One of the things about living in the bay area that is both a blessing and a curse is that there are so many great gardens, parks and preserves to visit that it is easy to overlook some real gems that are right under our noses. One such gem is the UC Botanical Garden in Berkeley. I've visited these amazing gardens several times in recent years, but certainly not enough to see it all or even to fully appreciate all it has to offer. I recently was lucky enough to get a personal tour of the garden with the director, Paul Licht, and it was eye-opening to see how many surprises lurk in those 34 acres tucked into the Berkeley Hills.
Surprise #1: UC Botanical Garden ranks as the second largest in the nation in terms of number of species represented (a whopping 9,670), and is second also in the number of endangered species collected and preserved. That's an awful lot of diversity right in our back yard. But forget about the numbers. Where else can you enjoy the lush peonies, rhododendrons, and camellias of the China garden and then stroll a few steps away to take in a stunning array of blooming plants and succulents from South Africa, or the New World, or California's own natives? How about a classic herb garden, or a garden of traditional Chinese medicinal plants, or a visit to the Orchid, Fern, and Carniverous Plant House? There is truly something for every plant geek or nature-lover.
Surprise #2: There's a lot more to do up there in the gardens than just enjoy the plants. Some recent events have included a Fiber and Dye Exhibit and an Introduction to Birding, and there are also monthly butterfly walks and sick plant clinics where you can get help diagnosing what's ailing your plants. There are concerts in the Redwood Grove, tables for picnicking, even places to host special events like meetings and weddings. (Who wouldn't want to get married in a garden of old roses?)
Surprise #3: Every so often, some of its babies go on sale. And tomorrow (Saturday, 4/24) is such a day. Following a members-only sale and silent auction tonight, the open-to-the-public Spring Sale starts at 10 AM tomorrow and runs until 2 PM--not very much shopping time considering that there are 8,000 plants available. Check the web site for details about the sale and a plant availability list.
If UC Botanical Garden is starting to sound like something you don't want to miss out on, you should consider becoming a member. Membership not only gets you lots of discounts and goodies at the garden here, but you also get reciprocal privileges at nearly 200 gardens across the country--total plant nirvana for just $45 a year. Who knew?