In the Garden:
Northern California Coastal & Inland Valleys
August, 2012
Regional Report

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The herb garden at UC Berkeley Botanical Garden.

Exploring the Wonders of the Berkeley Botaincal Garden

I made a visit to the Berkeley Botanical Garden this week. Kudos to the gardeners there who keep the weeds at bay and still manage to maintain a magnificent collection of plants from all around the world.

For those of you who have not been there, the Berkeley Botanical Garden is located in the hills between the UC Berkeley Memorial Stadium and the Lawrence Hall of Science. The garden is steep, and there are many slopes and stairs to navigate as you wander through the various plant collections. I watched, in awe, as the young gardeners who were as agile as mountain goats managed to work on the steep hill sides in search of a stray weed or faded branch. Was I ever that strong?

But I digress. A visit to the Berkeley Botanical Garden is a must for any serious gardener, and especially anybody who is searching for a plant to meet a particular requirement. Every single plant is labeled with the family name, common name, scientific name, where the specimen was collected, whether or not it is an endangered species, and the year the plant was received into the garden.

The garden is laid out by geographic origin and includes plants from Asia, Africa, Australia, South America, and Mexico/Central America. There are nine major regions that are represented on the steep hills, and a helpful map is provided upon entry indicating the various regions by color, as well as providing a detailed trail map so you can find your way around. Restful pools, benches and waterfalls abound.

There are also special collections on display. I was especially intrigued by the collection of Chinese herbals used in Asian medicines. The University provided a separate pamphlet on the medicinal herbs, which I will keep for my collection. It was fascinating to finally see what a ginseng plant looked like.

We peeked into the tropical house where a hive of bees is on view behind a glass partition. You can watch as the bees come and go and do their fancy wing dances to cool the hive and provide information to their sisters about where in the garden pollen is located.

The tropical plants were comfortable in their warm, moist habitat, and unusual flowers were blooming joyously. I love to spend time in a greenhouse or conservatory. The humid air feels good when I breathe. Perhaps I'm happy there because I spent so much of my early gardening career under glass roofs.

After leaving the greenhouse, a giant gunnera announced that we were arriving in the Central American portion of the garden. The air was abuzz with hummingbirds zipping between the abundant flowers. Salvia and penstemon were abundant on the hillsides. No wonder there were so many of these tiny feathered creatures!

The New World Desert region contained plants well suited to our dry climate, including a huge collection of thistles. I see that I am not the only gardener in the world who likes these particular plants. Perhaps they appeal to me because they are spiny and hard to eradicate.

I felt inspired by my visit to the UC garden and envious of the strength of the youthful gardeners who work there. I will certainly plant more salvia and penstemon in my own gardens for the hummers now that I see how much they love it!

The Berkeley Botanical Garden is open to the public 9 - 5 every day except major holidays. It is located at 200 Centennial Drive, Berkeley, CA 94720. For more information call 510-643-7255 or visit the web site at

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