Landmark & Wildflower Preserve
Wildflowers surround Old St. Hilary’s, Tiburon’s iconic hillside landmark, which was originally a mission church named for St. Hilaire, Bishop of Poitiers. The heirs of John Reed—who held title to El Rancho Corte Madera del Presidio, the Mexican land grant that included the Tiburon Peninsula—deeded the one-quarter acre site for $2 to the Archdiocese of San Francisco, which built the church as a place of worship for local railroad workers in 1888.
The building is of significant architectural importance because it is one of the few remaining Carpenter Gothic churches to survive in its original setting. It is constructed of redwood, with redwood doors and a Douglas fir ceiling. Amber glass replaced the original stained glass windows after they were broken. The stained glass window above the door has been restored and depicts St. Hilary (fourth century), patron saint of scholars. It was a gift from Dr. and Mrs. Benjamin Lyford.
The current electric lights are replicas of coal-oil chandeliers, which were lowered with ropes that brackets on the walls held in place. Heating and water are modern additions. Original furnishings include the white altar rail and two stands for statues on either side of the sanctuary, as well as the restored Stations of the Cross in the nave. A donor salvaged the cross from a church in Santa Fe, New Mexico.
Most of the permanent furnishings are donations in honor of local residents. They include the concert piano and custom-made docent desk, chair and table, as well as oak pews that are reproductions of the originals. A group of local volunteers created the needlepoint pew cushions that feature local wildflowers.
The church was deconsecrated to make way for a new, larger one and was headed for destruction until several individuals intent on preserving local history established the Landmarks Society and purchased the site and building in 1959. It has served as a schoolroom and town meeting hall and is now a popular setting for weddings, concerts and other memorable events.
The Wildflower Preserve
The John Thomas Howell Wildflower Preserve, adjacent to Old St. Hilary’s Landmark, is home to several rare plants, including the Tiburon paintbrush, Tiburon buckwheat, Marin dwarf flax and the black jewel flower, which exists only in serpentine on the tip of the Tiburon Peninsula.
The Flowers and Grasses
Howell, a botanist, described the area as “one of the most interesting and remarkable and beautiful wildflower gardens in California (and therefore in all the world!)” and marveled that nowhere else in the state could “so many wonderful plants be found in so small a space.”
217 species of ferns and seed-bearing plants grow in the preserve and two-thirds are native to the area. Of the total number of native plants growing on the Tiburon Peninsula, more than one-third are at Old St. Hilary’s.
The rarity and profusion of plants is a result of the preserve’s geology, which includes steep hillsides of serpentine, level areas of deeper soil and a series of fresh-water springs. With full sun and prevailing winds, the area allows an impressive number of sedges, rushes and grasses to thrive along with attractive and conspicuous flowers.
Meander Through the Preserve
As you walk the preserve’s trails, observe the old stone walls that have been restored, incorporating benches for comfort and to take advantage of the spectacular view. The Landmarks Society will arrange guided tours by appointment.
Rare and Endangered Plants
Some plants in the wildflower preserve are rare and endangered, while others blossom throughout the year.
Tiburon Paint Brush, Castillejaneglecta
Marin Dwarf Flax, Hesperolinon congestum
Tiburon Buckwheat, Eriogonum caninum
Tiburon Jewelflower, Streptanthus niger
Although large and easily seen when it is in flower, this plant, commonly known as the Tiburon Paint Brush, is almost impossible to find in its vegetative stage. It is a perennial semi-parasitic on other plants, like many in its plant-family (Scrophulariaceae). It grows in several nearby counties as well as Marin but is not common.
Hog Fennel, Lomatium dasycarpum
Blue Dicks, Dichelostemma capitatum
Goldfields, Lasthenia californica
Tidy Tips, Layia platyglossa
California Phacelia, Phacelia californica
Spring & Summer
Leopard Lily, Lilium pardalinum
Fountain Zigadene, Zigadenus fontanus
Yellow Mariposa, Calochortus luteus
Pitted Onion, Allium lacunosum
Summer & Fall
Buckwheat, Eriogonum nudum
Hayfield Tarweed, Hemizonia congesta
Bigelow’s Sneezeweed, Helenium bigelovii
Blooming in the springs of Howell Garden:
Grass-of-Parnassus, Parnassia californica
California Hairgrass, Deschampsia holciformis