Sunday, November 21, 2010

Fall at the UC Davis Arboretum

The Arboretum is a 100-acre public garden along the banks of Putah Creek on the south side of the University of California Davis campus. It contains more than 22,000 plants and trees adapted to our Mediterranean climate of cool, wet winter and hot, dry summers. At the southwestern end of the Arboretum you’ll find the Valley-Wise demonstration garden, which I briefly mentioned in my post about the succulent beds in our front yard.

With its bike and pedestrian paths along the creek bed, crossed here and there by quaint wooden bridges, and a small lake in the middle, the Arboretum is a treasured resource in our small college town, much used by students and the public alike.

It is also an inspiration for home owners who want to use more climate-appropriate plants in their landscaping. While the larger trees, like the valley oaks, are too massive for today’s smaller residential lots, many other shrubs, grasses and flowering plants are eminently suitable for just about any landscaping design, be it traditional, contemporary or anywhere in between. Since the majority of plants in Arboretum are clearly labeled, it’s easy to take a walk and pick out favorite plants that might look good in your own yard.

The Arboretum is home to the UC Davis Teaching Nursery and holds several plant sales in the spring and the fall that draw gardeners and enthusiasts from all over Northern California. I’ve bought quite a few unusual and rare plants there over the years, including several of my farfugiums and a couple of bamboo muhly grasses (Muhlenbergia dumosa) that I love. Prices are relatively high, but the plants are top quality and often cannot be found anywhere else.

The Arboretum has also published a list of All-Stars, 100 tough plants ideally suited for our climate. These plants were chosen by the horticultural staff of the Arboretum and extensively tested in the field. Many local nurseries are now carrying at least some of the All-Stars; they’re easy to identify by their special tag.

The Arboretum is open 24 hours a day. During the week, you’re charged $6 for parking, but on the weekends parking is free. My preferred lot for parking is Lot 5a at the corner of A Street and Old Davis Road (enter campus from A Street in downtown Davis). Alternatively, you can park for free at Davis Commons, aka the Borders Shopping Center, in downtown and connect to the Arboretum from the west side of the parking lot.

The Arboretum is a great place to visit any time of year, but I particularly love it in the fall when the trees and shrubs turn color. It’s about as good as it gets as far as fall foliage in the Sacramento Valley is concerned.

This morning, we went for a leisurely stroll through the Arboretum with the kids and the dog. The air was crisp and clear after yesterday’s downpour; the sky blue and filled with puffy white clouds. Really, a picture-postcard fall day.

Here are some photographic impressions of what you will find in the Arboretum at this time of year.

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‘Autumn Gold’ ginkgo (Gingko biloba ‘Autumn Gold’) reflected
in Lake Spafford
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‘Autumn Gold’ ginkgo
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View of Lake Spafford in the heart of the Arboretum
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Maidenhair grass (Miscanthus sinensis)
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Deer grass (Muhlenbergia rigens), a California native extensively used in public landscaping
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Just one of many beautiful shade trees
image
Valley oak (Quercus lobata), the largest oak tree in North America (up to 100 ft. tall); its life span is up to 600 years
image
Valley oak bark
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Bark of Santa Cruz Island ironwood (Lyonothamnus floribundus s. aspleniifolius); sometimes the bark is even more interesting than the rest
of the tree
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Another tree with outstanding bark: Guadalupe Island cypress (Cupressus guadalupensis)
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Just in case we need a reminder
where we are:
California fan palm (Washingtonia filifera)
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A beautiful found still life: toyon branch on top of pine needles; toyon is also known as “California holly”, and rumor has is that Hollywood was named after it
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Seeing something in bloom this late in the year is always a welcome sight: chaparral currant (Ribes malvaceum)
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Every now and then you get a reminder that the Arboretum is part of a research institution: these stock tanks—identical to the ones we just set up in our back yard—are used for a wetlands simulation
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The water tower, one of the landmarks of UC Davis, is visible from I-80
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The Mondavi Center, one of the leading performing arts venues in Northern California, seen through the filigree of a 400-year old valley oak

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