Rancho Santa Ana Botanic Garden
Claremont, California
March 2008

This is a garden that escaped my attention for years. The 86 acre garden was founded in 1927 and moved to its current location in 1951 so it has been around for a long time. Even though I’ve known staff there, somehow I never made the effort to visit. Now I’m sorry I waited so long. Not because the garden has deteriorated but because I missed an opportunity. It’s another of the numerous great Southern California gardens, but with a much different ambience and approach. The Southern California climate allows gardens to grow almost everything, and the other gardens do. Rancho Santa Ana has decided to concentrate only on the flora of California, which it turns out is enough to make a great botanic garden.

Even though it was only March when we visited, there was a lot in bloom. March is peak blooming season for Ceanothus, the California lilacs, and these blue flowering shrubs were everywhere.

Rancho Santa Ana not only grows native California plants but works actively to find and develop new forms of them to be used as garden plants. They've developed and selected a number of new cultivars of California lilac. We entered through 'Fay's Wildflower Meadow'. This early in the year it didn't look like much, a mostly bare patch filled with chicken wire to protect the seeds and seedlings. There were a few large beautiful lupins.

Next is the Desert Garden, a nice display of large cacti, agaves and other desert plants.

We then climbed up to the Visitors Center where we saw this beautiful Burroughsia fastigiata, a tree I'd never seen before.

From here we made our way past the 'California Natives Container Garden' and the 'California Cultivar Garden', to the 55-acre 'California Plant Communities'. This area really gives one a feel for the variety of plant life found in California. I was especially fascinated by the Joshua Trees which were just coming into bloom.

This garden is an amazing tribute to the flora of California. They do a very good job of labeling individual plants but I would have liked more interpretive signs, or brochure, telling the big picture. Each of the plant communities is named on a sign (though not always easy to find), but nothing tells what is special about each. But that's a small gripe. We spent a very enjoyable 2 hours and would have stayed longer if it hadn't been raining.
To see more pictures from Rancho Santa Ana, click
To visit the official website of Rancho Santa Ana Botanic Garden, click here.

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