Leaning Pines Arboretum – Cal Poly SLO

I visited the Leaning Pine Arboretum both in March 2016 and now July 2017. Its situated on the Cal Poly Campus, and comprises five acres overlooking the campus- complete with fantastic views of the coastal mountains, the Santa Lucia mountains, in the distance. This garden, self-described as the Central Coast’s premier horticultural display garden, is also organized to be a very effective teaching garden. Collections are arranged by geographic-based native groupings and aim to highlight plants that are most suitable for California’s Central Coast area. With the Central Coast boasting a mediterranean climate, the space aims to showcase all plants that can be grown amongst the world’s four other mediterranean climate regions in Australia, Chile, the Mediterranean basin, and South Africa. There’s very few places in North America where this type of celebration of plants on a global level can be achieved, and its right here at Leaning Pine.

I often talk about the importance of visiting outdoor environments at different periods of the year to truly appreciate how nature and weather can transform and give meaning to spaces, and I was happy to visit Leaning Pine in both the spring and summer. Here are some of my most salient observations and takeaways:

  1. Great focus on education and learning environments here. According to the organization, education is the primary mission. The arboretum is  part of the Horticulture and Crop Science Department and is used as a laboratory for
    students through related activities such as classes and independent research. Apart from serving students, the garden also communicates inclusivity through community events that take place in the space. Anyone has the opportunity to learn about the plants, as all are very well labeled with permanent identification
    signs that are arranged by geographic origin.
  2. Apart from the five mediterranean gardens, there’s also additional gardens including: a New Zealand garden, a Dwarf and Unusual Conifer garden, a Formal garden, and displays of cycads, palms, and numerous succulents. The gateway functionality and location of the formal garden is integral to linking the the relationship between the Arboretum buildings and the landscape. From this space one is connected to the arboretum buildings, as well as the main paths leading to the themed gardens.
  3. Seasonality. Circling back to to multiple visitations, I’ll add that the spring is by far the best time to visit, horticulturally, speaking. Everything is in bloom, the grass is still green, and the climate is mild. When touring most recently in July, most all plants were post bloom or in recovery mode, and In generally i saw much more brown than green on the ground. Interestingly enough, I still enjoyed my visit and learned a lot. Instead of the dominating flowers of March, I was instead appreciating seed pods, bark, and more closely examining the plant ID tags. I guess you could i was in sensory overload in the spring, and the summer gave me a chance to revisit and examine anything i may have missed.
  4. The garden also had a few specialty collections in Banksia, Ceanothus, Phlomis, Quercus, and Rosmarinus to name a few. I had never seen so much rosemary in North America prior to visiting Leaning Pine– so many varieties and forms! There were also a lot oak species new to me that are very rare on the east coast.
  5. I have to commend the arboretum on the incredible display garden it is! This climate affords the use of many plant textures, colors, and sizes, and the planting design and pairings are simply stunning here.
  6. My one constructive suggestion: I’d love to know more about the history of the site, the arboretum, its connection to the university, and the people who built this beautiful legacy.  I read a little about it on the several great display boards on the property, but would love to also see in the arboretum website and even brochure. The arboretum is already very strong as a mission in education and its incredible display gardens, and historical context would help to strengthen these connections.

See my site photos here

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