Quarryhill blossoms into Sonoma Botanical Garden
The Glen Ellen garden plans to feature native plants of California as well as Asia
By Tracy Salcedo
Though historically dedicated to conservation of endangered flora from China and other parts of Asia, Quarryhill Botanical Garden, nestled against the Mayacamas range in Glen Ellen, has long been embraced by the wild flora of California. Recently, the garden decided to return the embrace, changing its name to Sonoma Botanical Garden and broadening its mission to include conservation and interpretation of the Golden State’s native and endangered plant life. “We anticipate that the new name and enhanced mission will strengthen the garden’s connection to our community, advancing our environmental education impact in an era of climate change,” said Jerry Newell, chair of the garden’s board of directors, in announcing the name change and expanded focus.
The botanical garden is building on what it sees as a synergy between its Asian and Californian components. “On top of a multitude of unique species, California is home to some of the same genera that are quintessential to East Asia (maples, roses, rhododendrons, oaks, and more). This complimentary direction gives the Garden the unique opportunity to tie together local focus, regional impact, and global relevance,” the garden’s website notes.
A maze of gravel and dirt paths presently weaves through the 67-acre botanical garden, which is recognized worldwide for its collection of flowering Asian plants. The trees, shrubs, and grasses have been propagated and nurtured over more than 30 years on the site, and include specimens grown from “seeds gathered on trips to China, Japan, Korea, and elsewhere in Asia.” Some species were collected by Jane Davenport Jansen, who founded the garden in the late 1980s. The garden’s former name har- kens back to the land’s history as a former sandstone quarry, and the name “Quarryhill,” according to garden literature, will endure in those portions of the garden.
Presently, aside from the change of name and signage, regular visitors won’t notice significant alternations at the garden. A new map helps walkers orient themselves on the interwoven trails, though getting pleasantly turned around is part of the charm of a walk here. Labels on the ground help novice and expert alike identify the expansive variety of species that line the walkways, shade the stream, and border the lily ponds.
At the top of the trail system an overlook, with a bench and display of prayer flags, offers panoramic views across the valley to Sonoma Mountain; turn around and the Mayacamas rise behind. Native plants of the California chaparral, like sticky monkey flower, bloom just on the other side of the boundary fence, while others, like chamise, still bear the scars of the Nuns Fire, which thankfully spared the botanical garden.
Conservation of California rare and endangered species will take place on a 22-acre parcel, Three Springs Ranch, which was added to the property in 1998. The parcel “has been hidden from public view” until now, but will be developed as an extension and complement to the Asian garden experience.
According to garden literature, the name change and broadened mission “come on the heels of a yearlong period of reflection and infrastructure investment” spearheaded by the garden’s new director, Scot Medbury, who was hired in February 2020. In addition to conserving specimens of California’s endangered native flora, Medbury hopes that “adapting our mission to include California botany will allow us to be even more sensitive to wildlife, water, and wildfire issues that are so present in our community and the world at large. We hope that encountering specimens of California’s endangered native flora will lead people to an appreciation of plant conservation challenges around the world, including those found in Asia, and vice versa — that learning about the endangered flora of Asia might inspire local action to save California plants.”
The nonprofit Sonoma Botanical Garden is located at 12841 Sonoma Hwy. and is open daily, except Tuesday, from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. For more information, visit sonomabg.org.