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UC Botanical Garden


The UC recently moved a 100-year-old Julia Morgan building from campus up to the botanical garden. Apparently the building was in the way of the latest Haas Business School expansion. There’s a video of the moving process here and an article about it at SF Gate with some nice photos. It’s a great little building. From the outside it’s not showy, but the interior makes you appreciate good architecture, with wonderful reveals in the woodwork, a great old brick fireplace, and windows overlooking the garden. I’ve liked Julia Morgan buildings all the way back to when I was kid with no interest in architecture.





The building sits quite nicely in the landscape when you consider that it was built for a different site and then adapted to a hillside. The garden has plans to use the building for events, including renting it out for weddings and parties, so this seems likely to be it’s final home.


The new plantings around the building have an interesting concept. Because the botanic garden features plants of ‘documented wild origin’, there are very few cultivars in the garden — almost everything is a true species with records kept of the provenance and genetics of each plant — and yet a lot of cultivars have been selected from the garden’s plants. Roger Raiche, in particular, selected a ton of California natives that have become mainstays in the nursery trade, Roger’s Red Wild Grape and Ceanothus ‘Kurt Zadnick’ being just two that I know offhand. For the new planting around the building, the garden decided to make an exception to the ‘documented wild origin’ policy, and instead do the planting with California native cultivars introduced from the garden.


Landscape architect Ron Lutsko gave a pro-bono planting plan. It should turn out nice enough but I didn’t find it quite as interesting as I expected. It seemed a bit ho-hum, with some Manzanitas and Ceanothus against the building and much of the planting looking like his office just hatched a big area and labeled it ‘perennial mix’. I understand why plantings are so often done this way, why so few prominent LA’s place the plants themselves and instead just hand off the drawings to a contractor to implement, but it does seem like a missed opportunity for a planting in a botanical garden, especially when probably half the garden’s staff have horticulture degrees. But I don’t know the politics of the garden and how these things get decided, and I shouldn’t complain about someone’s pro-bono work. It will compliment the building nicely.


Much of the new planting will probably resemble this mix of natives near the entrance to the garden, a nice enough green patch and very pretty when things are blooming, but not a high point of the garden. I’ll try to take some pictures of the new planting after it has had a few years to grow in. I’d also like to find a plant list to see which cultivars are from the garden.


I wandered around the rest of the garden and in particular the South African section which was looking terrific. Lots of bold colors. By April the California native section will rival it, but in February it is the unquestioned star of the garden.



A new plant for me was this Leucadendron eucalyptifolium. Apparently this is only a five or six year old specimen to reach this size, twelve or fifteen feet tall. I’ve never seen it available in the trade, so perhaps a selection should be made; it could be planted years from now when the next building gets sent up from campus.

The UC Botanical Garden, Late February

I went to the UC Botanical Garden yesterday. Anita and I decided to get memberships for the year. We realized that the garden is actually quite close to our house, not quite as close and convenient as the Tilden garden, but almost, and we should get to know it better. This was the first visit of the year. The garden was in transition between winter and spring, the earliest plants in leaf but most of the other deciduous plants still dormant.

The South Africa section has a new section of moss rock wall. Really nice stonework, dramatic contrast between the boulders and the walls. Be interesting to see what they plant, something with an intense flower no doubt, based on everything else in that section. I think it’s my favorite section of the garden.

It’s hard to think of a flower like this as the natural bloom and not a cultivar that has been bred by humans, but the UC has only wild collected seed.

I don’t remember noticing this vertical stone before. I think that’s a flowering quince behind it.

The ceanothus were going in the native section, but a lot of the other spring bloomers were just getting ready to break. Like the Tilden garden, the UC is a little later than my more coastal garden.

The Summer Holly, Comarystophylis diversifolia, was covered in buds. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen one in full bloom. The Oso Berry, Oemleria cerasiformis, is another one that I don’t often see in bloom.

And there is patch of Giant Coreopsis, the star of my recent bloom day, looking like they wandered over from the South Africa section. Such a strange plant; it’s very clear to me why I need one in my own garden and why I’ve never planted one for anyone else.

UC Botanical Garden

bamboo shade structure

bamboo shade structure

I took some more pictures at the UC Botanical Garden while I was there viewing the corpse flower. There’s a lot to see there. The garden is organized by region, like most botanical gardens, with an emphasis on mediterranean and low-water plants.

Dichelostemma volubile

Dichelostemma volubile, Snakelily

Snakelily stem

Snakelily stem

I tend to think of the Tilden garden when I think of natives, but California natives make up about one third of the UC garden’s acreage, and the garden claims to have about one third of California’s native species represented, including almost all of California’s native bulbs. One I hadn’t seen before is a Snakelily (Dichelostemma volubile), a climbing bulb whose stems twine their way up through shrubs in the oak understory.

serpentine dry stack wall

serpentine dry stack wall

Someone made a nice low wall of (I think) serpentine stone for the raised bed of serpentine plants. Serpentine, or serpentinite, is the state rock of California (though there is a languishing attempt to un-designate ti because it contains asbestos) and gets talked about in native plant circles because only certain plants will grow in serpentine soil. The stone is hard and smooth with a bluish or greenish cast to it; the white is from calcium. It’s rarely used for building in our area. About.com says that “serpentinite is a sexy rock.”

South African section

Southern Africa section

The Southern Africa section has some intense colors.

New World Desert section

New World Desert section

The New World Desert section might be my favorite. The garden has a huge collection of cactus.

Knot Garden

Knot Garden in the Mediterranean section

The garden has a great collection of palms near there, but I didn’t take any photos. I sometimes forget how nice palms can be, and even seeing them and realizing how cool the different shapes and varieties are, I still neglected to take a photo. Several more photos that I did take are below. (more…)

Trudy the Corpse Flower

Trudy the Corpse Flower

Trudy the Corpse Flower

You can catch flies with honey, but you can catch even more with the stench of carrion. I went to see Trudy the corpse flower blooming at the UC Botanical Garden in Berkeley. Corpse flowers (Amorphophallus titanum) earn that lovely goth name by exuding the stench of rotting meat to attract flies to act as pollinators, and they’re not shy about it. The smell is potent, Trudy filed the UC glass house with the smell of roadkill goat, and it’s effective, too; there were ten or twenty flies buzzing around it while I was there, and apparently there’s a bigger swarm in the morning when the smell is strongest. And it’s all a con job on the flies; they lay their eggs thinking there will be food for their offspring, but the children hatch and starve without a genuine carcass to feed on.

The flower is six feet tall and impressive even without the stench. Corpse flowers are from Malaysia and they take seven or more years to bloom, waiting until the plant’s corm weighs thirty pounds or more. The bloom, which is actually a collection of little flowers, has a claim as the biggest inflorescence in the world, and the spadix (the big spike sticking up in the middle) generates heat, up to twenty degrees warmer than the ambient temperature. Someone at the garden has a sensor set up to test if the plant gives off a biomagnetic field the way humans and animals do.

This particular corpse flower, Trudy, first bloomed in 2005 at age twelve, and then waited four years to bloom again, making this her second time blooming, though the garden has others which bloomed while Trudy was resting. The bloom will only last a couple of days before it gets pollinated and collapses. The garden’s website has tons of photos and regular updates. For years, we’ve been getting emails every time one of them blooms, but this was the first time I went by to check it out, and, I gotta say, it was pretty cool. There are seedlings for sale if you want to pay thirty dollars for an indoor plant that requires constant watering and feeding and smells like carrion when it blooms. Photos of nice-smelling flowers are below. (more…)

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