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In bloom: Springtime at Ananda: Tulips at Crystal Hermitage Gardens

Jennifer Nobles
Special to Prospector
Crystal Hermitage’s Mai Lee said that if there are any tulip connoisseurs who can successfully identify all 108 varieties in this year’s garden, she will snap and post their photo. “I want to meet this person!” she said.
Courtesy of Crystal Hermitage Garden


WHAT: Springtime at Ananda: Tulips at Crystal Hermitage Gardens

WHERE: 14618 Tyler Foote Road, Nevada City

WHEN: 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. everyday starting Saturday and continuing throughout the month of April

TICKETS & INFO: $6 General admission, Children under 12 free. Tickets available at the gate or by visiting crystalhermitage.org.

Just up Highway 49, situated between Tahoe National Forest and the middle fork of the Yuba River, lies the Crystal Hermitage Gardens.

Boasting over 108 different varieties of tulips — plus peonies, wisteria, dahlias, azaleas, rhododendrons, and pansies — the gardens have become a tradition for visitors looking to mark the beginning of spring.

Although the beautifully landscaped space attracts more than 8,000 visitors per year, many people still don’t even know that it exists — or that it is open year-round.

According to Mai Lee, who is responsible for marketing and press releases for the Crystal Hermitage, “Just last Friday we [welcomed] a long time Nevada City resident; they’d never been out to the gardens and they were like, ‘Wow! Who would have thought that you could create something like this and I didn’t even know about it?’”

Secret garden

The serene space offers not only the experience of strolling through thousands of beautiful flowers, but a place to get away from everyday life and capture the beauty of the seasons.

“The primary goal was to show people that they can come to a place like our gardens and experience tranquility and peace, [and] reconnect with their true self,” said Lee.

Ananda founder Swami Kriyananda wanted a place where people could come and “experience God.”

“He had that intuitive foresight that people would need a place to go and just unplug,” Lee said. “This exists because we created it for the community so they can experience how truly beautiful it is.”

This year, Crystal Hermitage began working with a new vendor who is able to sell them more varieties of bulbs.

The process of ensuring that the gardens are in peak form is an intensive one.

Normally tulip bulbs can be left in the ground to bloom the following spring, but the gardeners at Crystal Hermitage discovered that in doing so, they left their bulbs susceptible to gophers and other such critters.

Therefore, at the end of each spring, gardeners dig up the bulbs and replant later in the year, just one step they take to provide a consistent experience for visitors.

“At the end of summer, we start clearing out the garden to prepare for winter garden, but we are also preparing the beds for tulips,” Lee said. “Our staff of four — and many volunteers — work hundreds of hours in the gardens. It takes a lot of planning.”

In addition to the labor spent planting and maintaining the gardens, the Crystal Hermitage must take into account the unpredictability of working with nature.

“The tulips last about a month; we can’t predict what Mother Nature does!” Lee said. “It’s usually March into early May. [This year] we know it is going to be a late spring, with the tulips peaking second week of April, maybe lasting through the first and second week of May.”

More than meets the eye

As lead gardener, Nancy Mair puts in copious hours of back-breaking work to guarantee the gardens are healthy and look their best.

Her skills, however, do not end there.

A French-trained chef, Mair has been baking up her specialty Maple Scones and offering them to guests of the garden for some years now.

“In early days, [we’d say] come for Open House and enjoy the scones. Over the years people just came for the scones!” Lee said.

Those looking for a chance to taste what Lee calls the “world famous” scones — which have become synonymous with the Crystal Hermitage Gardens — will be pleased to know that the treats will be available the second and third weekends in April.

Her only word of advice?

“Come with an empty stomach,” she said.

Lee said that seeing guests’ reaction to the gardens never loses its charm.

“You see adults behaving like children; we have cherry blossom trees we planted 35 years ago, and the petals fall on the ground to create a pink carpet,” she said. “We see adults picking up the petals and throwing them up in the air. And that’s the goal of the gardens — to give the freedom and the space to just ‘be’ and experience joy.

“It’s not just tulips; it’s the view, it’s the pansies — it’s art, but a different kind of art. You have to work in tandem with Mother Nature.”

Jennifer Nobles is a freelance writer for The Union and can be contacted at jenkrisnobles@gmail.com.


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