Did you know that one of the top 10 botanical gardens in the world for magnolias and maple trees is in Glen Ellen? Or that it is in the worldwide Rose Hall of Fame for its collection of Asian roses?
Just celebrating its 25th birthday last year, Quarryhill Botanical Gardens is a nice spot for an easy hike and/or picnic if you’re traveling between Santa Rosa and Sonoma, which is a frequent occurrence for me these days. I stopped there the other day for a hike, well, more like a fun walk. There’s a self-guided trail that loops around and through the gardens, covering about two miles. Get ready for a slight elevation in two places, but barely noticeable and certainly doable by any active walker of any age. We saw people from kids to not-so-young folks out on the trails. I enjoyed the chance to detour off the main paths and find some quirky small bridges crossing over some of the waterfalls. Hidden, remote nooks abound in this park. Perfect spots for quiet reflection, a snack, or just to enjoy the view.
But this is a hike to do with lots of stopping. In addition to the signposted-markers for 19 different things to see, there are ponds, waterfalls and wildlife. See the specific type of mulberry tree that was first used by the Chinese 2,000 years ago to create paper. Or the Japanese trees where the male and female versions grow side by side so their colorful displays of leaves and berries complement each other. Or the dogwood that is found in Korea, which has leaf patterns unlike any other dogwoods in the world. This is an Asian flora paradise, writ small.
The gardens, named generally for the type of landscape evoked by the rolling terrain and the recessed ponds, was a charred mass of fire-ravaged land 50 years ago. Its founder, Jane Davenport Jansen, took it as a personal crusade to build the 62-acre garden and make it into a showcase for exotic and threatened trees and plants from eastern and southeastern Asia. It has lived up to that goal and more, becoming a popular spot for botanists from around the world as well as school groups and other. The garden has a cooperative arrangement with eight different major Asian botanical gardens to trade seeds so it should remain a special gallery of that world for some time to come.
For me, it was a pleasant hike, with plenty to learn and a beautiful view of Sonoma Valley and the Mayacamas for much of the way. I visited on the second day of spring and only a fraction of the colors and blooms are evident but that is quickly changing. By the time Quarryhill has its annual Earth Day celebration in just a few weeks on April 20 (free admission!), I expect Jane Jansen’s spectacularly-laden garden to be on full display.