Mediterranean Garden Society
Late Winter in a Chaparral Garden
By Ann Semaan Beisch
photographs by Ann Semaan Beisch
Photographs to illustrate the article published in The Mediterranean Garden No. 96, April 2019.
The photo at the top of this page shows Hilltops of California Buckwheat and Brittlebush in the Chaparral Collection, University of California in Riverside
Ann was invited to visit the botanical garden at the University of California in Riverside at the end of winter when California native gardens had begun to bloom with new growth.
Natural chaparral landscape is everywhere in Riverside. The garden curator, Janine Almanzor, arranged for an extensive tour of the chaparral collection with the knowledgeable and infectiously enthusiastic docent George Spiliotis.
Upon our arrival at the gatehouse a profusion of fragrant flowering red and white Salvia microphylla ‘Hot Lips’ greeted us. This small-leaved evergreen shrub is one of the many Lamiaceae family natives that were flowering.
Flowers were opening everywhere in the formal planting of the long lawn at the entrance. Beds of Veltheimia bracteata, daffodils, narcissus and snowflake (Leucojum) create an elegant, park-like entrance to what is otherwise a wild and naturalistic site.
Moving from walkways to trails along the sides of the steep arroyos, we descended and ascended to view the planted flora of the chaparral. California buckeye (Aesculus californica), pink-flowering manzanita (Arctostaphylos manzanita) and sugarbush (Rhus ovata) thickly cascade along the slopes and in the beds of the canyon trails.
Climbing up to a more remote section of the site, we encountered a patch of sugarbush (Rhus ovata) so dense and tangled that it literally would ‘take the shirt off your back’ if you attempted to crawl under its foliage.
The prize of walking around it was Bobcat rock, a most dramatic granite outcrop resembling the sleek head of a native wild cat. These natural outcrops of many windswept granite boulders at the top of Alder Canyon are surrounded by chaparral and native vegetation. In the distance the Box Spring Mountains reflect the rounded smooth curves of these granite rocks.
Here tiny pink and white frilly clusters of flowers marked the blooming California buckwheat (Eriogonum fasciculatum).
We then emerged into the open to find that the trees and the bushes were gone and only a vast stretch of intense, low California brittlebush (Encelia farinosa), dotted with bright yellow single-stem flowers, spread out right to the blue sky. It seemed to have no end. Crushing various small leaves in my hands released fresh vibrant fragrances, reminding me of vetiver and nutmeg.
The collection of this botanical garden exemplifies the uniqueness of our California chaparral. Visiting it gives one a special experience of its compact, fragrant almost impenetrable tangle of limbs and thorns, flowers and fruit. Only with a directed effort to preserve the chaparral, awareness by the community of its decline and a reversal of the under-appreciation of its beauty will it flourish.
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