A Place of Peace

Awe-inspiring flowers and vistas await visitors at Nevada County’s Crystal Hermitage Gardens

Back Article Jun 16, 2023 By Steve Martarano

This story is part of our June 2023 print issue. To subscribe, click here.

Situated about 20 miles out of Nevada City off a winding Highway 49, Ananda Village’s Crystal Hermitage Gardens can be a nice day trip for visitors from the Capital Region. 

Those making the drive, however, will experience one of California’s best gardens, featuring the annual springtime tradition of 19,000 tulips blooming, unparalleled views of Tahoe National Forest and Yuba River Canyon, and a number of other areas to hike and explore. 

“It is a little bit of a hoof,” says Mai Lee, who has handled Crystal Hermitage marketing since arriving at Ananda Village in 2017. “But for those people that make the trip, it’s become a family tradition. They really love and appreciate it.”

Even when the tulips aren’t blooming during the April-May window, Crystal Hermitage is a destination experience that has received accolades by AAA Magazine as a top garden to visit in the West.

The nearly 5-acre, multi-tiered garden area is part of the sprawling 880-acre Ananda Village community, founded in 1968. Lee says Ananda has more than 200 residents, including monks, nuns and adults with children, who are devotees of Paramahansa Yogananda, an influential teacher of yoga in the West and author of the spiritual classic “Autobiography of a Yogi.”

“My recommendation is to take it slow,” Lee says to those visiting. “If you’re going to drive a far distance to get here, spend the day, have lunch, pack a picnic, walk the trails, visit the gardens, do a meditation class. We’re a campus of elementary schools, farms, temples and retreat properties. There’s a lot to see and do.”

Inspired by the Butchart Gardens in British Columbia and other Italian gardens around the world, Crystal Hermitage employs a garden designer and two full-time gardeners to keep the flowers fresh. The property is operated with the help of hundreds of volunteers, while accommodating close to 50,000 visitors a year — around 20,000 of those coming during the month-long tulip bloom season, Lee says. 

The gardens are open to the public all year, but tulip blooming season is the only period there’s a charge to visitors, Lee says. June begins the planting of new gardens, which includes the interplanting of 9,000-10,000 forget-me-nots and the blooming of peonies and other summer flowers. 

“It’s not just the tulips that makes this garden so spectacular and interesting, it is the layering of all the different types of flowers that are in the garden along with the structural plants such as the Japanese maples and the dogwoods,” Lee says.

The gardens were initially designed for residents only. But about 15 years ago, founder Swami Kriyananda envisioned the public should enjoy them as well, Lee says.

“He said, ‘You know, this is going to be a world-class garden one day, and we should invite our neighbors to come and see it,’” says Lee, who lived at Ananda before she and her husband purchased a nearby property about a year ago.

The much-anticipated annual tulip bloom, featuring 108 pink, purple and yellow varieties this year, started late due to the snowy conditions at the site’s 2,500-foot elevation, and the season was extended to mid-May. “On March 28, the tulips were still buried under three feet of snow,” Lee says. “We’ve had some really interesting weather challenges this year.”

In addition to the gardens, visitors can hike trails that pass by pools, waterfalls and a chapel inspired by the Little Church of St. Francis of Assisi, or meditate and pray at Moksha Mandir, the final resting place of Ananda’s founder. Several public events and photo walks are held throughout the year. In nearby Ananda Village, there are park areas with picnic tables, a reception center, the Expanding Light Retreat and several businesses, including a market and deli.

The two-story Crystal Hermitage Guest House, complete with a kitchen, bath, two bedrooms and a meditation room, is available to rent for overnight stays.

“The goal of this garden is to give the public a place to appreciate and connect with each other and to experience God and spirituality through nature,” Lee says. “You can go to a sermon — and you probably will remember one or two sentences — but the sermon of Mother Nature is a deeper experience that will be with you forever.” 

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