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Tour de Fleurs California
25 Aug

21st Annual Tour des Fleurs – California’s Premier Gardening Event – Trip Report

21st Annual Tour des Fleurs. was a huge success and a wonderful day spent meeting growers along California’s stunning Half Moon Bay.  This unique event offers the public a special once-a-year opportunity to tour local nurseries, greenhouses, wineries, harbor, and farms – many of which are not ordinarily open to the public.  With anticipation July 26 arrived and I was headed to Half Moon Bay, a sunny coastal city south of San Francisco.  So come along with me on my day of discovery:

Tour de Fleurs California

First stop on my tour was Pillar Point Harbor, a working harbor with a sustainable fishing vision. The waters were calm and the smell of crustaceans and salt water wafted through the air. Everywhere I looked there was a flurry of action.  Boat activity was everywhere. People were scurrying past me carrying coolers to purchase fresh fish and crab directly from the boats. What a great place to support independent fisherman.

Half Moon Bay Fisherman

My Tour began at the harbor and included not only a tour of the harbor but a tour of a historic home, farm and greenhouse nursery. About 40 of us gathered at the Harbormaster’s Office and where we learned about the harbor. It is a protective harbor because of its inner and outer breakwaters making it one of the safest harbors along the West Coast. It is also very unique as this harbor has its own Search & Rescue operation promoting safety 24/7. Pillar Point Marina is a popular port for the commercial fishing industry and to sport fishermen as well.  It is a great place to walk, fish, eat, drink, kayak, people watch, even dog watch ! I enjoyed the peacefulness of watching seagulls, otters, dolphins, sea anemones. As we walked along to the docks, I was able to observe some magical moments where families were gathered and children were excited to discuss the fish they had caught.

James & Petra de Jara Johnston’s Homestead, 1853

Next we’re off to “The White House of Half Moon Bay”, listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

White House Half Moon Bay

As one drives along a driveway that seems to come from the sea, you see a New England salt-box style white house which sits alone on a knoll overlooking the Pacific. This style home is typical in the East, but rare in California. The romantic beauty of the rolling hills and ocean shore is simply stunning. You can see forever into the blue horizon. A docent dressed in a fashionable period costume tells the story of the house and of the pioneer family. This mortice-and-tenon timber frame constructed home was built in the 1850’s by James Johnston, a successful San Francisco business man, for his family. It is elegantly furnished with original family possessions and a large collection of artwork. The Johnson House symbolizes the astonishing mixture of ideas, races, cultures and traditions that have been brought to California from nearly everywhere in the world.This home expresses Johnson’s pride of achievement as a pioneer California settler.

Climate is unique and the abundance of good soil has paved the way for a farmer’s success at Giusti Farms

In 1949, Aldo Giusti came to the United States from Lucca, Italy. Giusti Farms was started by Aldo Giusti in Half Moon Bay and his family owned farm is known for growing delicious peas, artichokes, brussel sprouts, beets, and chards. This tour was most interesting as Aldo Giusti’s grandson explained the challenges of his farm for the last 175 years. Some of these challenges involved obtaining a work force due to a shortage of labor, cost of machinery at the advent of mechanization, drought and today’s corporate buyers who buy products from a factory grown produce and not the farm. It was explained how California’s Proposition 20 has helped farmers in the protection of the California coastline which has areas set aside and not for sale to land purchasers and developers. We toured his Grandfather’s Homestead, another step back in time. He passed on many stories to our tour group that were spoken of in this upbringing. It was a wonderful experience to hear an oral history of this family.

Pastorino’s Farm on Half Moon Bay for Flower Lovers, Nurseries, Shops and Gardens

Our last tour was Pastorino’s Farm, home of several greenhouse and open air nurseries. Founded in 1960, Yerba Buena Nursery has specialized in growing exclusively California native plants. Here staff members spoke of garden design and focused on drought tolerant plants. The art of hybridization was explained and demonstrated.

The average year round temperature in the greenhouses is 70 degrees. This adds up to perfection for this industry.  I found this absolute joy to spend time in, marveling at the beauty of nature, and the ability of mankind to create moving art through balancing life, earth, water, sky and man-made articles. The HMB Garden Center comes close to the ideal garden. Thumbs up for the experience. This is a gorgeous greenhouse complex that you can get lost in – and happily so. It’s a place where things are always in bloom and you will discover a new kind of flower, plant, tree, or shrub without even trying. Gardeners will feel like they have been transported to a botanical toy store, while those who are not green-thumbed will be happy just to wander the rows marveling at what water, light, soil, and careful handling are capable of creating.


Carnivorous Plants Greenhouse is amazing. Here we learned of the variety of insect-consuming plants to be found and the way nature has evolved to provide so many species of plants. My favorite was the Pitcher Plant (speckled green and white) and a variety of Sun Dew. The mouths of the Venus flytrap have multiple hairs of which only two need to be triggered to clap shut on a fly. Each trap can catch three meals before it dies, but new traps are always being produced. The sundews show off tiny balls of fluid that glitter in sunlight like disco balls. When a fly lands on the leaf, the tendril rolls up and envelopes it.

What a well organized and informative tour!  This year there were six tours to choose from, all occurring on the same day.  Some businesses shared helpful tips for pruning and caring for flowers, others shared their key to an efficient operation whether it’s a nursery or winery, and some shared their colorful and fascinating family history and how it shaped their businesses today.

I’ll be back next year to shop, tour historic sites, or just wander around the gardens and get inspired.  Next July, I will not miss the 2015 Tour des Fleurs, and neither should you!

About The Author:   Maureen Verdon Butt enjoys travel, photography and meeting new people, creating new experiences. She and her husband live both in Los Gatos, California and in Punta Gorda, Florida. Her motto is ” Travel…renews my childlike wonder at our planet. In a completely new environment, the intensity of each moment is somehow heightened. I return to my daily life with a fresh perspective.”
Photo Credits:  Maureen Butt