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Ruth was born in 1908 as Ruth Petersson. Raised in Berkeley, it was evident at an early age that Ruth had a certain fondness for plants. During her studies in Architecture at the University of California, the stock market crashed which lead her to question her future as an Architect. She quickly shifted gears and finished University with a teaching degree.
Whilst teaching home economics, she met Philip Bancroft Jr. Ruth and Philip married in 1939 and moved to a family farm in Walnut Creek, California.
In 1950 Ruth began the initial stage of her garden surrounding the homestead in Walnut Creek. Like many of us, Ruth’s planting interests were continually evolving from bearded irises, roses, herbs, alpine plants to perennials. Ruth’s first succulent was a single potted aeonium of which she quickly became fascinated by. Her interest in water conservation plants became the catalyst for her future garden design. Sure enough, one became several and several then became a mass of potted succulents.
In 1971, Philip offered three acres for Ruth to design a garden using the mass collection of succulents collected over the years. To assist with the path and bed design she enlisted Lester Hawkins who was the co-owner of Western Hills Nursery at the time. Within these beds, Ruth curated and set out the varying species of succulents to create a journey of textures, forms and colour for her own enjoyment. As Ruth, famously said ‘I buy what I like and design the space around the plants that I have’. Within her garden were various strategies of how to best utilise specific species to best protect tender plants from the varying elements.
The entrance to The Ruth Bancroft Garden was built by Philip during the 1970’s. By the 1980’s, Ruth and her succulent garden received a great deal of attention from other gardeners and horticulturists. It was during 1988 that Ruth was encouraged by Frank and Anne to preserve her garden. It was The Ruth Bancroft Garden that inspired the Garden Conservancy, a non-profit organisation dedicated to preserving significant American gardens. The Ruth Bancroft Garden, being the first preservation project that opened to the public in the early 1990’s.
Today, The Ruth Bancroft Garden is still open to the public. The funds raised are for the preservation of the property to ensure that it remains in the spirit of Ruth Bancroft who died at the age of 109 in November 2017.
The first succulent that began Ruth’s collection – Aeonium ‘Glenn Davidson’ - is still growing in the garden today.