My Material Life

Gerda Isenberg’s Garden

Source: Yerba Buena Nursery


Last weekend we made our second visit to the Yerba Buena Nursery in Woodside off of Skyline Boulevard.  It really is a bit of a trip, but so worth it.  Over the last couple of years I’ve been learning about California’s native plants and trying to figure out how to incorporate them with our existing camellias, azaleas, and other plants we haven’t killed yet.  I’ve known about this nursery for a while, but never made it up there until last spring.  What a wonderful place.  Gerda Isenberg (pictured on top) started it back in 1960 on her family’s cattle ranch.  She ran the nursery until she retired at the age of 94 in 1995.  Now it is run by Kathy Crane.

You can picnic there (it was cold last Saturday; we ate in the car) and just enjoy the beautiful scenery on a walk through the nursery.  When Samantha gets older, I’ll take her to one of the farmhouse teas (yes, the farmhouse pictured above). You can check for the tea dates on the website.  This year they are holding a teddy bear tea for those 8 and over in October.  I’ll bet it fills quickly!  They also have a garden shop and some wonderful old odds and ends on sale as well.  Last year I found a pair of clip-on earrings that were perfect for Easter.  This year I found an old southern belle lamp base from Japan.  I seem to find a little magic up there whenever I go.  Both times, I’ve run into people I know.  One was someone I’d just met at a different garden center and the other was someone I used to work with who I’ll be delighted to reconnect with.

Lots of native plant information is available on their website.  Be sure to check there first if you plan to visit and to follow their directions to the nursery.  If you are interested in learning more about gardening with California’s native plants, do look into the California Native Plant Society.  We have a wonderful local chapter that frequently sponsors evening talks at the library, twice yearly plant sales at Hidden Villa and a self-guided garden tour in the spring.  Another favorite resource is the book, California Native Plants for the Garden by Carol Bornstein, David Fross, and Bart O’Brien.


  1. Shirley Barksdale

    Thank you so much. this brought so many fond memories of when my family lived with Gerta for a short time in the early ’60s . My husband helped manage the ranch. She taught me the love of gardening, which I now do on my own farm. I learned so much from her about homemaking and life. We would have stayed longer, however, I became pregnant with my third child and Gerta was afraid the long dirt road was not a place to have a winter pregancy. I had the honor to visit her in 1986 with my sister and her husband. We had a nice visit then and i later returned to have tea with her.

    • Oh I’m so glad to hear it brought back some fond memories. She certainly made a magical place up there. I’m glad you were able to spend the time you did with her and visit again in the 80s because it sounds like she was a really neat lady. Thanks so much for writing – Colleen

    • Susan DeMasi

      Hi, Sharon and Colleen. I am writing a book on a writer named Henry Alsberg, who died in 1970. His sister, Elsa, worked with Gerda Isenberg on the Fair Play Council in Palo Alto. Henry lived with Elsa for the last few years of his life. I’m looking for anyone who might have any memories of either Henry or Elsa (especially that had to do with their family). I would very much appreciate being in contact with anyone who might be able to share their recollections. I have spoken to a few people in Palo Alto, but would love to talk to others. Thanks!

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