The tenacious existence of wildflowers is something worth admiration. Without the coddled manicured care of a garden flower the wildflower exists on its own temerity; unruly and independent. Our erratic spring weather gave us plenty of rain but less sun and late chills. Still, the wildflowers arrived to bring us their bright and transient beauty. There are many places to view wild flowers in Sonoma County but the pristine Bouverie Wildflower Preserve near Glen Ellen provided me with a cherished experience in a lightly touched corner of the county.
Donated to the Audubon Canyon Ranch by David Bouverie in 1979, the Bouverie Wildflower Preserve is an unspoiled 535-acre property that boasts amazing spring wildflower displays amongst a diverse array of ecosystems. The preserve is not open to the general public, a stipulation made by David Bouverie, but docent-led walks are available by reservation in the spring and fall. The limited access makes the experience of being there feel remote and the while the paths are well maintained the landscape is otherwise unblemished.
Our walk departed from the Bouverie display hall, where 90 people divided themselves up amongst the volunteer docents (about 8 people per group) according to interests and difficulty of the walk. I chose a steeper walk with a focus on the wildflowers. Within minutes of heading out we started to see wildflowers peak up through the vegetation. As we entered the woodland larger clusters of flowers appeared; a bit of Red Larkspur here, some Chinese Houses there. It was already May but Mother Nature was running a bit late this year. The flowers hadn’t reached their usual concentration but had triumphed through a cold grey spring, making their appearance all the more appreciated. My determined hiker persona stepped aside to allow for a more patient and observant naturalist to emerge. I found myself walking slowly and deliberately so I didn’t miss the next little floral gem: Ground Iris, Sticky Monkey Paws, Columbine, or California Lilac.
Beyond the delicate beauty of the flowers I began to notice other details along the trail; the red sinewy trunks of the Manzanita trees, the smooth burnt-orange bark of the Madrone, the soft velvety leaves of the hazelnut tree. A macro world of hiking opened up to me; then we emerged out into the chaparral and I refocused to take in the sweeping views across the Sonoma Valley. Near the top of the ridge we quietly enjoyed a meditative stroll through an ancient forest of forest of pygmy redwood trees; diminutive yet stalwart, commanding respect for their years.
By midday we had come up over the ridge and down into a small valley where many groups convened at the waterfall for lunch. The resident Peregrine Falcon took his queue and swept out from his nest over the falls to show off before disappearing down the valley. From the waterfall our walk continued along the river, discovering yet another world in the riparian landscape. We passed a group catching newts in the stream, found spiders living in self-made tunnels, and discovered more wildflowers – towering Chinese Houses and bobbling Fairy Lanterns.
In the four hours and almost five miles that we explored the Bouverie Wildflower Preserve I had learned the names of flowers, trees, bugs, and birds. Instead of quickly absorbing all of the landscape in a swift hike to the top of a hill I slowed down to appreciate the little bits of beauty that can be found along the way; it was an enriching encounter with nature. The wildflowers are still blooming and the newly discovered naturalist in me now notices the clusters of poppies, yarrow, and foxglove waving at me from the side of the road. With our summer heating up these beautiful blooms will begin to fade so take some time to get out and walk through the wildflowers before they are gone.
Bouverie will be open again for tours in September. Check their website for details and reservations.