Longtime Belvedere resident Harvey Sanford Rogers, a two-time Citizen of the Year and master gardener known for creating the richly hued Blackie’s Pasture garden now known as Harvey’s Garden, died March 23 at The Redwoods retirement community in Mill Valley following a stroke. He was 95.
Right up until a few days before his death, Mr. Rogers was still visiting Harvey’s Garden and assessing which of its 2,500 native plants needed replacing.
For his work on that garden, which was started in March 1995 and sits on a half-acre island of land in a former parking area at Blackie’s Pasture, Mr. Rogers was named Tiburon Peninsula Chamber of Commerce Business Citizen of the Year in 2012. In 2006, he and his wife, Nancy, were jointly named Belvedere Citizen of the Year Emeriti for beautification work and for other community services.
Mr. Rogers was born on Nov. 28, 1923, to San Francisco natives Sanford and Eda Rogers and grew up in San Francisco, graduating from Lowell High School.
As a boy, Mr. Rogers built planter boxes and grew his own flowers and vegetables at his family’s home in Presidio Heights. On his Iver Johnson bicycle, he delivered copies of the Saturday Evening Post. He was active in Boy Scout Troop 17, where he learned the value of “doing good deeds daily” and developed a love of being outdoors. He bought his first car, a 1929 Ford Model A, at age 16 and, over the years, accumulated a wealth of knowledge of old cars.
He was a 19-year-old college student when he joined the U.S. Navy in 1943. He was sent through V-7 naval officers’ training programs and assigned as a gunnery officer to the heavy cruiser the USS Columbus, which patrolled the waters off China and Japan from 1945 to 1946.
After his service, he returned home and on the G.I. Bill earned his bachelor’s at the University of California at Berkeley, where he studied math, physics and military science.
For a number of years, Mr. Rogers designed and produced a line of handcrafted metal household gift items, including candlesticks. He then went to work designing and selling business forms for National Cash Register Co., now NCR Corporation. In 1967, he founded his own company, Creative Business Forms. He sold the business in 1992, staying on as a consultant for three more years before retiring for good.
He and his wife, the late Nancy Bernheim Rogers, built a home on Belvedere Lagoon where they raised two sons, Kenneth and Stephen. While Mrs. Rogers was in the hospital recuperating after the arrival of Stephen, Mr. Rogers took Kenneth on a historic ride aboard the last train out of Tiburon.
In the mid 1990s, the Tiburon Peninsula Foundation launched a campaign to improve the appearance and call attention to the history of Blackie’s Pasture. The attention was focused on a patch of land at the northern end of the Old Rail Trail, just a few feet away from the eastern side of the pasture’s perimeter fence, that was used as an informal parking lot.
Having recently completed the 18-week University of California Cooperative Extension program to become a certified master gardener, Mr. Rogers took a leadership role in the project. He was excited about turning what he and others called “a mud hole in the winter and a dust bowl in the summer” into something more.
As the garden took shape, he asked for and received some funding from the Tiburon Peninsula Foundation several times.
“The project kind of evolved,” said Larry Smith, a former Tiburon mayor who later served as president of the foundation.
With a limited budget and a small water allotment, Mr. Rogers and the sizable volunteer crew he assembled transformed the dry mound of earth into a showpiece of native plant artistry.
In the second year of the project, the Belvedere Community Foundation, town of Tiburon and city of Belvedere all joined the Tiburon Peninsula Foundation in helping to underwrite the cost of installing and maintaining the garden. The four entities now share the cost of upkeep, which is still performed by volunteers.
Mr. Rogers even recruited volunteers from among those passing by on Old Rail Trail who stopped in their tracks to admire the garden.
“Gardening keeps the mind alert,” he said in 2011 for an Ark story on master gardeners.
In recognition of his work, the town of Tiburon renamed the garden Harvey’s Garden in 2013 in a ceremony that also deemed Nov. 28 — Mr. Rogers’ birthday — “Harvey Rogers Day.” A plaque honoring Mr. Rogers can be seen at the garden.
“He had an flair for outdoor beauty and gardening that affected everything he touched,” said Peyton Stein, a Belvedere resident and the current president of the Tiburon Peninsula Foundation. “If ever there was a green thumb, he was it.”
Stein said Mr. Rogers was meticulous in his monthly reports about how the foundation’s money was spent, detailing the progress of every plant. She noted he won her heart with his smile.
“With him, all the superlatives were true. … Our whole peninsula has lost a treasure,” she said.
Former Belvedere Mayor Ken Johnson agreed.
“Harvey was always a delight, always smiling,” he said. “He was a giver.”
Belvedere City Councilmember James Campbell, another master gardener, was a close friend of Mr. Rogers and has agreed to take over the supervision and care of the garden with another volunteer.
With Mr. Rogers’ attention, “a dirt patch became a jewel of a garden that greets visitors to the Old Rail Trail everyday, the unkempt roadside across from his house on Lagoon Road became an allée of flowering plum trees and sage (and nine) gorgeous Chinese pistache trees bring a wash of red and yellow to Tom Price Park in the fall,” Campbell said. “Harvey enjoyed sharing what he loved with everyone.”
In a statement, Mr. Rogers’ family noted he “always greeted family, friends and even strangers with the biggest smile ever and was ready to share a detailed story on any number of subjects which might reel in his captivated audience.
“As much as he loved telling stories, he equally loved focusing on you and hearing your stories,” the statement continued. “Life delighted Harvey in so many ways. He regularly demonstrated to so many of us that he was never too old to learn. … He was always looking forward and never regretting the past.”
Mr. Rogers moved to The Redwoods retirement community in 2018 after falling and recovering in a rehabilitation facility. His caregivers at The Redwoods in Mill Valley referred to him as “the happiest man on Earth.”
He is survived by his two sons, Kenneth Rogers of Novato and Stephen Rogers of Belvedere; two granddaughters, Kristi Rogers of Tahoe City and Jenny Rogers of Seattle; niece Judy Bettman Matzkin of Danville; and nephews Roger Bettman of Los Altos and Barry Bettman of Reno.
His sister, Ranette Rogers Bettman, predeceased him.
Mr. Rogers was close to his late wife’s family, which included Bob Bernheim of Belvedere and Bernheim’s two children, Brenda Bernheim Straub of Tiburon and Brad Bernheim of Mill Valley.
A memorial service was held at Westminster Presbyterian Church in Tiburon.
Donations in Mr. Rogers’ memory may be made to the Tiburon Peninsula Foundation, P.O. Box 210, Tiburon, CA 94920. Write “For Harvey’s Garden” on the memo line.
Deirdre McCrohan has reported on Tiburon local government and community issues for more than 30 years. Reach her at 415-944-4634.