Califonia Bountiful

Pat's Garden Travels: College campuses offer colorful trees and plants to see

November/December 2020 California Bountiful magazine

California offers a wealth of public gardens to discover. Join our gardening expert Pat Rubin as she travels up and down the state, bringing you the best of her travels to inspire yours.

College campuses aren't simply sites for higher learning; they're places to find beautiful gardens and arboretums. With 10 University of California campuses, 23 California State University campuses and hundreds of community and private colleges in the state, there's sure to be one or two or more near where you live. Some, such as the University of California, Davis, have extensive arboretums devoted to many types and styles of gardening. But whether the campus has an arboretum, a botanical garden or a conservatory, it likely has beautiful plantings worth seeing.

Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons, by Tom Emens

CSU Channel Islands
1 University Drive

On a visit to the California State University, Channel Islands, campus last year, I was struck with the lush, beautiful plantings of California natives and other climate-appropriate plantings. It was stunning. The sycamore trees are the biggest I have ever seen. The first buildings and plantings date back to the 1930s, when it was a mental hospital. The new buildings are in the same style as the old and fit seamlessly together. The quad area is lined with ancient trees. I would love to be a student on this campus and be able to stroll past these plantings all year round.

Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

CSU Sacramento
6000 J Street
Open dawn to dusk, no admission fees

Skirting the south edge of the California State University, Sacramento, campus, the 3-acre arboretum, founded in 1945, is an oasis of green immune from the noisy comings and goings of traffic on nearby J Street. It is a haven of peace for students suffering from the angst of exams and term papers. It is a garden for strolling, for sitting against a tree and reading, for watching the world go by. Unlike most gardens, it's a garden for looking up, for craning your head back as far as you can, shading your eyes with your hand and following the tree trunks up, up as high as you can see. It's a garden of trees and shrubs, many of them clothed in green throughout the year.

But like all gardens, it's a constantly changing scene, with the redbuds stealing the show in spring, only to be upstaged by dogwoods, maples or even the conifers with their green-yellow spring foliage. In the fall, Sac State graduate and student counselor Joanna Hedrick makes intricate, circular artwork on campus out of fallen ginkgo tree leaves. The arboretum also has a "Jurassic Park" section that features plants dating back to the age of dinosaurs.

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