The Coastal Gardener: Chasing plants around California

May 27, 2011|By Ron Vanderhoff
  • The world famous Lotusland garden, near Santa Barbara.
The world famous Lotusland garden, near Santa Barbara.

I am leaving.

My belongings are in the car, the route is mapped and the tank is full.

As soon as the nursery closes Saturday I'll be gone, the pedal to the metal as we make our way north. We'll drive through the night and get to San Francisco by Sunday morning.

During the next seven days we will be a hop-scotching our way back to Orange County, stopping along the way for visits to some of our state's greatest public botanical gardens and some of nature's great natural gardens.

Some folks like lazy vacations. Check into a hotel, get up late, hang out by the pool or on the beach for a couple hours; maybe a little window shopping, then dinner at a nice restaurant and back to the room. Argh! That's fine for some, but I'd quickly go crazy.

I need nature. I need plants. I need to hear birds, see hills, touch soil and smell earth.


So off we'll go. Our first stop will be the San Francisco Botanical Garden in Golden Gate Park, formerly the Strybing Arboretum.

I've visited this garden many times and keep coming back for more. The Meso-American Cloud Forest will be my first destination; I am always fascinated by the unexpected plants there. Then to the native garden, the Mediterranean area, the New Zealand garden, the succulent collection … I could spend a week never leaving this place.

But the new green roof at the California Academy of Sciences, just a short walk away, is calling me. California's largest and greatest living roof debuted here almost three years ago and I still haven't seen it. I can't wait.

After taking in the rooftop, we'll continue on to the 132-year-old San Francisco Conservatory of Flowers. At this Victorian era greenhouse we'll revisit tropical wonders like the huge Amazon water lilies, rare orchids, vireya rhododendrons and collection of bromeliads.

The next day, our road trip will arrive at what may be the most diverse collection of plants at any garden in the state, the UC Botanical Garden at Berkeley. Ohhhh, I could spend another week here. In fact, I could spend a week in the South African section alone or in the arid house where a diverse collection of plants is meticulously cultivated. Wow!

This is a plant trip — and I'm not much for hotels anyway. So we'll be camping each night under stars and trees; redwoods some nights, oaks or cypress on others. Our nighttime home will be Mt. Diablo, the Big Sur coast, wooded stream sides and sandy beaches.

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