Fullerton Arboretum, California, offers plenty to see throughout the seasons

Fullerton Arboretum in southern California has a lot more to offer visitors than trees
Take a quick glance at the picture above, with its abundant greenery and scattering of flowers and you could be forgiven for thinking it's an English garden beginning to bloom in springtime, but take a closer look and you'll soon realise that apart from the euphorbias, there is little here that we grow in the UK. Not surprising as this is the garden at Fullerton Arboretum in California that I visited recently, to find a stunning array of plants, notably cactus and succulents, as well as a fine collection of trees.
There's a good collection of desert plants at Fullerton Arboretum
Given its city location, not far from central Los Angeles, I was amazed by its verdancy and delighted by some of the unusual plants I found in this 26-acre haven that forms part of the campus at California State University. It was established as recently as the late 1970s by a group of faculty members and students who decided to nurture the plot at the northeastern end of the campus, which had been under threat of conversion for additional parking for the college. Today, the garden is enjoyed by students and visitors and although parking is somewhat limited, it's a small price to pay for the botanical bonuses to be found at Fullerton.
Fullerton is classed as both arboretum and botanical garden and takes great pride in both its trees and native collections, boasting some 4,000 different plants, divided into four main collections - cultivated, desert, Mediterranean and woodland. One tree in particular has a famous provenance - a bodhi (ficus religiosa) - which was donated to the gardens by the Dalai Lama at the start of the new millennium, when he came to visit the university. In India, the bodhi is sacred.
Fullerton Arboretum runs an allotment programme to local residents and ensures they keep plots up to scratch 
In addition to the four main plant collections, Fullerton also runs an allotment programme for local residents and offers a range of plots for Californian natives to grow their vegetables. An innovative idea that gives pleasure to those that have plots, while offering a good visual bonus to visitors. But the rules are tough and if allotment tenants don't tend their plots properly, they're out! The management checks the plots regularly to see that tenants aren't getting sloppy.  
For California natives, the collections here are pretty much the norm, with strong emphasis on cactus and succulents, but for those of us from further afield, the sheer size and range of drought-resistant plants makes this an interesting place to visit. Also notable is the climber collection (make sure you seek this out by walking the perimeter fence), where you'll see bright red passion flowers (below) and many other unusual offerings.
Planting at the Fullerton ensures that there is year-round interest for visitors. No mean feat when you learn there are only three full-time gardeners here and that funding comes entirely from donations. There is no admission charge to the arboretum, but visitors are encouraged to give a $5.00 entrance contribution, which seems incredibly reasonable by UK standards (around £3.50 at today's exchange rates).
Watch out for trees like the bombax (above) and the tulip tree when in bloom, plus the Californian redwood, which doesn't normally grow this far south - these are displays that you won't get in colder climates and provide real eye candy for overseas visitors like me. Fullerton is also known for its fruit tree collection and more recently, its wildflower meadow, created in the last few years. Certainly worth a visit if you're in the vicinity and easily accessible from downtown Los Angeles. The Fullerton is open daily from 8.00-16.30. Special thanks go to Holly Hillman, who showed me round when I visited.
Fullerton has a really comprehensive interactive online database for all its plants - a real bonus for visitors who are not familiar with some of the plants and trees growing there. You can access it online here or when visiting the garden using your phone.

For more California gardens, click here.


  1. Wow! Never expected to see you here! You did an outstanding coverage of this mostly forgotten garden. I want to mention that it is also the only place I know of that has a (Californian) Channel Islands Garden with some very special plants even we who live here have never seen and will never see except here. Thanks for the reminder to visit.

  2. Interesting--I was just in San Diego and I had similar impressions of the gardens I visited. The native plant garden at Balboa Park has an amazing collection of Agaves, Aloes, Cactuses, and other succulents. I hope you had a nice trip to California!

  3. What a fabulous place. Extraordinary that it survives on donations. I thought the allotment idea for local residents was great. It really makes the garden part of the community. Thanks for sharing the garden with us.

  4. Great photos of the garden. California has so many wonderful gardens. I have been to many on my travels too. Thanks for the beautiful reminders of past trips. JC


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