Monday, April 4, 2016

San Luis Obispo Botanical Garden

There are plenty of botanical gardens in California that have a national or even international reputation. Beyond that there is another layer of regional gardens that may not have the same name recognition but are often just as exciting. Case in point: the San Luis Obispo Botanical Garden on California’s Central Coast. I had never heard of it prior to our recent trip to Morro Bay. But now that I’ve been there, it has a prominent spot on my garden watch list. Read to find out why.

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Located in El Chorro Regional Park on the outskirts of San Luis Obispo, San Luis Obispo Botanical Garden (SLOBG) is an ambitious project that is still in the early stages of development. Take a look at the next photo to see what the long-range plans are:

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The driving force is a non-profit organization called Friends of the San Luis Obispo Botanical Garden. They have a 99-year lease of a 150 acre site of which only 6 acres have been developed so far. The photos you see in this post were taken at the 2.5 acre Preview Garden, opened in 1997.

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The focus of the SLOBG is on the world’s five Mediterranean climate regions: the Mediterranean Basin, California, central Chile, the Western Cape Province of South Africa, and parts of Western and South Australia. This makes it the only botanical garden in the U.S. devoted exclusively to these ecosystems.

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Many plants native to one of these regions do very well in the other four since the rainfall pattern is the same: rain fall through spring; virtually dry summers; mild winters. Since I live and garden in a Mediterranean climate, and love plants from the other Mediterranean climate regions, I’m very excited about the potential of the SLOBG. If the Preview Garden, small as it may be, is any indication, the SLOBG could become a major horticultural destination in California.

So let’s look at the Preview Garden. At 2.5 acres, it’s the size of my dream property. I’ve often thought that two acres is large enough to plant a nice collection of shrubs and trees but not so large that maintenance becomes a nightmare. The Preview Garden confirmed this.

Like the planned SLOBG as a whole, the Preview Garden is divided into the five Mediterranean climate regions. The South Africa Region section to be the largest, but maybe it was because I spent the most time there.

But my visit began in the Australia section near the entrance. The variety of plants from down under is limited because of the available space but this scarlet kunzea (Kunzea baxteri), a close relative of the bottlebrush (genus Callistemon) was a showstopper:

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Scarlet kunzea (Kunzea baxteri)

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Scarlet kunzea (Kunzea baxteri)

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Scarlet kunzea (Kunzea baxteri)

Representing the large genus Eucalyptus is a Forrest’s mallee (Eucalyptus forrestiana):

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Creeping banksia (Banksia repens) is closely related to Banksia blechnifolia, which we have growing in our front yard. Its sole pollinator is a mouse-like marsupial called dibbler. Since California doesn’t have dibblers, I wonder if mice take over that role? Most likely there aren’t enough specimens of Banksia repens growing in all of California to know the answer to that question.

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Creeping banksia (Banksia repens)

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Creeping banksia (Banksia repens)

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Creeping banksia (Banksia repens). The flower spike seem to emerge directly from the ground.

The center piece of the Mediterranean section is this magnificent cork oak (Quercus suber):

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Cork oak (Quercus suber)

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LEFT: Cork oak (Quercus suber)  RIGHT: Mayten tree (Mayten boaria)

The mayten tree (Mayten boaria) on the right in the photo above is from the Chilean Region, as is the freely flowering rock purslane (Cisthanthe grandiflora, formerly known as Calandrinia grandiflora):

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Cisthanthe grandiflora

Looking back at the Chilean section:

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The first showstopper in the California section was this Arroyo Grande lilac (Ceanothus impressus var. nipomensis). It’s native to southern San Luis Obispo and northern Santa Barbara counties where it grows in deep sand. Like most ceanothus, it wants lean soil and little to no irrigation in the summer.

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Arroyo Grande lilac (Ceanothus impressus var. nipomensis)

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Arroyo Grande lilac (Ceanothus impressus var. nipomensis)

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Arroyo Grande lilac (Ceanothus impressus var. nipomensis)

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Arroyo Grande lilac (Ceanothus impressus var. nipomensis)

Standout #2 in the California section was a ‘Pacific Sunset’ flannel bush (Fremontodendron ‘Pacific Sunset’). This introduction by the Rancho Santa Ana Botanic Garden is a hybrid between Fremontodendron californicum and Fremontodendron mexicanum. Like ceanothus, it needs superbly draining soil and has poor tolerance for summer irrigation.

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‘Pacific Sunset’ flannel bush (Fremontodendron ‘Pacific Sunset’)

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‘Pacific Sunset’ flannel bush (Fremontodendron ‘Pacific Sunset’)

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‘Pacific Sunset’ flannel bush (Fremontodendron ‘Pacific Sunset’)

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‘Pacific Sunset’ flannel bush (Fremontodendron ‘Pacific Sunset’)

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‘Pacific Sunset’ flannel bush (Fremontodendron ‘Pacific Sunset’)

Other final California native: western redbud (Cercis occidentalis), in full bloom:

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Western redbud (Cercis occidentalis)

As expected, the Southern Africa section was heavy on succulents. I saw some nice aloe specimens, including these:

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LEFT: Aloe speciosa  RIGHT: Aloe marlothii

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LEFT: Aloe speciosa  RIGHT: Aloe marlothii

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LEFT: Aloe speciosa  RIGHT: Aloe marlothii

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Fan aloe (Kumara plicatilis)

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Fan aloe (Kumara plicatilis)

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Fan aloe (Kumara plicatilis)

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Fallen Aloidendron ramossisimus, not sure what’s going on here, but it seems to be alive

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Noble aloe (Aloe nobilis)

More interesting plants from Southern Africa:

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Veltheima bracteata, one of hundreds of flowering bulbs from South Africa’s Cape Region

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Three crassulas: Crassula arborescens (left), Crassula ovata ‘Gollum’ (back) and Crassula ovata(right)

The Southern Africa section also has several specimens of Leucadendron. They’re still fairly small but impressive nonetheless.

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Leucadendron ‘Jester’

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This one was labeled Leucadendron salignum ‘Stunning’. I couldn’t find any info about a specific cultivar named ‘Stunning’ so I don’t really know what it is exactly.

My favorite was this Leucadendron discolor ‘Pom Pom’. ‘Pom Pom’ is a male selection, which has showier “flowers.” What a stunner!

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A couple of other shrubs from South Africa:

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Honey bush (Melianthus major)

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Sweet pea bush (Polygala myrtifolia). I liked this one so much that I bought a dwarf selection called ‘Mariposa’ this past Saturday and planted it inside the front yard fence. It’s supposed to flower virtually year round.

More photos from the Mediterranean section (this particular bed borders the South Africa section):

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Mediterranean spurge (Euphorbia characias ssp. wulfenii)

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Mediterranean spurge (Euphorbia characias ssp. wulfenii)

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Mediterranean spurge (Euphorbia characias ssp. wulfenii) and Jerusalem sage (Phlomis fruticosa)

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Jerusalem sage (Phlomis fruticosa)

My final stop was Eve’s Garden Shop, located a mile down the road from the Preview Garden in the Oak Glen Pavilion and Administration Building. Unfortunately, it was closed already and the plant selection was very limited (probably because of a major plant sale the weekend before). But I enjoyed looking at the building, which is impressive in its own right: It’s LEED Gold certified and designed to “provide 85% of its own heating and 95% of its own cooling without consuming any energy.”

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Oak Glen Pavilion and Administration Building

The grounds are nicely landscaped:

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Aloidendron ‘Hercules’?

These aeoniums were so perfect, they almost looked fake:

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The climate is so mild on the Central Coast that I’m sure aeoniums would grow like weeds if given the chance!

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I urge you to stop by the San Luis Obispo Botanical Garden if you’re ever in the area. It may still be in its infancy, but there’s a lot to see already.

Directions to the SLOBG can be found here. It’s open during daylight hours and admission is free—yes, free!

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18 comments:

  1. Nice plan--that could be a fabulous place. Looks like all they need is $$$$$$$$$$$$$$.

    The center cone on 'Pom Pom' turns a brilliant crimson--it's a stunner.

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    1. I wish I had a few million to give. It would go a long way :-).

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  2. That flannel bush is a beauty! I hope this garden grows in the way it's planned... I'd love to see it in a few years.

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    Replies
    1. Someday I'll have a flannel bush. All I need is a larger property.

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  3. I DEFINITELY need to pay a visit!

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    Replies
    1. Yes! I can highly recommend a long weekend on the Central Coast :-).

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  4. Replies
    1. Every time I find a place like this, I wonder how many other undiscovered gems there are? It's actually an exciting thought

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  5. There's something relaxing about drooling over plants I have no chance of growing.

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    Replies
    1. I do that, too. Hostas, ferns, large-leafed Asian perennials that need constantly moist soils, etc. :-)

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  6. Some really beautiful specimens already. How long until it's one of the top garden destinations in the country?

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  7. Great article, with wonderful photos of most of my favorites.

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  8. You are the second blogger to post on Banksia repens within a week of my purchase of it, a plant that wasn't on my radar at all before this impulse buy. (Max Parker is the other blogger.) It's a blog zeitgeist thing!

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    Replies
    1. I'll keep an eye out for Banksia repens although it's very similar to my Banksia blechnifolia.

      Max Parker's blog, https://hookandspur.wordpress.com/, was a new discovery for me. Great stuff!

      Zeitgeist, I love it.

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  9. Gerhard, thank you so much for the wonderful pictorial tour of the SLO Botanical Garden. You've really captured its essence. I started volunteering there a few years back when I retired. I feel fortunate to be part of such a dedicated group of people. Glad you had a chance to stop by and hope you visit us again. Madeline

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    Replies
    1. Madeline, thank YOU for volunteering your time and making the SLOBG so special. If I lived in the area, you bet I'd be volunteering too.

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