UCSC Arboretum’s South African Garden

Here’s a fascinating advancement in local garden development: the Arboretum & Botanic Garden at the University of California, Santa Cruz has launched a complete renovation of its South Africa Garden. Over at least the next seven months, this project will include restoring the garden’s unique plantings, recovering lost rare specimens, and adding new plants for display.

The South Africa collection was established early in the Arboretum’s history, as long ago as 1965. It soon emerged as one of the Arboretum’s principal collections, along with the California and Australia Gardens.

The South Africa Garden has always been open for visitors, but when its curator retired some ten years ago, during a period when the Arboretum was going through administrative changes, the growth of this collection stalled. In public gardens, collection development is a continuing, never finished process, but this work requires leadership, vision, energy and critical resources.

In mid-2016, Martin Quigley joined the Arboretum as its Executive Director, and soon began planning to reactivate the South Africa garden. The new plan includes the installation of four new specialty gardens, each of which highlights important and very interesting plant groups.  These specialty gardens will serve as focal points within the overall collection of exceptional plants of South Africa

A Succulent Rock Garden, featuring the juicy Aloes, gnarly Euphorbias, and other fantastic succulents. This installation will constitute a South African version of the dramatic and very popular rock garden in the Arboretum’s Australia Garden. South Africa is the native home of about 50% of the world’s succulent plants, which have in recent years become very popular in private gardens. The Arboretum’s existing Succulent Garden focuses on succulent plants from the coastal areas of Mexico and California, so the establishment of the Succulent Rock Garden will draw attention to that category of plants that are native to South Africa.

A South African Bulb Garden will be encircled by bright and vibrant amaryllids, and highlighted by the full spectrum of fire-adapted geophytes in mass bloom! The “amaryllids,” which we assume refers to South African members of the Amaryllis family, includes genera that some Monterey Bay area gardeners already know and treasure: , e.g., Amaryllis, Clivia, Crinum, Nerine, and others. South Africa’s Cape Region is also the home of 2,100 species of geophytes, includes some that only flower or germinate after burning. The fire-adapted geophytes occur within six plant families; we will have to see which species the Arboretum selects for this colorful Bulb Garden.

A Maze Garden, in which 6- to 8-foot-tall Restio species form a traditional labyrinth. Restios are perennial rush-like flowering plants native to South Africa. This unique feature promises an intriguing experience for garden visitors of all ages.

A Grove of Silver Trees, growing among colorful waves of heathers. Silver Trees (Leucadendron argenteum) are striking evergreen trees with silky leaves that have a distinct silvery sheen produced by dense velvety hairs. These trees are short-lived, and are now a rare and endangered species in South Africa. For many years, the Arboretum has grown Silver Trees in the South Africa Garden. A new grove of these extraordinary trees will present a magical environment. It could be a very appealing site for Weddings in the Arb!

Silver Tree (Leucodendron argenta), Photo by Bill Bishoff, provided by UCSC Arboretum

The Arboretum hosted a special event to launch this renovation project. The South Africa Garden Party happened from 5:00 – 7:00 p.m. on UCSC’s Giving Day, Wednesday, February 27th, in the Arboretum’s Hort II Building. Attendees heard the Arboretum director’s inspiration and vision for the project. Alice in Wonderland costumes and games sparked their creative, whimsical side. Some attendees even came home with a wild hat.

Donations will go towards the education of twenty UCSC students in horticulture, plant biodiversity, and the practice of public garden management. Their work will advance the completion of this important project.

In September 2019 donors will be invited to a special reception showcasing the artfully and expertly constructed garden displays, along with an insider’s peek at how it all came together.

This extraordinary project will revitalize a significant horticultural resource for the Monterey Bay area and all of California.

Visit Public Gardens on Summer Vacation

We have now officially entered the summer season, which is an excellent time for gardening and traveling. One way to combine those activities is to visit a public garden.

The Internet harbors many “Top Ten” lists so my own travels began with a search for “best U.S. public gardens.” If you conduct your own search using these or similar words you will encounter a trove of possible destinations, including six lists that I explored. Here are some impressions.

First, there are many places that qualify as public gardens. National Public Gardens Day happened on May 11th, when 150 botanical gardens and arboreta within the United States offered free admission. These included most of the principal sites, but there are many more to discover.

Then, the Internet’s lists of Top Ten gardens are all strikingly different. While a few gardens appear in more than one list, it’s evident that there are diverse ideas of which gardens deserve to be called “best.” The direct experiences of the list-writers undoubtedly influence their selections. One exception is the USA Today’s list, which is based upon the votes of garden visitors.

The most popular gardens on these lists are Longwood Gardens, Kennett Square, PA; New York Public Garden, New York City, NY; and Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden, Miami, FL.

The most popular gardens in the western part of the nation (which might be more convenient for Monterey Bay residents to visit) include The Bloedel Reserve, Bainbridge Island, WA; Washington Park Arboretum, Seattle, WA; Portland Japanese Garden, Portland, OR; International Rose Test Garden, Portland, OR; Mendocino Coast Botanical Gardens, Mendocino, CA; San Francisco Botanical Garden, San Francisco, CA; Lotusland, Montecito, CA; Huntington Botanic Gardens, San Marino, CA; and Desert Botanical Gardens, Phoenix, AZ.

To be accurate, the western U.S. includes these rather less accessible gardens of the National Tropical Botanical Garden, which includes McBryde Garden, Allerton Garden, Limahuli Garden and Preserve (all on Kaua’I Island, HI) and Kahanu Garden (Maui Island, HI).

Noteworthy public gardens that are closest to the Monterey Bay area (in addition to the SF Botanical Garden) include the Arboretum and Botanic Garden at the University of California, Santa Cruz; Hakone Estate and Gardens, Saratoga, CA; University of California Botanical Gardens, Berkeley, CA; and Bancroft Garden & Nursery, Walnut Creek, CA.

For more information on any of these gardens, use their name to search the Internet.

The many available gardens could not all be mentioned here, and any omissions are not intended as downgrades. The reality is that each public garden offers a unique combination of plants and a setting that might appeal differently for the individual visitor, so a realistic strategy for the adventuresome gardener is to visit as many public gardens as may be convenient and practical and discover which is most satisfying. This could be a rewarding exploration that you might begin during this year’s summer season.