Meghan Ray, Horticulturist
The University of California Botanical Garden was established on the Berkeley campus in 1890. It is approaching its hundredth anniversary in the Strawberry Canyon location where the garden was relocated in the mid-1920’s. As you can image, there have been a great many changes to the landscape over the course of nearly a century; buildings, greenhouses, and collections have come, gone, or been relocated. In addition, botanical priorities and research interests have influenced the choice and display of plant materials. These factors have combined to make the UC Botanical Garden a very different place than it was in its early days.
Documenting living collections is always a challenge. In a system where change is inevitable and even desirable, tracking changes can be like catching water in a sieve. This fluid quality leads to landscapes that continually evolve often leaving little evidence of earlier features. One way to capture these moments is through careful documentation of conditions. But sometimes, working back in time, such documentation is lacking. In today’s digital culture it is easy to forget that photos were once uncommon and that paper records are often lost or discarded.
Luckily, the UC Botanical Garden has several resources to draw on to aid in an understanding of our history. Our own archives, held on site, include the Garden Newsletter, Member’s News, historic plans, photographs, and plant records. The UCB Libraries, especially the Bancroft Archive, also hold historical UCBG materials. These include images, maps, plans, and records such as annual reports, correspondence, budgets, and planning documents. Taken together these items help to build snapshots of the Garden across many phases of its existence, from dairy farm, to a site for faculty research and early horticultural collections, through to the building of the regional collections that make up the Garden today.
Eventually, our goal is to put together a summary of these resources along with a narrative description of the Garden’s history, including its physical evolution and the development of the botanical collections as part of a cultural landscape report. Hopefully this resource will help us remember our past as we forge our way forward.