A pot (washing) party that is – that’s title of the flyer inviting volunteers to help wash flower pots at Rancho Santa Ana Botanic Garden (RSABG). The volunteers at the party had visions of the mother lode of pots being washed when we popped into the nursery on our tour of the Garden.
Patrick Larkin, Executive Director of RSABG and former fellow of LGP, generously spent a full day touring us around this lovely native plant garden in Claremont, California. Patrick believes that Suzanna Bixby Bryant was visionary in establishing the Botanic Garden on her Orange County Ranch back in 1927. Her impetus was the disappearance of the native California plant habitat due to development, combined with being saddened by the largest Californian plant collection not being in California but in Kew Gardens.
Today the Garden still displays and promotes the landscape use of native California plants. The topography at Rancho Santa Ana has defined the location of the Garden’s collections: the desert plant collection is on a dry gravel alluvial washout; the clay soil of the Indian Hill Mesa area is the location of California natives and cultivars arranged to inspire visitors to grow native plants; the northern Californian plants are situated in a cooler east facing site where the cold air drains down from the mountains overlooking the garden and the native plant communities collections such as the Chaparral and coastal sage shrub are situated further from the entrance for visitor who want a more in depth experience.
RSABG has a strong research component to its mission and is associated with the Claremont Graduate University. The RSABG research staff is affiliated with the University and responsible for the University’s Botany Program. Dr. Lucinda McDade, Director of Research, explained that the focus of the Garden’s research is on systematic and evolutionary botany. There are currently 2 masters and 11 PhD students studying at the Garden.
The Botanic Garden has four types of collections, in addition to the living plant collection that includes live oaks and salvias; there is a library collection of rare plant books started by Bixby Bryant, the fourth largest herbarium in the US with 1.1 million specimens and a seed collection of native California plants including rare, endangered and threatened species. “It’s all high tech in the seed processing and storage lab” jokes Michael Wall, Seed Conservation Program Manager, as he points out the Sears bought freezers to store the seed collection.
“Take the time to invest in your volunteers” was the advice from Shawn Overstreet, Plant Collections Manager and RSABG has certainly found inspiring and fun ways to engage the volunteers. A volunteer “Sign Tsar” regularly inspects the gardens for proper plant signage and interpretation, a “Bench Brigade” maintains the donated benches, an entomologist staffs the butterfly house, not to mention the pot party crowd!
The 100F heat of the desert was beckoning as we left Rancho Santa Ana and headed out to Joshua Tree for our final stop on this wonderful Southern Californian North American Experience.
Photos by Kate Baltzell