A Visit To Troll Knoll Garden is an Unforgettable Experience
VACAVILLE — The Vaca Valley Garden Club in Vacaville is always researching gardens to tour for a group excursion. We have visited many beautiful flower gardens, interesting vegetable gardens and gardens with magnificent art displays. But if you would like to see all of this plus incredible views, consider exploring Troll Knoll Gardens located outside of Auburn in Penn Valley. The garden club thoroughly enjoyed our day trip to this incredible mountain site.
More than 20 years ago, husband and wife John Morris and Ann Wilson purchased 20 acres of foothill property in Penn Valley. The blackened acreage had burned in the 49er fire and the hillsides were scattered with hundreds of charred pine trees. Beyond the fire-ravaged site were hundreds of vistas where they could see the Feather, Sacramento and Yuba rivers. Off in the distance, the Sierra Buttes, Lassen Peak, Coastal Range, Siskiyous and the Tahoe Rim were clearly visible. There are 360 degree views. It would take a visionary to appreciate this property and develop it into what it is today.
Troll Knoll is this couple’s personal garden.
They built an 1,800-square-foot garden sanctuary with a Mediterranean style home merged in the middle of the garden. Their home is 37 percent windows, but is so energy efficient that the electric bill runs about $10 a month. Both the home and garden are solar-powered. There are 2.5 miles of winding paths, 3,000 rose plants, 10,000 daylilies and 1,700 trees including 25 citrus and 48 apple trees.
Morris, who leads the tours through his whimsical gardens dressed in costume, is quite a story teller. In his Southern drawl, he can be entertaining, silly and serious and always informative. His comment that “nothing here is what is seems to be” is an understatement. You can walk for one-half hour or all day and around each bend and still find something new and quirky will surprise you. John is usually dressed like the grandfather in the movie “Heidi.” He knows this garden inside and out and tells interesting stories about how each section came to exist.
There are common plants placed in uncommon groupings, statues, formal gardens, an ant hill with steel ants that are 2 feet long, plus hundreds of smaller ants. There is a vineyard maze, a grove of oaks, and a ghost town called Annville, named after his wife. The ruins with Roman statues and life-sized dinosaurs are very realistic. There are ponds, rivers, vegetable gardens, a flower meadow and a frog dance stage. A quirky trailer park, called “Pinky’s,” will take you back in time and make you laugh. Not to forget the space ships, rockets and Extraterrestrial Amici tour.
Expect the Unexpected
You will learn about the mechanics of Troll Knoll, the water and solar systems. Expect the unexpected as you enter each new “room” on this excursion.
There is exceptional art from around the world throughout the garden. One of my favorite exhibits was a collection of Wardian cases, (Victorian glass terrariums). Each one was different and held unusual collectible plants. Besides orchids, there were carnivorous plants, bromeliads and ferns planted in them. Wardian cases were used in the 1800s and 1900s to transport exotic plants from other countries. These cases are small biospheres or miniature hot houses that are uncommon to find, making his collection fascinating and a valuable asset.
The 2.5-hour tour of Troll Knoll gardens is free, but you need to make reservations. There is no age limit, but I would suggest not bringing small children. The garden has many elevations changes and uneven paths. Pets and food are prohibited. There are no restrooms available.
Go in a group and plan on staying for awhile. It’s a tour you will not forget.
Sharon Rico is a Master Gardener with the University of California Cooperative Extension office in Fairfield. If you have gardening questions, call the Master Gardeners office at 784-1322. Article was originally printed on March 18, 2012 in the Daily Republic, Fairfield-Suisan, California