I very much wanted to love this arboretum. While most botanical gardens tend to focus on exotics, with a small area set aside for natives, this one is all about natives. With a name like “California Botanic Garden,” I expected to be in for a treat. Learning about, and preserving native species is important. Not only are these plants extremely adapted to local conditions, in terms of soil and climate, but they are a vital link in the preservation of local wildlife.
The garden is a fair size, covering 86 Acres in Claremont, about 35 miles from LA. They claim over 2000 taxa in the collection, many of which come from the California Floristic Province. That is an area that spreads along the Pacific Coast and includes a portion of Southern Oregon and Northern Mexico. It is one of 152 such provinces distributed around the world. This one is a biodiversity hotspot, having a Mediterranean-type climate characterized by hot, dry summers and cool, wet winters. It is not one of the larger provinces, containing about 3000 species, but a large percentage of them are endemic, meaning they are found nowhere else. What is perhaps most important is that the region has lost over 70% of its primary vegetation, so everything that can be preserved is vital.
The Early Days
The garden was conceived in 1927, when Susanna Bixby Bryant saw the increasing pressure exerted by development on California’s native plants and habitats and set aside 200 acres of her Santa Ana Canyon Ranch near Yorba Linda, CA, as a native plant garden. In 1951, the plants and garden were moved to Claremont.
A Split Review
Unfortunately, I have to split my review into two parts – one good, the other bad. Let’s get the bad out of the way. This garden is a jumble. It is an incoherent assortment of styles, with few unifying features. While I think it has been made from bringing together several properties that had all been established before becoming part of the whole, few steps have been taken to do any unification. Paths are a jumble, signage is not particularly good and inconsistent, and I am not sure if the right word is unkempt or naturalistic. It made me feel somewhat unsettled as I wandered around.
With that out of thew way, they did have some nice collections. An impressive collection of Oaks (Quercus), Mahonia (Berberis) Manzanita (Arctostaphylos). Then they had what could be described as matrix plants that were replicated in many places throughout the garden. Examples of this were cylindrical Opuntia and some of the Ribes.
My favorite part of the garden was California Habitats area. Here, the planting was meant to be naturalistic, and apart from the fleece covering some plants to protect them from the unusually cold condition, it was an area I would have liked to spend more time wandering around in, had my legs been up to it.
I was particularly taken by a genus of ferns that were previously unknown to me – Pellaea. I think they were located in the Channel Islands Garden. They had two: P. andromedifolia and P. mucronate. Both were delightful and have been added to my shopping list. Initial searches show that they may be very difficult to acquire. If anyone has, or knows where I can acquire spores of these, I would be very grateful.
Would I go back?
Certainly, if I was in the area, and having my expectations now properly set, I might find I enjoy it more. I hope that at some point they get a director who can get their head around a unification project, and doing a better job at labeling and interpretive signage. What they had was good, they just need a lot more of it.