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 From atop a newly installed boulder, Botanical Garden director Paul Licht (right) gives an exuberant welcome to invited guests at Sunday's celebration. (Peg Skorpinski photo)

Opening the garden's gates
At last, a portal to match its plantings

| 14 September 2005

For close to two decades, leaders and supporters of the University of California Botanical Garden have been talking about, and at times earnestly planning for, a safe and welcoming entrance to the world-renowned living- plant museum. Nestled in Strawberry Canyon, at the edge of one of Centennial Drive's tight, steep curves, the 34-acre garden "is one of the greatest collections of plants, and has one of the ugliest entrances," its director, Paul Licht, has been known to say.

That era came to its official end on Sunday, when more than 150 garden enthusiasts poured through its new craftsman-designed wrought-iron gates, walking under its fresh redwood trellis and onto a landscaped plaza for a ceremony to mark the completion of a new entranceway.

"The gate itself is a visual statement of the importance of this garden," Licht said. "We now have an entrance befitting the significance and dignity of this collection."

Goodbye chain-link fence with a single gate for vehicles and pedestrians alike, opening onto a wide expanse of deteriorating, sloped asphalt. The new gates are set back from the roadway, allowing garden visitors (who number some 40,000 a year) to unload and congregate safely before entering onto a paved plaza, whose two levels are connected by an imposing staircase and an ADA-compliant ramp.

Botanical Garden staff worked up until the 11th hour to fill in the plantings for the new plaza, completing a design based on their exhibit of water-wise plants at the 2000 San Francisco Flower and Garden Show (which took away that event's top prize). Showcasing plants from the Garden's collection, the "arid exotic" design, as it's affectionately termed, features unthirsty species from around the world, from tiny Xeric lip ferns (Cheilanthes buchtiennito) to a giant and venerable Mediterranean fan palm (Chamerops humilis). Garden enthusiasts also got a look at a new exhibit in the Arid House, which borders the plaza.

The new entrance was designed by Berkeley landscape architect Reed Dillingham, who was among the celebrants on hand Sunday. The total project tab: $450,000, plus gifts in-kind, from more than 300 foundations, companies, and individuals - many of whom donned shade hats and sunglasses to celebrate this garden milestone.