On The Garden Path: San Luis Obispo Botanical Gardens

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INTERESTING: Cork trees, top, and 'Fried-egg flowers,' above, are popular at California's San Luis Obispo Botanical Gardens.
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An air of serenity and peace permeates the place. Wildflowers shim­mer beside Monterey pines, their wind-bent shapes the strongest symbol of central California’s coastal region. Eucalyptus trees show just above the rest of the gardens’ canopy. Plants benefit from the Mediterranean climate here and grow well year-round. This exceptional place is the San Luis Obispo Botanical Gardens.

Showcase of plants

The 150-acre garden complex brings together a variety of plant species that showcase the majesty of the Mediterranean climate. The complex blends both nature and culture into its narrative, and offers visitors an educational and entertaining experience before and during the walk along the gardens’ pathways.

The garden of exploration offers groupings of demonstration gardens in five general areas – horticultural therapy, ecology, biology, cultural influences and horticultural opportunities. The orchard and vineyard plantings highlight the economic importance of plants such as grapes, walnuts, pistachios, olives and cork trees native to Portugal.

Beautiful Matilija poppies, nicknamed ‘Fried-egg flowers,’ greet visitors along the pathways. Seeing the poppies’ yellow centers and large white petals – which can extend as much as 9 inches across – it’s easy to understand how they got their nickname. They can grow from 6 to 8 feet tall, and they are native to the coastal area of Southern California. These impressive plants, with their crepe-papery, scented flowers, require minimal water and bloom through the summer.

All of the plants in the gardens represent the distinct drought-tolerant Mediterranean climate zones of California, the Mediterranean Basin, Chile, South Africa and Australia. The gardens’ focus on plants native to the five Mediterranean regions and their dry summer climate is unique. The beds are labeled, and plant information sheets are available, as well.

History and location

The idea for the gardens began nearly 20 years ago, in 1989, and its development came out of a team effort. The Friends of San Luis Obispo Botanical Garden was incorporated in 1991, and the garden’s master plan was completed in 1998, as were the greenhouse and nursery.

With hard work, the botanical garden has grown into a remarkable family destination that’s unique to its region. It’s a splendid resource for horticulturists of all ages.

Situated in the rolling hills alongside the central California coast, the garden is located on Highway 1 in El Chorro Regional Park, between San Luis Obispo and Morro Bay, Calif.