Mendocino Coast Botanical Gardens, part 1

In my last post I showed you the impressive gardens of the Surf Motel in Fort Bragg, CA. Just a few miles south on Highway 1 is another very special place I didn’t even know existed: the Mendocino Coast Botanical Gardens (MCBG). I have been up and down Highway 1 any number of times—although not in recent years—and through some unexplainable quirk of cosmic irony I missed the MCBG each time.


The 47-acre Mendocino Coast Botanical Gardens, whose web site address is the aptly named, was founded in 1961 as a private enterprise. It went through some trial and tribulations over the decades, like many private gardens do, but has been under stable management since 1990. In 2013, the MCBG was ranked as the #2 public garden in the western U.S. by Sunset Magazine. (I missed that list of top public gardens, too, although I read Sunset somewhat regularly.)


Gunnera tinctoria growing on the edge of a lily pond in front of the garden entrance

The MBCG is world-renowned for its collection of rhododendrons, comprising virtually every type in existence (294 different varieties). That alone is a reason to come back in the spring when they are in bloom. Other outstanding collections include camellias (54 varieties), conifers (154 varieties), and heaths and heathers (143 varieties in the genera Calluna, Daboecia, and Erica).


Entrance dominated by a stunning clump of Himalayacalamus hookerianus 'Teague's Blue', a rare clumping bamboo from the foothills of the Himalayas

By necessity my visit was very brief, so I didn’t have time to check out the entire garden. The lower section, which is more naturalistic, apparently has spectacular ocean views, but I didn’t make it that far. Another reason to come back!


Garden entrance


Himalayacalamus hookerianus 'Teague's Blue'; notice the powder-blue coloration on the new culms

As soon as I entered the garden, I saw the sign below. Even though I was there a week early, I knew where to go first: the nursery.


Usually I save the nursery for last, but since it was right there next to the entrance, I couldn’t resist its siren call.

While the nursery isn’t large, it had a great selection of some of my favorite types of plants, including southern hemisphere shrubs like grevilleas from Australia and leucadendrons from South Africa. Here are some photos to whet your appetite.


Grevillea lanigera ‘Coastal Gem’. This selection is widely available in California. I killed one a few years ago because I didn’t water it enough while it was getting established, but I recently bought another one. Just waiting for the weather to cool before I plant it.


Grevilleas always make my heart beat faster


Grevillea ‘Peaches and Cream’, just released in the U.S. in 2013 and still difficult to find. I was very excited to see a large 5-gallon specimen (the only one) and quickly snapped it up. It will go in the front yard next to the Bambusa oldhamii.


Leucadendrons from South Africa are just as exciting as grevilleas


So many favorites on one table! I was pleased to find a 1-gallon Leucadendron argenteum, the fabled silver tree, at a much more reasonable price than what it usually sells for.


Leucadendron ‘Jester’, so beautiful and now more widely available


Naked lady (Amaryillis belladonna), endemic to South Africa’s Cape Province but naturalized all along the north coast of California—to the point where many people think naked ladies are native to California! As common as they may be in gardens and along roadsides, I’ve rarely seen them for sale in a nursery.


Passiflora ‘Coral Seas’, a truly spectacular passionflower hybrid with a long blooming period. Unfortunately, it doesn’t like hot summers and isn’t very hardy, so growing it in Davis would be out of the question.


The succulent section wasn’t large but it had a good selection of what grows well on the north coast. True desert plants don’t fare too well here because it isn’t hot enough.


I think herbs are underused as landscape plants


An eclectic selection conifers, including many dwarf varieties

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Elegia capensis, rarely seen in nurseries. The Surf Motel up the street from the MCBG had a magnificent specimen. I tried growing it in Davis once but failed (summer heat, not enough water) so I passed it by with a heavy heart.


A final look at the nursery

After paying for my plant purchases and taking them back to the car, it was finally time to walk down into the garden proper.


This pot featuring Chondropetalum elephantinum, a restio from South Africa, and parrot’s beak (Lotus berthelotii), a trailing perennial from the Canary Islands, made me feel very welcome.

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In my next post we’ll walk down the steps you saw above and explore the perennial beds. You’re in for quite a visual feast!



  1. I was just there last week! We made the four-hour journey from Sacramento. Such a beautiful place, and my turkey sandwich and strawberry lemonade from the cafe was delicious! I bought a Fairy Wand in a one-gallon to bring home. Still need to blog my visit. ;-)

    1. We were there this past weekend! I think a lot of us Sacramento Valley folks were glad to escape the heat. It was sooooo nice walking around on Sunday morning wearing a fleece :-).

      How the very existence of this garden had escaped me until now is beyond my comprehension. I can't wait to go back, hopefully in the spring.

      Will look for a post on your blog.

    2. I'm a member here Gerhard , and try to go at least once a year, coupled with a visit to Digging Dog . The heather garden is a personal favorite of mine.. I can't even estimate how many photos I've taken there! DD's fall plant sale is in Oct , and it is one of my top 5 gardens , especially in fall.

    3. I was seriously thinking of going to Digging Dog's fall sale on Oct 10-12, but I already have plans so I can't. Maybe in the spring.

  2. Great plant purchases and loving the visit so far, can't wait for more...

  3. The nursery alone was well worth the feature Gerhard, great variety on offer! Looking forward to the next installment already!

    1. I imagine many of the plants that do well on the north coast would probably do well in your garden as well.

  4. A great place to escape the heat. I will have to remember it next time I head to the N. Ca coast. I love the selection of plants they have. I imagine you will be going back....

    1. I will go back for sure. If only the Mendocino coast were a little closer...

  5. I love this botanic garden, so am really enjoying your visit. I always head straight to the plant sales area too, and then visit it again on the way out!

  6. That nursery may be small for you but looks like paradise to me :) How did you find out there was a botanic garden there? thanks god you did, it is beautiful to see your pictures.

    1. I would much rather have a small selection of interesting plants than a large selection of boring, run-of-the-mill plants.

      Somebody told me just before our trip that there was a botanical garden in Fort Bragg.


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