By Chris van der Westhuyzen
Bright flower beds, lush greenery, scenic pathways — the beauty of a botanic garden does not come cheap, and most arboretums have no choice but to charge for membership or general admission.
At the Arboretum at UC Santa Cruz however, the first Tuesday of every month is Community Day — a chance for the entire public to enjoy the grand variety of plants, free of charge.
Oct. 2 was the first Community Day of the fall.
Because all UCSC students are already exempt from paying entry fees, the Community Day tradition is dedicated to serving members of the Santa Cruz community and beyond.
“The idea behind Community Day is inclusivity … we want to make the garden available to everybody, regardless of their ability to pay,” said Melinda Kralj, the curator for the Australian Collection.
Among regular visitors to the Arboretum are flora enthusiasts, avian lovers and plant researchers, who go mainly to observe and learn about the garden’s abundance of biodiversity. On Community Days, however, the crowd tends to vary, attracting everyone from joggers, hikers, and cyclists to picnic groups and meandering students.
Cheryl McDonald, an avid gardener and painter from Sacramento, said she visited the Arboretum with the hope of finding inspiration for her next artwork.
“I searched the Internet for things to do and fun activities in Santa Cruz … the Arboretum was highly ranked … it looked beautiful,” McDonald said.
Soon after the Arboretum’s establishment in 1964, UCSC chancellor and Arboretum founder, Dean E. McHenry worked with Dr. Ray Collett to expand the garden by collecting seeds and samples on local field trips and procuring species from countries like South Africa, Australia, New Zealand and Chile. The Arboretum has since earned an outstanding reputation among the world’s leading plant biologists, Kralj said.
“Essentially, our botanic garden is a living library with an unmatched collection of plant species from all over the world,” Kralj said. “That’s why it’s such a popular destination for researchers who come here to study a specific plant family or plant evolution.”
Jisheng Yang, a graduate student in computer science, said it was his love for nature and exploration that led him to attend the Arboretum’s free monthly tour.
“It was wonderful,” Yang said. “I got to see all those plants and the explanations for how they grow and blossom.”
As a self-sustaining organization, the Arboretum is not dependent upon any university grants. Instead, it relies on the help of volunteers and student gardener interns for the general maintenance and expansion of the garden.
“Volunteer work includes weeding, watering, digging holes for new plants,” said Arboretum director of development and research Stephen McCabe. “Some do it for pay, some do it for credit, some do it for fun.”
Arboretum director Brett Hall said operational costs for the Arboretum are funded through gift shop revenue, public donations and biannual plant sales. The sales of 2011 generated $40,000, which was used to fund the garden’s work study program designed to assist students who work their way through college through tending the Arboretum. Hall said his staff has made an effort to ensure a good turnout at their upcoming Fall Plant Sale on Oct. 13.
“We plan to cater for everyone’s needs,” McCabe said. “Our succulents and cacti are ideal for students. They are affordable and require very little maintenance, so if students get really busy during finals and forget to water them it wouldn’t be a problem.”