UC Davis Arboretum and Public Garden

The UC Davis Arboretum and Public Garden serves the regional community as a living museum connecting people with the environment and the work of the UC Davis campus.

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As a university garden, we connect undergraduate learning with community engagement through the Learning by Leading program. Each year, hundreds of students in a wide-array of courses, internships, and clubs are mentored by Arboretum staff to develop multi-layered learning experiences for the public and K-12 students. Undergraduates use teaching landscapes, public arts, digital technologies, and performances to engage and inspire learners of all ages and backgrounds in critical issues around science, environmental conservation, and sustainability. This unique training program uses team-based, experiential learning and peer-to-peer leadership to build 21st century skills and help students apply concepts from multiple fields in an outdoor museum setting. As the next generation of environmental leaders, Learning by Leading graduates pursue careers in the sciences, arts, and education and apply the best practices from UC Davis to improve communities and environments nationwide.
Program Successes
- One Learning by Leading program, The Arboretum Ambassadors, provides accessible, free educational outreach programs to the public and underserved K-12 audiences.
- They developed and presented "Oak Discovery Day", celebrating the opening of the Oak Discovery Trail with hands-on activities for children and families, talks by campus researchers, and tours of the oak collection.
- They obtained funding to support "Arboretum Discovery Days", day-long environmental field trips in the Arboretum for middle-school classes from underserved communities.
- They also lead the very successful year-round "Storytime Through the Seasons" program that explores natural and cultural themes through reading and hands-on activities for children and families.
- For several years they have provided an exciting array of activities for Picnic Day, the UC Davis annual open house, and other popular events like movie night in the Arboretum, nature discovery drop-ins, and sustainable crafts workshops.
GATEways Gardens are teaching landscapes created in collaboration with students and faculty to reflect the academic strengths of UC Davis programs and departments. These themed gardens are located at strategic points along the Arboretum waterway and throughout the campus. GATEways Gardens celebrate the arts, the environment and the academic riches of UC Davis, using exhibits, performance spaces, and unique garden designs to create bridges between the campus and community.
Program Successes
Recent GATEways Garden projects:
1. The Hummingbird GATEway Garden was developed in collaboration with the Hummingbird Health and Conservation Program at the UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine. It showcases how home gardeners can select plants and create backyard habitat to support local and migrating hummingbirds.
2. The Arboretum GATEway Garden, located at the east end of the Arboretum where it meets the City of Davis, features plants native to the Putah Creek watershed displayed in themed plantings surrounding three teaching patios. Interpretive signs will educate visitors about the regional flora and fauna, the history of the Putah Creek watershed and its current management, and explain how to create sustainable landscapes with native plants.
3. The Geology GATEway Garden, or California Rock Garden, features large striking rock specimens from around the state that showcase the geologic diversity of California.
4. The Native American Contemplative GATEway Garden features plantings of locally-native species, many used by the Patwin people for medicine, food, and fiber.
5. The Animal Science GATEway Garden, located adjacent to the Cole Facility and horse barns, spotlights the research and societal contributions of the Animal Science department.
Valley-Wise Gardening showcases best practices for sustainable gardening in the Central Valley. The Arboretum All-Stars are our top 100 recommended plants for Central Valley and California landscapes, identified by our horticulture staff as reliable, easy to grow, tested in the Arboretum and proven to look good all year with low water, minimal maintenance, and no chemical fertilizers or pesticides. The All-Stars education program includes signs identifying All-Star plants in the garden, special plant labels at plant sales, a brochure with photos and descriptions of all the plants, a cell phone tour, an online video, model planting plans, and a searchable online database. Demonstration plantings, workshops on gardening with climate-appropriate plants, the Sacramento Bee website and garden tours feature the All-Stars plants and educate home gardeners. All-Star plants can also be purchased at the UC Davis Arboretum Teaching Nursery and select retail nurseries around the state.
Program Successes
- The Ruth Risdon Storer Garden demonstrates Valley-Wise Gardening practices, including the use of Arboretum All-Star plants.
- In addition, Arboretum volunteers created beautiful demonstration plantings at the Arboretum Teaching Nursery to show visitors what All-Star plants look like at mature size in a garden setting.
- Many of the Arboretum All-Stars are available for sale during the public plant sales hosted by the Friends of the UC Davis Arboretum.
- Arboretum staff and UC Davis researchers conducted research to develop propagation protocols for All-Stars plants that are not commercially available, and field-tested them at locations throughout California under a range of environmental conditions.
- In collaboration with the California Center for Urban Horticulture, we developed a university-industry partnership to distribute the Arboretum All-Stars to commercial growers.
- More than 40 retail nurseries across the state participate in the program.
A major goal of the Arboretum and Public Garden initiative is to transition to a more sustainable campus landscape. The initiative builds on the excellent reputation of UC Davis in plant and environmental sciences, the outstanding plant collections already in place throughout the campus, and UC Davis's reputation as a global leader in sustainability-related research and instruction, applied technology, and transformative projects and programs that serve as models for the world. Using plants and gardening techniques developed in the Arboretum and other parts of campus, UC Davis is converting large areas of its landscape to low-water, low-maintenance landscapes that dramatically model sustainable approaches for institutional, municipal, and home landscaping.
Program Successes
- The Public Garden initiative began with pilot projects to convert some campus landscapes - especially high-maintenance turf areas - to sustainable plantings, using the Arboretum All-Stars and other climate-appropriate plants.
- The median strip in the center of La Rue Road was converted from turf to drought-tolerant shrubs and grasses.
- The Shields Oak Grove Meadow was created by replacing two acres of turf with native California grasses, which provide habitat for pollinators and other wildlife and support teaching and research about California native grasslands.
- In addition to dramatically reducing water use and maintenance costs, the new landscapes are more attractive and give UC Davis a unique look and sense of place, and showcase landscape management best practices.
- Additional landscape conversions are in the planning stages.
The UC Davis Arboretum and Public Garden depends on community volunteers. Volunteers donate more than 15,000 hours of service each year in every area of operations. More than 180 volunteers contribute regular hours in the Arboretum each week by working in teams in gardening, nursery, education, curation, exhibits, maintenance, office, library, and GIS (geographic information systems). Several hundred more volunteer for community work days, plant sales, and special events. In response to the recent transition into the campus-wide Arboretum and Public Garden unit, the model of team-based volunteerism created by the Arboretum is being expanded to the rest of campus, engaging faculty, staff, and students in addition to community members.
Program Successes
- Community work days attract hundreds of people to work in the gardens.
- We also partner with several campus and community groups on garden construction projects.
- For example, volunteers from the Rotary Club of Davis cleaned, repaired, and refinished the Wyatt Deck.
- More than 100 employees of AgraQuest, a local company, built a trail at the Shields Oak Grove.
- We host an annual volunteer recognition event to celebrate these important community contributors.