Sonoma Botanical Garden, the horticultural treasure of the Sonoma Valley – Sonoma Sun


Posted on May 27, 2021 by Sonoma Valley Sun

“Adapting our mission to include California botany will allow us to be even more sensitive to wildlife, water and forest fire issues. ”

By Tim Tesconi | Special in the Sun

Scot Medbury, the devoted steward of the Sonoma Botanical Garden, shows off rare magnolias and twisted evergreens collected from China’s wilderness as he drives a golf cart on trails winding through a wonderful Asian forest in the Sonoma Valley.

This otherworldly oasis thrives in what was once a sandstone quarry where rock was mined to build roads in Sonoma County and beyond.

Medbury, 62, has been executive director of the Sonoma Botanical Garden for just over a year, returning to California after 15 years as president of the Brooklyn Botanic Garden in New York City. A quick study, he became familiar with the lay of the land and the seasonal changes of the 67 acre property where he not only runs operations but makes his home. Not everyone lives on the edge of a public garden.

“April and May are spectacular with the flowering trees and shrubs, but fall is also beautiful when the foliage is red, yellow and orange,” said Medbury, as he leads a tour of the historic property that is both a local landmark and a global treasure. Nestled in the foothills of the Mayacamas Mountains, the garden, open to the public, is located off the Sonoma Highway, not far from the village of Glen Ellen.

In the Sonoma Wine Valley, the Sonoma Botanical Garden, formerly known as the Quarryhill Botanical Garden, is home to one of the largest collections of scientifically documented wild-spring Asian plants in North America and Europe. There are over 1,300 different cultivars and varieties in the extensive collection ranging from wild iris to Japanese maples.

It is a horticultural treasure for botanists and plant lovers who come from all over the world to marvel at rare specimens like the snakebark maple and the mythical dove or handkerchief tree. There are Asian lilacs, ash trees and many varieties of magnolias, which are the blooming stars of the spring show. Trees and shrubs are artfully planted on rolling slopes and alongside ponds and pergolas, providing visitors with a visual adventure in every nook and cranny.

This Asian forest in the middle of the Sonoma Valley was the sight – and the magnificent obsession – of the late Jane Davenport Jansen, a San Francisco heiress who in 1968 purchased the Sonoma Valley property, formerly owned by the herding family. Gordenker, like a retreating weekend. She planted a 15-acre Cabernet Sauvignon vineyard and entertained her family and friends around a pool and lush gardens at her ranch-style home.

But along the way, in partnership with the Royal Botanic Garden in Kew, England and the Howick Arboretum in Northumberland, UK, Jansen used his unwavering determination and considerable fortune to create a world-class arboretum for flora. Asian.

Today, Sonoma Botanical Garden is a non-profit organization that relies primarily on financial endowment from Jansen for its operations as a public garden. The Garden attracts 10,000 visitors each year for what many consider a serene and reflective experience.

But major changes to come promise to increase visitor numbers and the environmental and educational impact of Sonoma Botanical Gardens as it expands its mission to encompass plants native to Asia and California, including the savannas of oak trees and the chaparral which are part of the landscape of the historic properties. .

Medbury said the Sonoma Botanical Garden is proud to be a member of the Sonoma County Farm Bureau, the county’s largest and most influential agricultural organization, which shares the goal of preserving natural habitat and protecting the Watershed.

“The Sonoma Botanical Garden appreciates the close connections with other farmers and horticulturalists in Sonoma County that the Farm Bureau provides,” said Medbury. “We have so much to learn from other members, and also a lot to share, and we look forward to many new partnerships in the months and years to come.”

Medbury, who studied at UC Berkeley and the University of Washington, became executive director of the Sonoma Botanical Garden a year ago, succeeding Bill McNamara who retired in 2019 after 32 years as director executive. McNamara worked with Jansen to create the Asian Garden, realizing his vision of providing a safe haven for plants threatened by the rapid industrialization of Asian countries in the 1970s and 1980s. Over the decades, he has accompanied horticulturalists from partner gardens on expeditions, funded by Jansen, to China, Japan and India to research plants for research, conservation and collection.

Medbury assumed the post of director just before the COVID pandemic rocked the world. Over the past year, Medbury, a strategic thinker and respected leader of America’s public gardens, has been instrumental in promoting the changes that he says will make gardens more relevant at a time when challenges such as climate change and forest fires threaten the native California landscape.

“We hope that encountering specimens of California’s native endangered flora will lead people to appreciate the challenges of conserving plants around the world, including those found in Asia, and vice versa – as learning about Asia’s endangered flora could inspire local action to save California Plants, ”said Medbury, raised in Hawaii and the Seattle area but now firmly rooted in California. “Adapting our mission to include California botany will allow us to be even more sensitive to the issues of wildlife, water and forest fires. ”

Prior to coming to New York to fill the post at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden, Medbury was director of the San Francisco Botanical Garden and the Conservatory of Flowers at Golden Gate Park. Medbury said the eight staff and board members of the Sonoma Botanical Garden were inspired by the opportunity to use the Sonoma Valley site’s rich plant collections, native to Asia and California, to engage the next generation of environmental stewards.

Personally, Medbury is excited about the opportunities to make the Garden a vibrant educational center for local students to learn about native flora and the importance of protecting it.

Jerry Newell, Chairman of the Board of Trustees of the Sonoma Botanical Garden, agrees the changes will expand the garden’s footprint and its connection to the community. “We anticipate that the new name and enhanced mission will strengthen the Garden’s connection to our community, advancing our impact on environmental education in a time of climate change,” said Newell.

Meanwhile, Newell and other members of the Garden Board are dedicated to honoring the legacy of Jane Davenport Jansen who worked tirelessly until her death in 2000 to create the Garden and ensure its continuity after her death. dead.

As the garden adapts to the changing needs of the Sonoma Valley and strives to better serve the scientific community as a whole, it embraces the vision of its founder. The ‘easy loop’ that circles the top of the hill in the historic heart of the garden has been renamed Quarryhill Loop in homage to the history of the property and Jansen’s sustainable mission.

Tim Tesconi, a longtime writer for The Press Democrat, is a former executive director of the Sonoma County Farm Bureau, for whom he wrote this article.

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