What could be more lovely than spending Christmas Eve at a botanical garden? After a windy, stormy morning the clouds cleared and winter sun brought color to the golden heathers, early blooming rhododendrons and grevilleas growing in the Mendocino Coast Botanical Gardens. I’ve long wanted to visit this famous garden and here was my chance. I was not disappointed at what is described as 47 acres of beauty to the sea.
The mission of the Mendocino Coast Botanical Garden is to conserve plants in harmony with the Northern California coastal ecosystem. Like your own garden this one provides interest year round. I could see the affects of the long summer drought on some of the rhododendron leaf edges but winter rains have turned every fern and blade of grass bright apple green. Mushrooms emerged from damp earth and the Fern Canyon Creek looked more like a small river.
Dogs are welcome here at the Mendocino Coast Botanical Garden so Sherman, our Welsh springer spaniel, was overjoyed with the gardens, too. He seemed to favor the weeping Lebanon cedar and red-twig dogwood but the wild ginger was a big hit also.
It’s an easy half mile walk from the perennial garden to the spectacular vista at the ocean’s edge but with so many side gardens and side paths the journey is as long as you want. In the summer and fall the perennial garden is ablaze with blooming plants but even at this time of year there are many specimens that provide foliage color and structure.
I especially liked the combination of blue euphorbia paired with Baggeson’s Gold lonicera. This type of lonicera is not the familiar honeysuckle vine but an evergreen shrub called a box honeysuckle. It is hardy to cold and requires only moderate irrigation. Other favorite plants in this section of the garden were the blooming hellebore, pheasant tail grass, dwarf conifers, Hinoki cypress and a brilliant purple hopseed.
Further down the path, the garden’s signature plant, the rhododendron, made its appearance. Several varieties from the Himalayas including Pink Delight and the fragrant, Harry Tagg, are early bloomers and were covered with blossoms. Many tree-like rhododendrons, including the native rhododendron californicum and the Big Leaf rhododendron will put on their show in late spring.
Blooming also in the woodland garden large stands of bergenia cordifolia bordered the path, their bright pink flower spikes surrounded by huge round leaves. Helleborus take any amount of winter weather and the Corsican hellebore at the botanical garden were also in full bloom.
I’ve seen huge fuchsia shrubs before but never a fuchsia tree with flaky bark and a few brave fuchsia flowers growing right out of the wood. Fuchsia excorticata is the world’s largest fuchsia and in its native habitat, New Zealand, is can grow to 36 feet tall and form a trunk over a yard in diameter. The flowers are rich in nectar and visited my honey-eating birds there. The dark purple berries, known as konini by Maori, are edible and taste like tamarillos. In New Zealand, possums love this tree fuchsia and have eaten it out of many locations.
After passing through an ingenious deer fence gate made from woven tree branches on a wooden frame, the rest of the garden trails wind through pine forest, a fern canyon and a creekside path finally emerging at the Pacific ocean along the Coastal Bluff Trail. This area is open to black-tail deer and native plants like mahonia, salal, wild ginger, huckleberry and Pacific wax myrtle abound.
Sherman loved the Mendocino Coast Botanical Gardens as much as I. The gardens are located an on Hwy 1 just south of Ft. Bragg. If you are in the area at any time of year. take a stroll through. You’ll be glad you did.