Yesterday our host told us about the Botanic Garden up in the Berkeley Hills, devoted to the collection, growth, display, and preservation of native Californian plants. There’s another garden up there, too — the University of California Botanical Garden, which I’m sure is extraordinary. But having realized how little I know about the plants I’m seeing daily, I wanted to figure out a few things about the native plants. So up we drove. And drove. The views were more beautiful at each turn in the winding road.
And the Botanic Garden ranges over ten acres, divided into ten sections, then three subsections, representing the distinctive natural areas of California: seacoast bluffs, coastal mountains, interior valleys, dry foothills, alpine zones, and two kinds of desert. There are clear labels and lovely stone or bark paths taking you around the plantings.
Everything was interesting. To recognize a leaf but not a shape — and to find out that there are 60 (or more, depending on whether you are clumper or splitter, a guy in the visitor centre cheerfully admitted) species of manzanita. We have the hairy manzanita near us on the Sechelt Peninsula, and its low cousin kinnikinnick. But I loved seeing the common specific names for the various manzanitas of California: refugia, insular shaggy-barked, Little Sur, brittleleaf. I thought of Gary Snyder:
Manzanita the tips in fruit,
Clusters of hard green berries
The longer you look
The bigger they seem,
And the oaks! Such variety. Here’s a coast live oak (Quercus agrifolia):
On a little rocky area, near the stone foundation of a shed: