Garden Guru: UC Davis Arboretum

I’ve always had a keen interest in the natural world around me.  I spend as much of my free time as I can playing outside in the amazing place we are so lucky to call home.  Spending a lifetime roaming the hills and mountains of my native California has given me a modest amount of knowledge of our native flora.

A midlife career change into the landscape maintenance industry gave me the opportunity to put some of that knowledge to the test.  Boy was I in for a surprise.  My amateur gardening often had me referencing my trusty Sunset Western Garden Book.  While it is a useful resource, and I learned we live in “zone 9,” I quickly realized I needed another avenue for a rapid education into the world of horticulture.

Being a hands-on guy, one of the first places I thought of is the well-renowned UC Davis Arboretum.  The word arboretum means a botanical garden devoted to trees.  Most arboretums have evolved to giving equal time to plants and trees.  The majority of our universities have arboretums and we are fortunate to live near one of the crown jewels on the UC Davis campus.

The UC Davis Arboretum consists of 17 gardens.  There is something for everyone to enjoy, including collections of plants from around the world.  My favorites include the conifer collection, the California foothill collection and the garden of California native plants.  There is even a giant redwood grove and lots of exhibits.  The arboretum was established in 1936, so many of the trees have had the time to grow quite large.

The majority of the arboretum is spread out along the banks of the old north channel of Putah Creek.  The plants are well marked and visitors are given a great opportunity to discover new plants that do well in our climate.  You’ll need good walking shoes to explore all the gardens.  The main path consists of a 3.5 mile loop popular with cyclists, joggers and hikers.

The arboretum is used for hands-on teaching and research.  The UC Davis Arboretum website is a great resource for garden enthusiasts and is full of useful links and information. UC Davis is a leader in gathering and sharing information about plants that do well in our “zone 9.”  The horticultural staff has put together a great list of 100 hardy plants they call the “Arboretum All-Stars.”  These are drought and pest resistant, have outstanding qualities in the garden and consist of many California natives. The brochure can be downloaded from your home computer, but it’s so much nicer to see the gardens in person.

If you want to visit, The Arboretum is free and never closes.  Parking is free on weekends and $9.00 on weekdays. There are lawn areas and picnic tables available that make great spots to relax and have a picnic.  Dogs are allowed on a leash but humans are encouraged to roam.

Terry Halvorson is a certified arborist and nature enthusiast.

Special to Village Life


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