The 3.5-acre Charles C. Jensen Botanical Garden at 8520 Fair Oaks Blvd. is open daily from 8 a.m. to dusk. Photo by Lance Armstrong
With the seclusion of Carmichael’s Charles C. Jensen Botanical Garden, it can be helpful from time to time to remind – and in some cases to introduce – readers of this publication about this community treasure.
Located at 8520 Fair Oaks Blvd., this 3.5-acre public garden certainly goes unnoticed by many people who pass through this section of Carmichael.
Known for its wide variety of plants and trees, manicured lawns, walkways, benches, and bridges over a small creek bed, the garden has roots – pun intended – dating back to the late 1950s.
It was during that era that Charles C. Jensen purchased the property, which then had a much different appearance, as it mainly consisted of blackberry bushes and pasture land.
Other features of the property at that time were a creek, redwoods and heritage oaks.
Charles, who had previously worked in the produce business, was at that time enjoying his retirement with his wife, Marguerite.
With his dream in mind to create a garden that would be superior to the notable garden, which he had kept in Oakland, Charles began this mission by having truck and trailer loads of trees, shrubs and plants delivered to his new property from his garden in Oakland.
On the Carmichael property, he cleared away blackberry bushes, and gradually made other additions, including the planting of more than 200 species of camellias, azaleas and rhododendrons and eight varieties of dogwood.
It was also on the same site that Charles dug a pond, which attracted a variety of birds, including mallards, blue herons, pheasants and California quail.
Additionally, wildlife such as raccoons, possums and gray squirrels found Charles’ property to be a desirable place to reside.
The residential living situation for Charles and Marguerite was somewhat primitive when they moved to the property, as they temporarily resided in a tent.
A shed was later added to the property, as a house was being constructed at the site.
The idea of inviting the public to visit the garden is certainly not a new idea.
During the garden’s early days, a “visitors welcome” sign was placed at the entrance to the property.
With his openness to share his garden with others, Charles welcomed garden club members who arrived in buses from as far away as Fresno and Oregon.
Furthermore, the garden became an educational destination that far exceeded simply observing plants and trees, as Charles would often give lectures and lead tours of his garden.
By the early 1970s, about 5,000 people were visiting Charles’ garden on an annual basis.
And although some people made attempts to pay him for his hospitality in allowing the public to visit his property, Charles never accepted a penny for this community contribution.
Charles not only displayed plants and flowers, but he also sold them to visitors. And at times, he even gifted plants and flowers, including the long-stemmed, cut camellias, which he sent to first lady Pat Nixon.
Inside their home, the Jensens proudly displayed a framed “thank you” letter that was signed by Pat Nixon.
Charles passed away at the age of 80 on July 30, 1974, and the Carmichael Recreation and Park District board considered purchasing the garden site, which was in jeopardy of being subdivided.
Instead, the board bought itself time on June 12, 1975, when it voted, 3-1, to lease the garden for $500 per month, with an option for either party to cancel the arrangement.
Dean Melvin, the district’s administrator at that time, told the Carmichael Courier
that he hoped that sufficient local support could be acquired through service clubs and other community clubs, so that the garden could be purchased rather than leased.
The nonprofit Charles C. Jensen Botanical Garden, Inc. was formed by a group of concerned local citizens who were interested in saving the garden.
Officers of the corporation’s committee were Ahmed Mohamed, president; Florence March, vice president and treasurer; and Tony Asaro, secretary.
The board of directors of the committee, which met every Monday night, included Martha Campbell, Robert Hamilton, Warner March, Gloria Smith and Jeannie Young.
Hundreds of local residents made donations, many of which ranged from $1 to $25.
With a deadline of one year to purchase the property – originally for $95,000, but reappraised at $72,500 – the group raised only $6,000 in 11 months.
In response to the situation, Bill Bryan, financial administrator for the garden saving organization’s committee, sought monetary assistance through county Supervisor Fred Wade, the Aerojet Liquid Rocket Co. and banks.
According to the July 14, 1976 edition of The Green Sheet
, Wade contributed $30,000, Aerojet assisted with a $15,000 interest-free loan and the banks made up the difference just prior to the park saving corporation’s deadline to complete the purchase of the property.
As the key moment of a July 7, 1976 ceremony held at the garden to celebrate the saving of the garden from private development, Charles’ son, Dr. Ralph Jensen, accepted a check for the property. Without that purchase, the land would have been auctioned off to the highest bidder during the following day.
Following the donation, Bryan, who during that era referred to the garden as a “little Capitol Park,” told The Sacramento Union
that the committee would hold the land title until the park district could purchase the property.
In the meantime, the district renewed its lease on the property and the park saving organization continued to raise funds for the land.
On March 17, 1977, the district’s board of directors voted, 4-1, to purchase the site from the corporation. Margaret Meyer was the lone director to vote against the purchase.
In a 1977 letter written by Wade to the Sacramento County Board of Supervisors, he mentioned that he had made a personal loan of $15,000 to the corporation, and would thus not be participating in the county board’s vote to consider the district’s request to purchase the garden property.
Although it was thought by many people to be a routine matter, the board of supervisors’ vote on the district’s resolution of intention to purchase the land was delayed from March 21 to April 4, 1977.
The delay in the voting occurred as a result of a minority report presented by Meyer in opposition of the project.
During the delay, the report, which was made without prior knowledge of the other supervisors, was reviewed by the county board.
The board later voted in favor of the park district’s motion to purchase the garden property, and the district soon afterward completed its transaction to buy the land.
Through the district’s continued ownership of the garden property, coupled with the many hours provided by volunteers of the Friends of the Jensen Botanical Garden, Charles C. Jensen’s dream continues to be kept alive.
The garden is open free-of-charge to the public daily from 8 a.m. to dusk.