Charles C. Jensen Botanical Garden is a community treasure

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

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.

Volunteers work to restore Jensen Botanical Garden

The volunteer group Friends of Jensen Botanical Garden was asked by the Carmichael Recreation and Park District to restore/rejuvenate Charles C. Jensen Botanical Garden and since January 2004, when FJBG went into action, the volunteers have logged more than 6,051 hours clearing ivy, privets and bramble, replanting existing beds, adding a few new beds, installing 11 new metal benches and two wheelchair accessible picnic tables. Since December 2005, they have planted more than 6,000 tulip bulbs.

In 2013 FJBG will switch from development to maintenance mode, say volunteers. The primary tasks will be mulching, pruning, weeding and always planting more tulips.

Instead of the previous years’ monthly work days, FJBG will host quarterly work days on the second Saturday in March, June, September and December.  A fund raising plant sale will be held on the last Saturday in March.  The annual October plant sale is canceled. All funds raised/donated are used strictly in and for Jensen Garden.

Volunteer Pat Rhine said the reason for the cancellation is because gathering and nurturing plants to sell is a lot of work and the two people providing most of the plants for sale are minimally available beginning in 2013.  Based on previous sales, the spring sale should cover the annual maintenance budget for fertilizer, replacement plants, deer repellent, tulips, and more.

To Rhine, Jensen Garden is “a peaceful, lovely place that many can enjoy.”

Rhine said there are 20 names on the volunteer list and anywhere from four to 12 people show up on a given work day. Several may show up randomly to pull weeds, etc. FJBG has an annual project list to keep things on track, which you can see on

Rhine said plants were chosen to augment what survived from Mr. Jensen’s time and to add to what CRPD has planted over the years. Then there’s the ‘wow’ factor of 6,000 tulips that compliment the design of each bed. Other plants are chosen for their yearlong color and others for their more tactile and fragrant attributes. All, in all, it goes back to keeping with the rustic tradition set by Mr. Jensen.

The History of Charles C. Jensen

According to the website, the  3-and- a-half-acre garden was, from 1958 until 1976, the property and master work of Charles C. Jensen.  Shortly after his retirement as a produce buyer, Mr. and Mrs. Jensen moved from their home in Oakland to their property in Carmichael.

According to the website, they made many trips to Oakland to bring back plants and trees.  The property already had Oaks and Coast Redwoods and blackberry brambles.  He gradually cleared the brambles. Then he began planting the many Magnolias, Azaleas, Dogwoods and Japanese Maples, which were some of the first plants brought from Oakland.  Hybridizing, grafting and acquiring new varieties of plants, he built a garden that caught the eye of passersby.  He especially enjoyed showing visitors around his garden and opened it to parties and weddings.  He also sold plants from his lath house that was located near the Coast Redwoods.  Many of his neighbors built their gardens with plants from Mr. Jensen.

After his death, a group of friends and fellow garden club members formed the Charles C. Jensen Botanical Garden, Inc. Committee to preserve the garden.  Their fund raising efforts were successful and the garden became the property of the Carmichael Recreation and Park District in 1976.

In January, 2004, the Carmichael Recreation and Park District called for volunteers to restore/rejuvenate the botanical garden.  First that required removing knee deep ivy and unwanted tree seedlings. Each December, the Friends of Jensen Botanical Garden develops a project list for the coming year and works one Saturday a month to complete the projects.  Every year one of the projects is to plant more tulips around the large Valley Oak at the entrance to the garden. Since most of the garden’s 19 beds are completed and will only require ongoing maintenance, future projects will focus on developing formal beds of California native plants in the undeveloped area immediately behind Jensen Garden.

According to the park’s website, the Carmichael Recreation and Park District recently opened a new feature to the garden. The Nature Path for the blind and visually impaired is open to the public. “By feeling the different textures and experiencing the unique fragrances of the various plants the pathway appeals to the visually impaired and those with physical challenges,” states the site. The project was inspired by a member of the Daughters of the American Revolution, Jacqueline Coffroth.

Planning meetings for the Friends of Jensen Botanical Garden take place the first Thursday of each month at 8516 Fair Oaks Boulevard, 7 pm.  Anyone interested in participating in the care of this community resource is welcome to attend.  Work days are held the Saturday following the planning meeting each month from 9 am to 1 pm.

Donations for the restoration of the garden may be made to CRPD, Attn: Jensen Garden.  Funds donated for the garden will be limited to use at the garden and will not be used for other District programs or facilities.  Donations of plants may be brought to any work day.

Here are a few basic rules for visitors:  Stay on pathways, no amplified music, no bikes or sports activities allowed.

Jensen Garden is open from 8 a.m. to dusk, weather permitting, since the parking lot can flood. The garden is located at 8520 Fair Oaks Blvd., Carmichael. Photographers are required to buy a $15 photo permit at the District Office, 5750 Grant Ave., Carmichael.

For more information, visit

Carmichael Recreation and Park District celebrates 65th anniversary

The Carmichael Recreation and Park District is presently celebrating its 65th anniversary, as the district was organized on Oct. 29, 1945.
The Carmichael Recreation and Park District was established in 1945. Above, is a photograph of the cover of the district’s 1973, 20-year master plan. / Photo courtesy of CRPD

The Carmichael Recreation and Park District was established in 1945. Above, is a photograph of the cover of the district’s 1973, 20-year master plan. / Photo courtesy of CRPD

Let’s play ball

In tracking the roots of the district, all signs lead to the sport of baseball, as the district’s beginnings can be pinpointed to the simple need for a local baseball facility.

Considering that Sacramento has been known as a baseball city throughout the majority of its existence, the district’s establishment through baseball is quite fitting.

The district’s connection with baseball begins with the name, Dan Donovan.

While residing in Carmichael, Donovan was seeking a location where his local baseball team could play its games.

Donovan, who is also known for establishing Carmichael’s first fire department, serving as the fire department’s first chief and operating a bar at Fair Oaks Boulevard and Garfield Avenue, led the drive to have a baseball field built in part of what is today’s Carmichael Park.

This baseball field, which had once been only a dream, became a reality for Donovan, who was part of the 1946 team that won the U.S.-Canadian Non-Professional Baseball Tournament in Wichita, Kan.

Carmichael Park was purchased in separate parcels and by the early 1960s, the park had been expanded to 38 acres.

This now-abandoned pool was in operation at Carmichael Park from 1952 to 2004. / Valley Community Newspapers photo, Lance Armstrong

This now-abandoned pool was in operation at Carmichael Park from 1952 to 2004. / Valley Community Newspapers photo, Lance Armstrong

Carmichael’s poolOne of the most popular attractions in the park’s history was its 50-foot by 100-foot swimming pool, which was constructed in 1952.

Originally, the pool featured both low and high diving boards and was accompanied by a nearby wading pool.

Unfortunately for the community, use of the pool was discontinued in 2004. The district, however, is exploring avenues for acquiring funding to replace the pool.

The petting zooEarly visitors of Carmichael Park may also remember another now-absent feature of the park – a petting zoo that was located on the site of the present day group picnic rental facility. The petting zoo included such animals as goats, a pig, a sheep, rabbits and chickens.

Today, the park, which CRPD Administrator Jack Harrison described as “Carmichael’s Central Park,” features five softball diamonds, six lighted tennis courts, a one-acre, off-leash dog park, a lighted basketball court, a pair of playgrounds, a public picnic shelter and a band shell, which serves as the site of free summer concerts. The park is also the site of a popular Easter Egg Hunt, which is held annually on the day prior to Easter.

Carmichael Park, which began through the construction of a baseball field, is presently home to five softball diamonds. / Photo courtesy of CRPD

Carmichael Park, which began through the construction of a baseball field, is presently home to five softball diamonds. / Photo courtesy of CRPD

Among the oldest buildings in the park is the community clubhouse, which is available for rent and is used for community organization meetings, district board meetings, weddings and receptions.

Other structures located at the park include the district’s administration building and the Veterans Memorial Building, which is used for local veteran gatherings, small-sized meetings, classes and a preschool program.

Del Campo Park

The district added the second of its now 14 park sites when it acquired the property for Del Campo Park in Fair Oaks in 1971. This was also the year that the district hired its first full-time administrator.

Ross Norberg, who has been employed as a maintenance worker for the district since 1976, said that Del Campo Park, which was developed in 1979, was nothing but a large lawn-covered area until about 1990.

Today, this 21.6-acre park, which is located near Del Campo High School, features a soccer field and a playground.

Additional parks

In addition to Del Campo Park, the district acquired 10 park sites during the 1970s.

These sites range in size from the one-acre Bird Track Park on Pheasant Road in Fair Oaks to Carmichael’s 13.6-acre Jan Drive Park, which is scheduled to open sometime next year.

A popular feature of Carmichael Park is its one-acre, off-leash dog park. / Valley Community Newspapers photo, Lance Armstrong

A popular feature of Carmichael Park is its one-acre, off-leash dog park. / Valley Community Newspapers photo, Lance Armstrong

Among the current CRPD park sites, which were not previously mentioned, are the 9.4-acre O’Donnell Heritage Park (property acquired in 1974) on Barrett Road in Carmichael, the 7.4-acre Cardinal Oaks Park (1974) on Cardinal Court at Kenneth Avenue in Carmichael, the three-acre Glancy Oaks Park (1977) on Sunny Lane in Carmichael and the three-acre Patriots Park (1976) on Palm Avenue, off Dewey Drive, in Fair Oaks.

One of the district’s most treasured acquisitions occurred in 1984, with its addition of the former La Sierra High School. This 37-acre site includes a pair of gymnasiums, soccer fields, Little League baseball fields, the Chautauqua Playhouse, the Sacramento Fine Arts Center and about 170,000 square feet of private rental space.

CRPD Park Maintenance Supervisor Ron Shilliday, who spends about 95 percent of his employment hours for the district at the La Sierra site, said that the former school serves as a great asset for the community.

“The enjoyment of all the facilities and the recreation for anyone, no matter what their age, (at the La Sierra site) is amazing,” Shilliday said. “You can enjoy the theater or the arts center or the many programs that are over there from chair yoga to Little League baseball to soccer to dance. On a good day when you have volleyball, baseball, theater and a wedding reception, there’s no parking to be found. It’s a great place for the community and the people who work here. It keeps us hopping to keep people happy.”

Also unique among the district’s sites are the 17.2-acre Schweitzer Grove Park and the 3.5-acre Charles C. Jensen Botanical Garden.

Schweitzer Grove Park, which is located at Sumter and Hussey drives, next to Albert Schweitzer Elementary School in Carmichael, is the site of a disc golf course and walking trails with five entrances.

The name Schweitzer Grove Park was selected 39 years ago through CRPD’s “Name a Park Contest.”

According to the May 27, 1971 edition of The Sacramento Union, the winners of the contest, which also provided the names Del Campo Park and Bird Track Park, were: Annette Ackerman, Kathryn Confer, Susan Emerson, Nancy Figenbaum, Kim Walker, Kevin Williams and Karen Zymwaht.

Jewel of the district

Undoubtedly a jewel of the park district, the Charles C. Jensen Botanical Garden at 8520 Fair Oaks Blvd. features a wide variety of plants and trees, manicured lawns, walkways, benches and a pair of bridges over a small creek bed.

The garden, which has been featured in a variety of newspapers, including the New York Times, is named after its founder, Charles C. Jensen, who placed the garden’s initial plants and trees at the site in 1958.

Jensen passed away in 1974 at the age of 80 and through the efforts of the Charles C. Jensen Botanical Garden, Inc., which was formed by a group of concerned, local citizens, his property was saved from being subdivided.

Two years later, CRPD took over the ownership of the property and through the assistance of the Friends of the Jensen Botanical Garden, the garden is maintained on a consistent basis.

As a longtime asset of the community, the district has offered many activities that are documented in the district’s archives.

Carmichael Park was the first park of the Carmichael Recreation and Park District. Today, the district consists of 14 park sites. / Valley Community Newspapers photo, Lance Armstrong

Carmichael Park was the first park of the Carmichael Recreation and Park District. Today, the district consists of 14 park sites. / Valley Community Newspapers photo, Lance Armstrong

Among the district’s earlier activities mentioned in these archives are the following 1970s activities: a trip to a San Francisco Giants game in 1970, a Mini Bike Day on March 11, 1972, a trip to Marine World on Aug. 9, 1972 and square dancing evenings by the Carmichael Park pool.

And of course, the district has provided the sites for many league baseball and softball games, swimming competitions, tennis matches and other sporting events.

Continuing its mission to “satisfy the recreational needs of the community by providing a wide range of facilities and opportunities to enrich the quality of life,” CRPD recently published its fall/winter 2010-11 activity guide, which is available at the district office at 5750 Grant Ave. in Carmichael Park or at the La Sierra Recreation Office at 5325 Engle Road in Carmichael.

Information regarding district-sponsored activities can also be obtained through the Web site or by calling (916) 485-5322.

CRPD Administrative Analyst Lee Ann Yarber said that for a parks and recreation district that has grown from a site with one baseball field to 183 acres on 14 sites, the district’s current anniversary is special.

“We’re very proud of (the district’s) accomplishments,” Yarber said. “In recent years, we’ve opened two parks (and) we’ve got another one scheduled to (open) in 2011. We just keep evolving and continuing to grow.”