Fullerton Arboretum & Botanic Garden
I never know what to expect when going to investigate a garden or arboretum attached to a university I’m always skeptical of a University garden or arboretum because I’m afraid of encountering only a few trees in between brick buildings rather than an actual garden or proper green space. Luckily, Fullerton Arboretum at California State University is the real deal, transforming a remote corner of the campus into a thriving collection of exotic and native plants, wooded areas, and water features. I came away from my visit having seen many plants and flowering trees that I had never encountered before and a higher bar set for what a university garden could offer.
There was much to be gained by investigating the garden thoroughly as some sections that may have not have seemed overly impressive at first were actually pretty awesome once I gave them a chance. I had all but disregarded the “Rare Fruits” orchard at first glance and then found myself all enamoured with not only the unfamiliar fruits, but dazzled by the strange and fragrant waxy blossoms that announced them. Swollen Pomelo fruits caught my eye as did the gnarled “fingers” of the Buddha's Hand. The orchard lay on the edge of a large green clearing in the center of the arboretum almost as a gateway to all of the other sections found beyond.
I often was lingering in one section of the garden only to be distracted and lured into another by some fantastical sight. I was busy enjoying the rose garden when a billowing cloud of pinkish purple fluffballs rose up from the surrounding vegetation and took over my view like a mirage shimmering in the sunny glare. This was the massive Cape Chestnut tree in full bloom with clusters of large pink flowers that looked orchid-like on closer inspection. I don’t know what was more impressive, seeing the tree as a whole from afar, or gazing at the bobbing globes of flowers from underneath its canopy. The structure of the Wisteria Arbor next to the tree was also quite captivating even without its romantic, fragrant flowers on display.
Wandering about the dusty mounds of the Desert Collection, weaving between giant cacti, agave, and who knows what else, I felt completely immersed and slightly uneasy. Out of the many desert garden displays I have explored in Southern California, this one seemed somehow the most authentic. I was mesmerized by the strange spiky trees in the Thorn Forest section, which I believe were Alluaudia, their long stalks lined with rows of green leaves and menacing thorns. There were so many varieties, with subtle bark variations or unexpected tufts of bright flowers at the ends of spiny branches.
Final Rating: There’s nothing more rewarding than being won over by a garden, my skepticism gradually being replaced by wonder and awe. I really enjoyed how many different types of flowering trees from all over the world all seemed to be blooming happily in this environment, not to mention tall redwoods, stumpy baobab trees, and twisted-trunked fig trees. Another element that added to the experience was seeing all of the workers in the garden and knowing that actual research happens here while it also appears to be enjoyed by the students and outside community. I would have liked a little more thorough plant identification signage for all of the unique things I saw, but I did enjoy their interactive online maps. FOUR BLOOM RATING