Sarah Winchester’s Garden


We toured the perplexing and historic Winchester Mystery House last week, in the heart of Silicon Valley.  I wrote about our experience here.

Before the tour, I strolled the well-groomed gardens.  Mrs. Winchester planted trees and shrubs from around the world, beautifully maintained for over a century.

I hope to go back one day and follow along with the self guided tour, listening to the recorded messages along the way.  Here is a small sample of the grounds.

Winchester Mystery House Garden Entrance

Winchester Mystery House Garden
Winchester Mystery House Hibiscus

Winchester Mystery House Garden
Winchester Mystery House

If you make it to Silicon Valley, be sure to put this on your list. If you live nearby and you’ve never gone, you are in for a treat.


A Walk Through the (Ransacked) Garden


We discovered the clues one by one.

We uncovered them in perfect order.

On the same day we toured the Winchester Mystery House, my friend Laura and I had an impromptu mystery party in my back yard.

We were in the garden to check out the pumpkins and I noticed our flattened beach ball.  We’d tossed the ball around the yard for weeks, so I was puzzled to see it completely deflated. On further inspection, it was full of small puncture holes.

Punctured Beach Ball

I’ve read that rats will chew on anything to get water, even beams in an attic. Apparently they decided to have a drink at the expense of the beach ball. Darn rats!

Laura then looked over my shoulder and exclaimed, “What happened!?”

Across from the vegetable garden, half of the baby tears had been folded back on themselves, along the rock wall. Neighborhood squirrels must have been looking for buried nuts. We flipped back the layers, watered and tamped the plants into place. Darn squirrels!

“Oh no!” Laura yelled, sounding even more concerned. Our next clue! A corner of our new lawn was now a muddy mess. Layers of sod also folded back on itself. Laura mentioned that crows will dig up grass to unearth the worms and grubs below.  It made perfect sense.  I see a pair of crows each morning outside my kitchen window, eating worms they’ve pulled up out of the grass. Apparently they moved on to a new patch of grass. Darn crows!

Muddy sod

Together we patted down the sod as best we could, then headed inside to wash our hands when I saw one last clue:  perfect little raccoon prints leading from the grass to the fountain. The marauder probably stopped at the fountain to wash his muddy hands. Darn raccoon!

It’s a good thing this wasn’t a court of law, as I had mentally tried and convicted rats, squirrels and crows, before discovering the unmistakable hand-like prints of the raccoon.

Can’t you just picture the little line up at the county jail?


Winchester Mystery House

Winchester Mystery House is one of the most unusual landmarks in my city.  The sprawling mansion covers four acres and stands three stories tall.  Sarah Winchester, mired in grief, was convinced that the spirits of innocent people, killed by the Winchester rifles were responsible for the death of her husband and infant daughter.  Under the advice of a physic, she continuously built on to her home to confuse and appease the spirits. We took a tour there today with friends and had an interesting time.

I arrived early to take photos of the gardens on the spacious estate, before embarking on the house tour.  Sarah Winchester, born in 1884, was ahead of her time.  She built an amazing room for watering her house plants, while at the same time conserving water.  The second story room has a non-oxidizing metal floor covered with removal wood planks.   The floor has a gentle slope, a faucet and a working sink.  After removing the planks, plants are set out on the floor and watered in place.  The excess water followed the slope of the floor and then drained outdoors to water the garden.

Here is a bit about the house from the official website:

Winchester Mystery House™ is an extravagant maze of Victorian craftsmanship – marvelous, baffling, and eerily eccentric, to say the least.

Some of the architectural oddities may have practical explanations. For example, the Switchback Staircase, which has seven flights with forty-four steps, rises only about nine feet, since each step is just two inches high. Mrs. Winchester arthritis was quite severe in her later years, and the stairway may have been designed to accommodate her disability.

The miles of twisting hallways are made even more intriguing by secret passageways in the walls. Mrs. Winchester traveled through her house in a roundabout fashion, supposedly to confuse any mischievous ghosts that might be following her.

This wild and fanciful description of Mrs. Winchester’s nightly prowl to the Séance Room appeared in The American Weekly in 1928, six years after her death:

“When Mrs. Winchester set out for her Séance Room, it might well have discouraged the ghost of the Indian or even of a bloodhound, to follow her. After traversing an interminable labyrinth of rooms and hallways, suddenly she would push a button, a panel would fly back and she would step quickly from one apartment into another, and unless the pursuing ghost was watchful and quick, he would lose her. Then she opened a window in that apartment and climbed out, not into the open air, but on to the top of a flight of steps that took her down one story only to meet another flight that brought her right back up to the same level again, all inside the house. This was supposed to be very discomforting to evil spirits who are said to be naturally suspicious of traps.” – Read more on the Winchester Mystery House® website

Winchester Mystery House Spider Web windows

Spider webs figured prominently in many of the homes architectural features. An actual  spider made a home in the garden just below these windows.  I think Sarah would be proud.