Past Meetings


Sonoma Valley, California

200 Years of Landscape Evolution (in three days!)

Members and friends of the Alliance met April 14-18 in Sonoma, California, notably while the grass was still green and the vines were nascent. The meeting was hosted by Nicholas Weeks, with the stalwart assistance of Andrea Lucas and Cheryl Miller. The Alliance owes a debt of gratitude to these people for their enlightened programming and effervescent demeanors.
The conference looked at how one region maintains its rural historic agricultural landscapes in the face of development and tourism pressures. A particular focus of this gathering was the influence of both Native and European cultures on this region.


A photo opportunity at the Donnell Garden

The ‘paper’ presentations that complemented the field trips were of the highest caliber. It must be noted that two students of landscape architecture were sponsored by the Alliance to attend the meeting: Laura Knott (Historic Preservation Program, University of Texas, Austin), and Shruti Dixit (Landscape Architecture, Penn State University).


Omnipresent vineyards


Shruti Dixit and Laura Knott

Afternoons were occupied visiting a variety of local sites of historical interest, but inevitably gravitating to an establishment plying the grape trade!

The group toured Jack London State Historic Park up the valley to witness first hand the ‘Beauty Ranch’ where the famous (and famously-wandering) author had set roots. We explored the area of the cottage, the barns and the inimitable ‘pig palace’. The next stop was at Glen Oaks Ranch, a Sonoma Land Trust acquisition protected by land easements. The challenge at this property was ensuring its long-term sustainability: the development of business and management plans are in the works. The afternoon finished off with a tour of Oak Hill Farm, an organic flower and vegetable operation, run by the Teller family since 1955. Also a Sonoma Land Trust property, its priorities are a sensitive consideration of the land and of people. (Nota bene: As with many of these places, full descriptions can be found on the ‘web’.)


The Pig Palace at Jack London SHP


Oak Hill Farm

Without a doubt, the highlight of the conference took place on the Friday afternoon with a visit to “El Novillero”, the Dewey Donnell residence perched atop the valley of the same name. Most landscape aficionados will know this place as one of Thomas Church’s finest works. Only through the determined efforts of Nicholas Weeks did this once in a lifetime opportunity come to fruition.


The Donnell pool


Rhododendrons in bloom

Mr. Church designed over 2,000 gardens through his lifetime, (1902-1978). Greatly inspired by the curves and asymmetry employed by those such as Alvar Aalto, Church was highly influential in the development of the ‘Californian garden style’, itself ultimately exported far and wide.

Even the drive up onto the property was rife with new views at every turn and helped to build the anticipation. And, on leaving the bus, it was with some trepidation, and yet reverence, that the group approached the area of that famous pool, arguably the most photographed in the world! With its abstract sculpture, a perfect foreground feature for a group photograph. It was just as it was meant to be, a late 1940s ‘stage set’ virtually frozen in time.

As a postscript, interestingly this property has not yet been nominated to the National Register. Such an action from the (grateful) attendees was suggested, an act which would remain a powerful and appropriate legacy of this gathering.

The afternoon continued with a visit to Viansa Winery, the first vineyard operation encountered on entering the valley from the south. Beyond the requisite wine tastings at this ‘Tuscan theme park’, we learned about the significant wetlands restoration project that the owners had undertaken, significant for an area where commercial operations tend to take priority.


Viansa Winery


Sinomo Plaza NHL

The final day of the ‘conference’ began with a docent-led tour through Sonoma Plaza National Historical Landmark. The last of 21 missions, the agriculturally-based Sonoma Mission was established in 1823 and remains as the northernmost of the mission network. The field trip continued eastwards into the Napa Valley and visits to the oldest winery in the valley, Charles Krug (1860s), and to the Niebaum-Coppola (yes, that Coppola!). The afternoon drew to a close with a wine tasting at the Donum Estate in Los Carneros.


Krug Winery, Napa Valley


Donum Estate, Los Carneros

It would be negligent not to mention the exquisite meals that we enjoyed along the way, including the traditional banquet hosted by Wild Thyme Catering our last evening in Sonoma. California, and perhaps more importantly its ‘wine country’, truly sets a high standard when it comes to culinary undertakings. As a group, we have never been so well nourished. Kudos to our hosts!



Arnold Alanen, Effigies, Education, Design and Degradation.

Dr. Gray Brechin, Mega Follies: The San Francisco Bay Area Projects that Citizens Stopped.

Shruti Dixit, A Study of Schenley Park: Historical Interpretation to Guide Intervention.

Camille Fife, Thomas Salmon, From Batteries to Bikeways: Assessing Historic Roads at Marin Headlands.

Robert Grese, From Private Estate to World Class Academy: A Cultural Landscape Study of the Cranbrook Educational Community, Bloomfield Hills, Michigan.

Anne Hoover, Arson in the Garden! Opportunistic Restoration of a 17th Century Streambed and Shoreline, Ritsurin Koen, Takamatsu, Kagawa Prefercture, Japan.

Laura Knott, The Historic Rock Fences of Blanco County, Texas.

Cecilia Rusnak, Brian Orland, Heritage Landscapes and Service Learning Across Cultures: A Case Study in the Czech Republic.

Wendy Shearer, The Olmsted Brothers in Ontario: The Italianate Garden Restoration at Fulford Place, Brockville, Ontario.

John N. Roberts, Gardens of an Historic Cowper Street Residence, Palo Alto, California.