My Story: Founder Charlotte Torgovitsky

The world of nature has always been my touchstone; it is where I feel happiest and where everything just makes sense to me on a deeply spiritual level. Outside, my mind and body are at play, and my heart is singing with the pleasure of just being alive in this amazing and beautiful world!

Since childhood I have loved to wander through gardens, woods, and along any coast. This was not so much fun in Bombay, India, where I was born and spent my early years, because my Ayah was always on my heels. There were creatures in our gardens that were considered dangerous, like various insects and reptiles. In Denmark, where my family is from and where we went in the summers to visit with our relatives, it was quite a different story. Though the summers felt cold to me, the days were gloriously long and I was absolutely free to wander. One of my favorite places was the small fishing village, Faxeladeplads, not far from Copenhagen, where my paternal grandmother lived.

I could take off for a day of outdoor exploration, alone, or with my siblings and cousins along, and I was fearless! From my Farmor’s house, I would first look for ripe strawberries in the farmer’s field that was close by, then went into the woods where beech trees grew and tiny streams ran through the understory shrubs down to the coast. The odd little beechnuts, somewhat triangular in shape, were tasty but I had to learn to watch out for the burning nettles during my searches. As the streamlets came closer to the sea strand, I would find baby eels and flounders, which I learned how to trap under my toes. I would bring some home and create a special habitat so that I could study them up close for a little while.

My maternal grandmother (my Mormor) lived in a city, but we could easily get out into the countryside where we would go on long walks to forage for wild foods. We would pick violets for small bouquets and to crystallize for decorations on marzipan candies, elderflowers to make a delicately flavored drink, and rose hips to make jam. We thought of rose hips as the fruits of the gods!

When my family immigrated to America we lived in Pasadena, California. I was a totally confused and disoriented child; just when I thought I knew how the world around me worked, it was all turned upside down. Much to my Dad’s credit he understood what I needed in this strange new place and gave me my own little garden plot to do with exactly as I pleased.

I’ve been a gardener and lover of plants ever since. I always need to be growing something, no matter what else is going on in my life. The first really large garden I worked in was an organic vegetable garden at Harbin Hot Springs in Lake County, where I lived in a loose commune during the summer of 1973. After that, my own young family lived in the town of Sonoma, where we had about an acre of land and I was determined to grow much of the food we needed.

Real life got in the way; I needed to earn money, too, so for the next twenty-five years or so I made a living as an artist, designer, and craftsman. Soon I was living in Marin, closer to the city where my clientele were, happily creating all sorts of items from leather and recycled furs. Deerskin clothing, hand-laced and heavily decorated, was my expertise. But, of course, I was working mostly indoors!

Soon, much to my delight, I discovered the Marin Art and Garden Center, just over the hill from my workshop in San Rafael, and would escape to the gardens there when I’d had too much time indoors. I joined the Garden Society of Marin, one of the founding organizations of this unique and beautiful place. But I soon came to realize that while there was a lot of emphasis placed on the arts, there was very little serious attention paid to the gardens on the eleven acres that made up the Center.

So I decided it was time to change my life and develop a new expertise as a naturalist and educator, integrating my passion for gardening, nature and all the wild creatures. I took the Marin Master Gardener training, as well as all the natural history classes offered at the College of Marin, and then made a proposal to MAGC’s volunteer Board of Directors: Give me a part time job so I have the authority to officially represent the Center and I will create lots of activity within the grounds of this most unusual and beautiful of public places in Marin.

And thus I began a whole new part of my life.