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Worth Garden: A Paradise in Mill Valley

Artist/Photographer Don Worth created a paradise garden in Mill Valley, California.  Soon you’ll have a rare opportunity to experience the garden’s tropical splendor: On Saturday, June 16th, 2012 .. The Garden Conservancy Open Days Program allows visitors access to this beguiling landscape.

Worth Garden tableau Photo © Alice Joyce

In 1964 Worth bought the property in Mill Valley and began the work of making a garden. When I walked through the landscape with Don in 2004, he remembered thinking of all the photographs he would take. “It became a laboratory for me,” he said, “… a never-ending source of subject matter.”

Worth Garden Plantings Photo © Alice Joyce

Don passed away not long ago, but his garden remains a testament to an individual’s stunning artistic vision. You’d never know the setting had been overgrown with poison oak, French broom, wild blackberries, and as Don told me, “more different kinds of weeds than one can imagine.”

Agave victoria-reginae Photo © Alice Joyce

Bit by bit, Don cleared the area and planted tree ferns. Over time, Monterey pines that were reaching the end of their normal life span were removed. Today the half-acre garden emerges from the lot’s hilly terrain like a tropical oasis. Don’s amazing attention to detail sets the garden apart, along with beautifully cultivated communities of plants and a vast collection of palm trees.

Worth Garden /Silver leaves and Steps Photo © Alice Joyce

Numerous kinds of palms are planted, among them cane and Guadalupe, fishtail and queen palms. Most are subtropical species.

Worth / Red Fronds Photo © Alice Joyce

The towering architectural stature of the trees combines with the textural qualities of their trunks to endow every part of the garden with character, while the understory presents voluptuous compositions in which specimen plants accent complementary groupings of succulents and bromeliads. Strapping philodendrons provide maximum impact. Contrasting succulent displays are arranged in a tapestry of color and form.

Worth Garden Palms and Echium Photo © Alice Joyce

An entire realm of echeverias appears. In the greenhouse, Worth has produced numerous Echeveria hybrids through crossing various species. Tender varieties ‘Morning Sun’ and ‘Morning Star’ exhibit gemlike colors; their pale blue leaves seem to glow from within, and a sharp pink edge delineates each leaf.

Worth Garden Greenhouse Array Photo © Alice Joyce

On a hillside, visitors encounter a host of succulents in subtle variations of green. Aloes, agaves with cool hues and black-tipped leaves, and blue-gray cycads play off Aeonium arboreum ‘Garnet,’ a colorful new variety.


This special opening of Worth’s treasure of a gardenscape is reason enough to plan to be in the Bay Area on June 16th. When you can delight in the breathtaking sight of luxuriant, mature black-stemmed tree ferns indigenous to New Zealand. Plants that Don had once been astonished to find had self-sown in 1994! As he once wrote, the spores of this rare species, Cyathea medullaris then “drifted to the lower garden and .. germinated.”

Worth Garden Tree Fern Photo © Alice Joyce

 Today, the exquisite tree ferns are but one of the highlights of Worth’s Paradise.

Worth Garden Vignette Photo © Alice Joyce

7 comments to Worth Garden: Paradise in Mill Valley

  • Looks like an amazing place to visit; so much variety!

    I love sloping gardens…

  • Hi Soren,
    I think the richness of the flora would, indeed, please you. Thanks for stopping by.

  • That agave victoria is truly stunning, it almost doesn’t look real! It’s funny, I can’t look at Echium anymore without thinking about blue pollen. I must have spent an hour last summer staring at one such plant at the Santa Cruz Harbor, as the bees zipped from flower to flower with big baskets of vivid lavender blue pollen on their legs. Truly a bee friendly plant if ever there was one!

  • What a wonderful image you’ve conjured up! I’ll savor it each time I look at an Echium in future.
    Thanks, CVF;-]

  • christine lee

    Hello, so happy to have discovered your blog. just home from kenzo estate in napa and trying to figure out what grass was planted under the olive trees. thought you my know … my guess is nassella lepida or nassella pulchra. beautiful .
    the search led me to you and I am thrilled. I see SWA designed and they would know . Ill send an email , maybe they wil respond.

    Thank you so much for the pictures and the reminder of the Worth Garden !
    christine lee

  • Welcome, Christine,
    I’ll be interested, too, in confirming the grass species.
    Great to know that ‘searches’ can lead to such pleasant connections!

  • Christine,
    did I fail to reply? So sorry. Happy to hear you visited Kenzo, their stewardship is magnificent for Napa, and the wines!
    Glad you enjoyed the Worth Garden too. Cheers!