced. The seating in the Under Oaks Amphitheatre, Mediterranean Garden, and Succulent Gardens are large re-used granite stones from the church that once stood next door. 

Irrigation and Water Use: All of the gardens are on a “Smart Controller” system located inside the Greenhouse. The Mediterranean Garden and Succulent Garden have reduced water usage each year as the plants become more established. The irrigation was installed by Master Gardener Tony Mekisich in partnership with MMWD to serve as a model for low-water use landscapes. Drip lines and low-water pressure pop-ups are used. During the installation of the garden, five large swales were dug into the Mediterranean Garden to provide better water usage and to prevent erosion. Berms are in the Succulent garden, as well as the Mediterranean Garden. Plants were located at the top or bottom of the slope to provide organic water provision according to their needs. Plants under each of the Oak trees are not on a water system at all, in order to insure the health of the Oak trees.

Mulches: A variety of mulches have been used in the gardens to demonstrate possibilities, including wood chips, stones, pebbles, lava and broken terra cotta pots. Additionally, the natural oak leaf litter mulches the two areas under the live oaks.

Habitat Friendliness: All gardens are designed to foster wildlife. There is a bee box and a bee house in the habitat garden, and bird baths in three of the gardens provide water for birds, bees and butterflies, bird houses in three of the gardens (at least two inhabited) provide homes and shelter, and tree stumps and hollows offer habitat spaces for various creatures. Plantings throughout the garden provide food for bees, butterflies, and birds.

Trees for Shade: In the Succulent Rock Garden closest to the house, three Catalpa trees have been planted to provide some shade for this fabulous collection of succulents. In the Mediterranean Garden, an oak tree provides shade while a number of three-year old trees such as Mayten, Arbutus, the wonderful Blue Bush Wattle, River Wattle, and Ceanothus continue growing toward a shadier future. The Under Oak Garden has shade provided, appropriately enough, by a large oak tree.

Low Water Use/Drought Tolerant/Habitat Plants: Each garden provides something special for our Mediterranean climate. The design of the Succulent Garden gives a nod to the Victorian era but also illustrates the range of these great plants for our present need for sustainability. Gorgeous, low-water use plants such as aloes, which  provide food for birds and bees, are highlighted. The bees have been going crazy over them all winter, since they supply blooms when most plants are sleeping. Check out the Aloe Hercules for boldness! And the Aeoniums, Echeverias, agaves, and the sedem yin/yang design. Like a small arboretum, the Mediterranean Climate Garden exhibits dozens of species from all the Mediterranean climate regions of the world: Australia, South Africa, Central Chile, Mediterranean Basin, and California/Baja. In the Australian section, hummingbirds and bees are attracted to the Grevellias and the Kangaroo Paws. In the South African section, check out the bee-attractors Long Leafed Waxflower and African Salvias, and watch the bees swarming over the Chilean Red Velvet Salvia and the Herbs in the Mediterranean Basin. The bee and hummingbird-loving native California plants include Toyon, Elderberry, Coffeeberry, ceanothus, Manzanita, and native mimulus and madia for use under California’s live oaks and provide food to flying creatures. 

Deer Resistant Plants: All of the plants in the Mediterranean and Succulent Gardens are home to families of deer, so these plants have proven to be unattractive to this group of deer.

Fire Resistant Plants: Most of the plants in the Mediterranean Garden and all of the Succulents are resistant to fire and are placed close to the mansion.


Looking Deeper (Things that aren’t always visible)

No pesticides or fungicides are used in these gardens.

The Under Oak and Habitat Gardens were originally covered with weeds - wild onions, grasses, and broom seeds blowing in from the neighboring hillside. The area was (and small areas still are) sheet mulched and followed-up with hand weeding and continual mulching.

Many of the plants in the gardens are now propagated in the Greenhouse here on the property.

All garden areas are wheelchair accessible.


Parking: The parking lot at Mission and E Street has two-hour parking in the front section. Look at the signs to be sure you are in the right area. The City Hall Lot across Mission Avenue is available and you are welcome to park in the Falkirk driveway and behind the Greenhouse, if there is room.

Directions: From Northbound 101 take Central San Rafael Exit. Stay in the center lane and make a left on Mission Street. Continue past the San Rafael Mission Church, to “B” Street, jog left and immediately right back onto Mission Street. Falkirk is on the right-hand side, up a curving driveway at 1408 Mission Street. The cross street is "E" Street.

From Southbound 101, take Central San Rafael Exit and make the first right onto Mission Street. Follow directions above from there.