Photo by Pat TompkinsAt the Happy Dahlia Farm, the bees are happy, too.Visiting wineries is obviously a key attraction on a trip to wine country, but even the most enthusiastic imbiber or oenophile can only drink so much in a day. And not everyone in your party may be interested in wine. Plus, winetasting is not really a morning activity. You need some other options. In Sonoma County, home of more than 425 vineyards (more than any other county in California), one alternative is visiting a flower farm.
No matter what time of year you visit, there are several choices, so you can enjoy the sights and scents of “flower bathing.” Being surrounded by natural beauty outdoors can be as relaxing as a glass of pinot noir.
Poppies & Petals Farm
Just west of Santa Rosa, this small flower farm launched in 2021. For a set fee, you can select as many flowers as you can fit in a vase in an hour. It’s U-pik-’em fun. Dahlias, lilies, lisianthus, sunflowers, celosia, cosmos, zinnias, marigolds—in a range of varieties and colors—are among the many offerings. You’ll also encounter several “what’s that?” plants with unfamiliar but appealing blooms. This is an instance where too many choices is a good thing. Be sure to reserve your hour in advance. (Cutting appointments are available only in the morning.) All you need to do to pretend you’re a florist is bring is a vase of your own to transport your personal bouquet home.
Monte-Bellaria di California
Your experience at this lavender farm near Sebastopol will vary depending on when you visit. The plants—which roll over the hillside in rows—will be at their peak color in late June through July, but to maximize the scent-sation, aim for August. Because the field is open only on weekends and timed tickets limit the visitors, reserve tickets (75 minutes, from $10 to $20) well in advance for summer. You can also explore the lavender field in spring and fall for free; check with the farm to find out if you need an appointment for such visits.
The farm, aptly located on Bloomfield Road, is a serene oasis. Unlike Poppies & Petals, picking the flowers here is forbidden. Instead, take home a few Monte-Bellaria products—the moisturizing balm and the soap, for example, use the estate’s own olive oil, lavender essential oil, and beeswax—for a fragrant reminder of your time at this tranquil spot. And its website offers tempting recipes that incorporate lavender in desserts, drinks, and savory vegetable dishes.
The Happy Dahlia Farm
The aptly named flower farm on the east edge of Petaluma has a short but highly colorful season, from approximately late August to mid-October. On weekends, you can roam the rows that showcase the dahlias for free. You’ll see single and multi-colored, even speckled, blooms of such types as orchid, cactus, pompon, peony, and ball. The farm grows more than 100 varieties among its 7,000+ plants. The largest are called “decorative” dahlias; a single flower can brighten a room. You can also buy dahlias by the stem to take home. (Warning: It’s not easy to decide.)
Garden Valley Ranch
A few miles northwest of Petaluma, this rose garden is a popular locale for weddings and other festive celebrations. On its five acres, thousands of roses bloom from May through October. You can also arrange a Picnic and Flower Foraging experience and cut a bucketful of blooms (perfect for a party), or simply call ahead and ask if you can wander the grounds, dotted with apple trees, fountains, gazebos, and a koi pond, for free.
Open weekends May through October; $90 for Flower Foraging + Picnic
Sonoma Botanical Garden
Known as Quarryhill for some 30 years, this 67-acre garden is located just north of Glen Ellen and less than a 10-mile drive from the town of Sonoma. The focus here is less on flowers than on conserving endangered wild plants, especially rare Asian trees. But with its name change in 2021, the garden is also expanding its diversity to include California native plants. Depending on when you visit, you may see flowering trees and bushes, including magnolias, camellias, and rhododendrons. You can explore the gently hilly trails on your own with an informative visitor map/brochure or join a docent-led tour. It also has a gift shop that gardeners will enjoy. As the Sonoma Botanical Garden notes, there’s more to Sonoma Valley than vines.