Glen Ellen, CA

Sonoma Valley Botanical Garden Gets a New Name and a New Focus

Claire Splan

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Kate Rabuck, Curator of Education & Exhibitions, and Scot Medbury, Director, with the Sonoma Botanical Garden’s new signage (Courtesy of Sonoma Botanical Garden)

Spring is bringing more than new growth to the Quarryhill Botanical Garden, located in Glen Ellen, California. It’s also bringing the garden a new name and a new mission.

The 67-acre Sonoma Valley botanical garden will now be known as the Sonoma Botanical Garden. Internationally recognized for its spectacular collections of flowering Asian plants, many grown from seed gathered on trips to China, Japan, Korea, and elsewhere in Asia, the award-winning garden boasts rare magnolias, rhododendrons, maples, and much more. It ranks among the top ten botanic gardens worldwide in both the magnolia and maple surveys of Botanic Gardens Conservation International (BGCI) and in 2011 it was inducted into the Rose Garden Hall of Fame by Great Rosarians of the World in recognition of the garden's outstanding dedication to the preservation of Asian species roses and cultivars.

Now, however, the garden will be adding native plants of California to its collection, ultimately opening other parts of the larger property to visitors to enjoy the existing California oak woodland and chaparral plant communities.

Added to the garden in 1998, the Three Springs Ranch property vastly increased the garden's potential for environmental education, yet thus far this 22-acre parcel has been mostly concealed from public view. In this property the garden sees another opportunity to celebrate and conserve both plant and animal species found closer to home, and to bring its horticultural skills to the cultivation of California native plants as well as Asian species.

On top of a multitude of unique species, California’s native flora includes some of the same genera found in East Asia. This complementary direction ties together the garden’s local focus, regional impact, and global relevance.

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A view of the natural areas on the Sonoma Botanical Garden site that offer opportunities to interpret CA native plants  (Courtesy of Sonoma Botanical Garden)

“We anticipate that the new name and enhanced mission will strengthen the garden’s connection to our community, advancing our environmental-education impact in an era of climate change,” said Jerry Newell, Chair of the Garden’s Board of Directors.

Founded by Jane Davenport Jansen in 1987, Quarryhill Botanical Garden was named after the former sandstone quarry on an upland portion of the site. The name Quarryhill will endure in that portion of the garden.

The name change and mission refinement come on the heels of a yearlong period of reflection and infrastructure investment, an effort further catalyzed in February 2020 by the arrival of the garden’s new director, Scot Medbury. Medbury is an accomplished leader in American public gardens and returned to California after 15 years as President of Brooklyn Botanic Garden in New York. He earlier served as Director of the San Francisco Botanical Garden and the Conservatory of Flowers in Golden Gate Park, where he led a comprehensive renovation that restored the Conservatory to one of San Francisco’s key attractions.

“We hope that encountering specimens of California’s endangered native flora will lead people to an appreciation of plant-conservation challenges around the world, including those found in Asia, and vice versa—that learning about the endangered flora of Asia might inspire local action to save California plants,” said Executive Director Scot Medbury.

“Adapting our mission to include California botany will allow us to be even more sensitive to wildlife, water, and wildfire issues,” Medbury added. “All of us are inspired by the opportunity to use this extraordinary site and its rich collections of plants to engage the next generation of environmental stewards.”

Although the garden’s usually busy calendar of public events has been curtailed in recent months due to the pandemic, it typically hosts numerous school and adult education programs throughout the year.

The non-profit Sonoma Botanical Garden is located at 12841 Sonoma Hwy in Glen Ellen and is open daily except Tuesdays from 9 am to 4 pm. For more information, visit sonomabg.org.

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Writer/editor. Author of "California Fruit & Vegetable Gardening" and "California Month-by-Month Gardening."

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