THE PRESS-ENTERPRISE -- A public garden in Riverside offers an oasis of nature to escape the hustle and bustle of the city.
Located in the foothills of Box Springs Mountain, the 40-acre UCR Botanic Gardens features about 25 acres of gardens nestled against natural habitat. Over 4 miles of scenic trails wander through the gardens which showcase more than 3,500 plant species.
Much of the gardens feature plants from Mediterranean climates similar to that of Riverside, such as the newly renovated Australia garden. Others including the Iris, Rose, Herb and Butterfly gardens are themed. The changes in elevation and topography create microclimates across the grounds and make it possible for a diversity of plantings. The gardens are utilized for research and teaching at UC Riverside, but they are also an inviting place for wildlife and people.
“The gardens have been in place for 57 years and almost everyone who visits has a story of why they are special to them,” Jodie Holt, UCR Botanic Gardens executive director, said. “We are giving people a place to make memories outdoors.”
Admission to the UCR Botanic Gardens is free, although a suggested donation of $5 is welcome. Those who wish to visit can add more to their experience by exploring using their smartphone where Wi-Fi is available in the gardens. Users can locate plants, memorial benches and features that have been mapped in the interactive GIS app.
The gardens also offer docent-guided school tours for local children for free. The tours fit into the California state teaching curriculum, teaching children about desert adaptations, Native American uses of plants, and plant biology. The program is very popular with schools in the area, according to Holt.
“My kids still talk about their school tour and they’re grown up,” Holt said. “We really make a mark onall the kids in the Inland Empire and that’s thousands of kids over the years.”
The UCR Botanic Gardens has support from the university but requires funding from the community. The gardens raise over half of its budget through events, facility rentals, plant sales, memberships anddonations.
Recently, the gardens received a grant from the Arbor Fund through the Inland Empire Community Foundation (formerly The Community Foundation). Grants and donations make it possible to install newgardens and revitalize old favorites.
Those wishing to support the UCR Botanic Gardens can do so by donating or becoming members. An individual membership of $50 includes benefits such as early admission to plant sale events and admission to members-only plant sales. Members also get free admission to other botanic gardens that are members of the American Horticultural Society.
The next members-only Spring Celebration & Member Appreciation Plant Sale takes place on April 18,2020.
The Gardens also depend on the help of hundreds of volunteers and new ones are always welcome. Volunteers can assist in the office, with events and working directly in the gardens. There is also theopportunity to train to be a docent and lead tours for school children and adults.
Much of the community thinks that the UCR Botanic Gardens is just a little park, according to Holt, who says it is actually a living museum.
Recently, many of the gardens have been renovated and almost all of the plants have a botanical label, offering the opportunity to learn or simply enjoy a peaceful stroll.
“If you haven’t been to gardens you should come and if you haven’t been in the last three years, prepare to be really surprised,” Holt said. “We have added so much more than enhances the visitor experience.”
Information: 951-784-6962; gardens.ucr.edu
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