University of California, Riverside

UCR Botanic Gardens

History of the UCR Botanic Gardens

The Origins || The Site || The Vasek Directorship, 1962-1967 || The Gillett Directorship, 1967-1973 || The Erickson Directorship, 1973-1981 || The Waines Directorship, 1981-present || Sources

History of the UCR Botanic Gardens
by Walter Reuther,
Professor Emeritus, University of California, Riverside

(Text as it appeared serially in the UCRBG Newsletter, Vol. 12, No. 3 to Vol. 13, No. 3. No figures are included in this copy.)

The Origins

With the establishment of the College of Letters and Science in 1954 on the Riverside campus of the University of California, the need for a botanic garden was evident from the beginning. Among the first to join the staff of the new college was Professor Victor H. Goodman, a botanist. Faced with the prospect of teaching botany, he was concerned to find how little he knew about the flora of the West, and the Riverside area in particular. Having been raised in Missouri and educated at Missouri and New York universities, he soon realized that without access to a nearby botanic garden, his teaching and research programs would be handicapped. Accordingly, among his first acts in 1954 was to propose that the Division of Life Sciences establish a botanic garden, preferably nearby. His proposal was supported wholeheartedly by Professor Herman Speith, a zoologist and then chairman of the Division, but for budgetary purposes it was called the Life Sciences Experimental Area.

Another botanist, Dr. Frank C. Vasek, joined the Division staff with a fresh Ph.D. from UCLA in systematic botany. He was appointed to foster Dr. Goodman's botanic garden proposal soon after his arrival at Riverside in August 1954. Professor Vasek then prepared a formal budget proposal, justified largely on teaching and research needs in botany. Probably because of the size of this small liberal arts college, as it was then conceived, the administration at Berkeley seemed to doubt that the small student enrollment at that time could justify a botanic garden. Hence, the Life Science Experimental Area remained an unfunded paper project for several years. However, local support was steadfast.

Although the project had, as yet, no land allocation or budget, Professor Vasek immediately (1954) started collecting plants for a botanic garden. For this purpose, some benches in Life Sciences greenhouses 16 and 17 were used, together with a small nursery plot between them.

In 1960, the Regents expanded the scope of the Riverside campus, declaring it a general campus of the University. This effectively abandoned the original small liberal arts college concept, and opened the way for adding a College of Agriculture and other teaching units. Undoubtedly, this helped to raise the priority accorded to the botanic garden project by the administration at Berkeley. In any case, funds were provided in the 1962-63 budget to begin the development of the Life Sciences Experimental Area site.

The Site

The first concrete step to establish the Botanic Gardens was allocation of the present approximately 37-acre site in the southeast sector of the core land of the UCR campus. Originally, this core land was known as the "Box Springs Site." It consisted of about 475 acres acquired by the University for the purpose of expanding the Citrus Experiment Station, a field unit (founded in 1907) of the University of California Agricultural Experiment Station. The allocation of the site to the Division of Life Sciences apparently was finalized in the fall of 1957, after considerable controversy. Professor Goodman felt that the site provided too little level or gently sloping land. Some in the Citrus Experiment Station wanted the mesa area (the present site of the office-headhouse, greenhouse, lath house, etc.) for a nursery. Still others wanted it to be used, in part, as a golf course. Professor Speith thought it too small. At that time, campus long-range plans showed a major perimeter road through the area.

From the beginning, development of this site was envisioned almost entirely as a botanic garden. However, a small area was devoted to research with reptiles in pens by Professor Wilbur W. Mayhew, Professor Rodolfo Ruibal, and others. These pens were removed in 1989. A few other research projects involving fauna were conducted over the years.

When it was allocated, the site was a completely undeveloped part of the campus. By 1988, approximately 25 of the original 37 acres had been developed. It was (and is) mostly rugged, sloping, hilly, and rocky terrain overlooking the more level valley land of the central campus area. The parcel is divided roughly into east and west halves by a mostly dry drainage channel, which eventually became known as Alder Canyon. This channel has steep sides with many large granite boulders, which greatly add to its scenic charm, but do not help public access or transportation, planting, and maintenance operations. At its lower end, Alder Canyon joins a larger drainage channel, which passes through the northern end of the Gardens from east to west. This larger channel also drains an adjoining residential area along and to the east of Watkins Drive. It eventually joins the main channel draining the campus.

Originally, the terrain was covered in most places with virgin coastal sage scrub, a vegetation-type common to the hilly slopes of the Riverside area. The predominant plants were (and still are in undeveloped portions) shrubs, such as brittlebush (Encelia farinosa), buckwheat (Eriogonum fasciculatum), black sage (Salvia mellifera), and coastal sage brush (Artemisia californica).

There were no trees except in the lower valley area around the present entrance, where a few termite-infested Mexican elderberries (Sambucus mexicana) grew. Elevations range from 1100 feet at the entrance to 1450 feet at the south boundary. The microclimate of the site ranges from subtropical, with damaging freezes every 5 to 10 years, in the lower reaches, to almost frost-free areas on the upper slopes. Rainfall averages about 11 inches annually, less than 10% of which falls between June and October. The dominant soil type is Monserate sandy loam. It is shallow to moderate in depth, overlays granitic rock, and is mostly well drained to excessively drained. In a few places, decomposed granite is exposed on the surface.

At one time there was a corral or paddock extending into the lower part of Alder Canyon. Cedar posts and the remnants of fencing were still present in 1963 when development began. The posts formed a line running roughly east and west about 50 to 100 yards above the present entrance gate. Apparently this was part of an enclosure located mostly to the north of the entrance once used for Citrus Experiment Station horses. A 1926 California license plate, dug up in this area, suggests that the paddock dated from the 1920's.

The Vasek Directorship, 1962-1967

Frank C. Vasek With the funding of this [the Botanic Gardens] project in 1962-63, Professor Vasek probably was officially named Director of what is now the UCR Botanic Gardens, although it continued to be called the Life Sciences Experimental Area in Life Sciences budgets until about 1967. Since no actual physical development or planting of the site was begun until early in 1963, this date has been set for the founding of the UCR Botanic Gardens. However, a case could be made for an earlier founding date, based on administrative actions.

The first staff employee of this project, Mr. Dennis Kucera, was hired by Dr. Vasek late in 1962 with the title of Senior Nurseryman. In 1963, Vasek and Kucera began the development of the fencing, unpaved roads, and the irrigation system. The original irrigation system was installed to serve the entire 37 acres by gravity. This included a reservoir tank of 10,000 gallons located just above the south perimeter fence of the Gardens. This was filled by a manually-controlled electric pump which was later automated. Because of budget constraints, the irrigation lines were laid directly on the ground with faucets every 100 feet. The contractors laid everything in straight lines, disregarding the rugged sloping terrain. As a result, in places the pipelines went directly over boulders and thus were suspended several feet above ground level for long distances. This resulted in pipe breakage, and the consequent need for rerouting of lines to ground level. In the summertime, water in these exposed pipes often became so hot by midmorning that watering had to be confined to the early morning hours. It was not until 1967 that the pipes were buried.

As soon as water for irrigation became available in the summer of 1963, plantings were begun, using the materials collected and propagated by Dr. Vasek in pre-budget times, much of which came from the UCLA campus. The first plantings were alders, followed by cottonwoods and sycamores in the northern end of what is now called Alder Canyon.

As the Botanic Gardens' first director, Dr. Vasek's basic planting plan was to emphasize firstly, collections of native plants of California organized by geographic or climatic zones; and secondly, collections of exotic plants arranged by families. California desert plants, a deciduous shade forest, a native juniper collection, collections of citrus and figs, and a riparian white alder forest were among the early plantings and were located mostly in the northern half of the Gardens. The citrus and fig plantings were propagated from existing Citrus Experiment Station collections begun in the 1920's and 1930's by the late Professors Herbert J. Webber and Ira J. Condit, respectively.

Among the many early problems of developing the Gardens was the damage to roots and tops of new plantings by gophers and rabbits. Apparently, irrigated plantings increased the food supply for these pests so that their populations increased to such an extent as to seriously interfere with Gardens development. For a time, the only remedy to protect most young plants from rabbits was to enclose the tops in wire netting. To protect many from gopher damage, the roots had to be enclosed in wire baskets before planting. One of the rabbit control measures tried was to enclose the entire garden area in rabbit fencing. Professors Vasek and [Wilbur W.] Mayhew then organized an army of beaters into a line 800 feet long across the area, and sought to drive all the rabbits out the front gate. Vast hordes were driven out, but enough darted between the student beaters, spaced about 4 feet apart, to soon repopulate the area. Eventually a systematic trapping program for gophers and a shooting program for rabbits reduced these pests to tolerable levels of depredation, but such damage is a continuing problem plaguing garden development and maintenance.

Scarcity of operational staff (Mr. Kucera was it) and of funds mandated a very slow pace of development of plantings. Only the barest necessities of roads, trails, fences, etc. could be developed. The headhouse of Life Sciences Greenhouse 16 served as the operational headquarters of the Gardens in the absence of any building, even a tool shed, on the site in the first few years. Even common-place gardening tools were in short supply.

During Vasek's tenure as Director, the physical improvements funded in the 1962-67 period were, according to University records (Office of Architects and Engineers), the irrigation system, a small lathhouse, the perimeter fences, and some unpaved roads.

Despite lack of resources, Professor Vasek managed to establish a surprisingly large selection of California and other Southwestern plants, and also some species collections of exotic plants. In fact, plantings began to exceed manpower to maintain them. From the beginning, it was clear to Professor Vasek that additional staff and resources would be needed to further develop the garden if it were to serve even the basic needs of teaching and research in botany at UCR. Accordingly, the 1966-67 budget provided for a new staff position in the Division of Life Sciences to serve as Director, and an additional full-time employee to assist Mr. Kucera.

The Gillett Directorship, 1967-1973

George W. Gillet On July 1, 1967, Dr. George W. Gillett was appointed Professor of Botany at UCR and Director of the Botanic Gardens. He succeeded Dr. Vasek, who turned over a project he had managed to get off the ground despite severe constraints of funding and personnel. One more employee, Mr. Norman Sheppeard, was added to raise the operational staff from one to two full?time people for installing and maintaining the plantings.

From his experience as Director of the Lyon Arboretum at Honolulu, Professor Gillett was keenly aware of the problem of inadequate budgetary support for the UCR Botanic Gardens before he accepted the position. In his first annual report, he pointed out that the desired rate of future development of the Gardens could not be accomplished without a concomitant increase in support budget. To this end, he proposed (unsuccessfully) that the UCR Botanic Gardens be made a separate, more fiscally accountable and readily visible line item in the Division budget. Professor Gillett's pointed pleas for more adequate support did result in impressing Vice Chancellor Thomas Jenkin, who made some special funds available to the Botanic Gardens.

During his tenure as Director, Gillett's basic problem was maintaining adequately an expanding planted area with a static maintenance staff. Also, seed accessions were larger than the ability of his staff to adequately germinate and propagate them. Throughout Gillett's 6-year tenure, he had only the two full-time staff employees he started with in 1967, plus (in some years) the equivalent of about 1/2 a full-time employee as casual student labor. Further, the scarcity of ordinary tools, propagating supplies, and other necessary materials and facilities for the planting and maintenance of botanical collections were very troublesome handicaps. Added to these difficulties, a sharp freeze, followed by a flood, together with pest damage, set the Gardens development program back severely during his first year at UCR.

The austere support conditions experienced by Professor Gillett are reiterated in most of his annual reports. For example, his 1968-69 report states, "Because of the excessive load of operational responsibilities necessarily assumed by the less than minimal force of only two men assigned to the maintenance of 37 acres of garden and the execution of propagation work in the greenhouse, very little weeding or other intensive maintenance could be accomplished. It is therefore necessary for us to live with the appearance of unkept Botanic Gardens, an appearance that belies the status of the Gardens in the long-range development ... of the campus." His 1972-73 report states, "This year the work force of the Botanic Gardens consisted of two full-time employees, ... for the maintenance of 20 acres of (planted) gardens. ... No botanic garden I have known operates on so little. In spite of a long history of painful austerity, the morale of the two men at the Gardens, Mr. Dennis Kucera and Mr. Norman Sheppeard, has shown few signs of the stress that would be expected under such trying, unreasonable circumstances. Both men continue their devoted care of the collections, performing physical obligations that far exceed reasonable demands."

Despite all these difficulties, Professor Gillett and his staff managed to establish a large number of plant collections invaluable in the support of botany and related research and teaching programs at UCR. Among these were some collections of special interest to UCR professors, such as a mint collection (Professor R. Scora), a subtropical fruit collection (Professor W. B. Story), citrus relatives (Professor W. P. Bitters), grass collection (Professor V. B. Youngner), and cotton family (Professor B. L. Johnson), an ethnobotany collection significant to southern California Indians, and others. The late Mr. Waldo Small, a local nurseryman, donated a number of unusual trees and shrubs which added to the landscaping of the Gardens. During a sabbatical leave in Australia, Professor Vasek sent back seed which formed the basis of the various collections of Australian plants. Similar seed accessions from South Africa sent by botanic gardens and some private contributors resulted in the beginning of the South African collections. In these efforts, Professor Vasek's collecting zeal and Professor Gillett's extensive worldwide contacts were of great value.

The physical facilities within the Gardens were improved significantly during Professor Gillett's stewardship. University records (the Office of Architects and Engineers) indicate that the main improvements were providing an electric power supply (1969), a new automated irrigation pump (1970), an asphalt road from Parking Lot 13 terminating at the headhouse (1970), four parking spaces at the main gate (1970), walks, footbridges, irrigation system improvements, and improved utilities (1972). A topographical map was made in 1972. In 1969, additional lathhouse space was constructed. A small headhouse, the first building to be constructed in the Gardens, was located adjacent to the lathhouse. Occupied in 1970, the headhouse provided space for records, an office with telephone, a toilet for staff, storage space for tools and supplies, and bench space for potting, etc. The dam, which established the pond in Alder Canyon, was constructed in 1972, as were two foot bridges.

By 1969, the Gardens were giving significant support to teaching through class visitations and supplying class materials. Also, a start was made in the public service area by conducting a few tours for special interest groups in the community.

By 1970, there were 11 research projects being conducted using plantings in the Gardens. An example was the work of Professor Rainer Scora, in cooperation with others, on screening various plant extracts for tumor-inhibiting and other medicinal effects. By 1973, a number of other research projects had been added. Among these were: control of mosquitos by the use of Tilapia fish by Professor E. F. Legner, chromatographic studies of the Rose family, and ecological studies of Adenostoma by Professor Vasek and of Bidens by Professor Gillett.

The main thrust of the development of the Gardens under Professor Gillett's leadership was to provide for the teaching and research needs at UCR. In this area, he made a very significant contribution toward the accomplishment of a basic objective of the Gardens. In the last year of his tenure, Professor Gillett requested (but did not receive) funds to provide staff to keep the Gardens open to casual visitors and others during weekends, thus expanding its public service function and increasing its visibility. However, he was somewhat ambivalent about opening the Gardens to the public because he felt that a University of California facility of this sort should be kept up in a manner more in line with its high standards, and this was not possible with the support available to him.

Professor Gillett relinquished the Directorship of the Botanic Gardens effective July 1, 1973, and began a sabbatical leave. From his untimely death on January 4, 1976, following extensive heart surgery, it may be surmised that Professor Gillett had been in less than good health for some time.

The Erickson Directorship, 1973-1981


Louis C. EricksonThe eight years under the leadership of Dr Louis C. Erickson, Professor of Botany was a period of steady growth and development. He gave higher priority than the previous directors to display and specialty plantings of interest to schools, community groups and the general public. Without neglecting the teaching and research objectives of the Gardens, he felt that greater public visibility was needed if the Gardens were to serve better the University's public service mission and to generate private support. To this end, he obtained signs which were located at several strategic places on the campus, directing visitors to the Gardens. He also prepared a map of the Gardens for distribution to visitors and started keeping the Gardens open on weekends. At first (1973), Mr. Kucera and Professor Erickson took turns keeping the Gardens open two Sundays a month. The favorable response persuaded Vice Chancellor Van Perkins to provide funds (1974) for student help to keep the Gardens open all weekends. In 1974, Professor Erickson prevailed on three avid bird watchers (Ken Arakawa, Richard Green, and Eugene Cardiff) to compile a list of "Birds of UCR Botanic Gardens and Vicinity." Professor Lee Brown in Biology was asked to prepare a collection of insects for display. Professor Erickson began developing the cactus and succulent gardens, the iris garden, followed by the rose garden, the herb garden, and the lilac and daylily collections, among others, as displays of interest to many visitors.

The development of the cactus and succulent gardens was greatly accelerated, beginning in 1973, with the dedicated volunteer help of Col. (Ret.) Leo Pickoff and his wife, Lillian. They not only donated hundreds of plants, but assisted with planting and maintenance throughout the period of Erickson's stewardship and beyond.

The iris garden was started in 1973 with personal collections of named cultivars donated by Professor Erickson and by Mr. Harry Tate, a local iris hybridizer. This large collection of about 150 iris cultivars has become a very colorful and popular display feature of the Gardens during April and May each year, when they reach their peak bloom.

In 1975, the rose garden was begun with the support of such groups as the Riverside Rose Society, the Rancho Rose Study Group, and individuals like Mrs. Zelda Lloyd and others. The Jackson and Perkins Company and a rose hybridist, Mr. Robert Lindquist generously donated hundreds of plants, which include varieties of florabundas, hybrid teas, miniatures, and other types. It presents a wonderful display of color throughout most of the year. In addition, it serves to screen varieties for adaptability to local conditions and to provide material for outreach programs on rose culture. Beginning about 1979, rose pruning demonstrations have been given every winter.

A formal herb garden was begun in 1976. Such organizations as the Inland Herb Society, the Long Beach Herb Society, the Southern California Unit of the Herb Society of America, and several private donors contributed hundreds of plants, brick for walks, benches, other materials, labor, and money needed for its development. The president of the Inland Herb Society, Mr. Nick Waddell, vigorously promoted this project.

In 1977, a collection of lilac cultivars was established for display purposes as well as screening for those best adapted as landscape plants in the Riverside area. Dr. Joe Margaretten, of Leona Valley, California, contributed many cultivars to the collection.

A collection of daylilies, begun in 1978 with 15 cultivars, was greatly augmented in 1979 with 35 additional cultivars donated by Mr. Walter Correll and Mr. Lawrence Smith of the American Hemerocallis Society of San Diego.

In addition to the Gardens having special display appeal to community groups and casual visitors, important additions were made to collections of value in teaching and research. Among these, a large collection (176 species) of grasses was donated (1978) by the late Professor Victor Youngner, who was a widely recognized UCR authority on grasses. Many tropical economic plants, such as coffee, tea, cocoa, pineapple, banana, taro, and mahogany were established in the greenhouse (see below). Also, many plants of primary interest in teaching classical botany, such as Cycads, Equisetum, Ophioglossum, Gnetum, and many others were established in the new greenhouse.

During Professor Erickson's tenure, most of the present (1991) University-funded buildings were constructed. These, at last, provided some structures much needed to serve the minimal basic needs of the Gardens. The information center, completed in 1976, located to the left of the entrance gate, provided a public drinking fountain and toilets, and housing for information activities, brochures and related publications. In 1978, a fiberglass greenhouse measuring 100 by 32 feet, provided with evaporative cooling, was completed. This greenhouse enabled the Gardens to propagate plants and to maintain tropical species of special interest to the teaching of both economic and classical botany. A half-time nursery position (Mr. Bill Gary) was provided to look after the greenhouse plants. The so-called multipurpose building was ready for occupancy in the fall of 1980, with space for a small conference room and the University's herbarium. The conference room provided much needed space for conferences and meetings of interest to both University and private groups concerned with the development of the Gardens. Almost from the beginning, there has been a steady demand for its use. Scheduling in advance is necessary to insure its availability.

Numerous other physical improvements were installed under Professor Erickson's guidance. Among the most important of these were improved fencing (1975), irrigation system improvements (1975-1976), paving of the turn-around at the entrance (1976), installation of the entrance gate (1977), expanding the utility services (1978-1981), construction of additions to the lathhouse (1979), erecting the bulletin board at the entrance (1981), and providing lighting of the road to the Gardens (1981). The entrance gate and the bulletin board were built with donated funds.

Nine years after Professor Erickson retired as Director of UCRBG, he was asked what the most difficult problem was during his tenure. Without hesitation, he indicated that it was inadequate budget support. When he started in 1973, he had only 2.0 regular support staff. In 1981, his last year as director, he still had only 2.5 regular staff members. At various times, some additional help was provided with monies for student help to the extent of the equivalent of 0.5 to 0.75 full-time student helpers. In this area, the then Vice Chancellor, Van L. Perkins, was most helpful in providing some special UCR funds for student help and related purposes. Also, volunteer workers offered significant help at times. Special CETA funds occasionally provided some additional help, but there was never a large enough staff to adequately develop and maintain some 20 to 25 acres of diverse plantings in the Gardens. Lack of adequate funds for such items as propagating supplies, mechanized gardening tools, road and trail development, labeling of plants, secretarial help for proper record keeping, and many other similar activities were vexing problems.

Not one to be discouraged by the austere budgetary support provided by the University, Professor Erickson began a stepped-up public service program aimed at generating funds from private sources. He started actively involving himself and the Gardens with local gardening clubs, ornamental plant societies, schools, and similar groups. To this end, he gave many talks, arranged tours, and otherwise promoted the visibility of the Gardens with a constituency of local and regional plant enthusiasts, schools, and the general public. Also, he started a surplus plant sale as a feature of the annual UCR Open House Day. Starting with profits of well under $1,000 in 1973, this source of outside income gradually increased to around $2,000 in 1981.

All of these activities gave the Gardens much greater visibility. The publicity they generated in the form of newspaper and magazine articles greatly stimulated public interest and resulted in a gradually increasing support from private donations, not only of money, but also of plants, paving materials, benches, and similar material contributions. In the publicity area, the zealous efforts of Mrs. Lorraine Small, garden editor of the Press Enterprise, was -- and continued to be -- invaluable.

The most significant result of all these public service activities was the organization in the fall of 1980 of the Friends of the UCR Botanic Gardens. In June of 1980, two men, wishing to promote the UCR Botanic Gardens, were the primary driving forces in the founding of an organization to support it. Separately, and unknown to each other, the late Mr. John D. Babbage and Mr. Frank L. Hagen, approached Professor Erickson concerning the needs of the Gardens. Professor Erickson was delighted -- he had long envisioned the potential of a support group for the Gardens. As a result, on June 10, 1980, a meeting of John Babbage, Frank Hagen, Grant Carner (a Riverside lawyer), and Louis Erickson was held. It was decided that an organization, patterned after the "Friends of the Botanical Garden" at the U.C. Berkeley campus was needed. Two weeks later, another meeting was held and attended by eight persons and the present "Friends of the UCR Botanic Gardens" organization began to emerge. In October 1980, this outside support group was approved by Chancellor Tomas Rivera.

In addition to the usual provisions, the by-laws specified that it was a "non-profit organization operating within the framework of the University of California, Riverside." The purpose stated was "to provide voluntary assistance in furthering the development and maintenance of the Botanic Gardens." Also stated was "Financial assistance shall include contributing to an endowment fund for the Gardens." Membership in the "Friends" group was extended to all who made annual contributions of $10 (now $15) or more. The first officers were: President, Frank L. Hagen; Vice President, Grant C. Carner; Secretary, John D. Babbage; Treasurer, James D. Lusk.

Issue number one of the Gardens' quarterly newsletter, sponsored by the Friends, was dated January 1, 1981. During its first year, membership grew to 277 and contributions of around $10,000 were realized.

Professor Erickson attached an appendix to his 1979-80 report in which the minimum needs of the Garden during the next decade were estimated. He indicated that the most urgent need was for additional permanent staff "so that the Garden can be maintained at a minimum acceptable level of excellence." He pointed out that the Botanical Garden at Berkeley, approximately the same size as the one at Riverside, had 15 1/2 full-time staff as compared to 2 1/2 at Riverside. To him, it seemed that the creation of an endowment fund by public donations was the only feasible way of meeting these long-range needs. He was very pessimistic that the need would ever be filled by University funding. He estimated that at least 4 1/2 additional permanent staff would be needed to "operate the Garden as it should be operated." The additional full-time staff would require, at 1980 rates, around $80,000 annual support. He estimated that an endowment fund of around $1.3 million would be needed to yield sufficient income to support such a staff increase, again at 1980 rates.

Some administrative changes were made during Professor Erickson's tenure which were of significance in the Gardens' support and development. On July 1, 1975, Dean W. M. Dugger made the UCR Botanic Gardens a separate "line item" in the budget of the Department of Biology, its administrative home at that time. This was first proposed in 1968 by Professor Gillett when it was part of the Division of Life Sciences. In University budget-making procedures, separate, fiscally-discrete "line items" budget requests attract more attention and tend to be more readily funded than those imbedded within, and confused with, requests for other competing functions. This strengthened Professor Erickson's (and subsequently Professor Waines') hand in getting favorable action on budget requests. In 1978, a further reorganization landed the Botanic Gardens in its current (1991) home in the enlarged Department of Botany and Plant Sciences, a unit of the College of Natural and Agricultural Sciences. This change provided a broader range of academic resource people within the department and a greater support base for clerical and related services.

Under Professor Erickson's leadership, the Gardens made some major advances, perhaps the most significant in its short history up to 1981. He vigorously developed the public service mission of the Gardens so that the Gardens became a highly visible and well-publicized University facility, serving as a focal point for many and diverse groups of plant societies and other plant enthusiasts, both local and regional. In contrast to his predecessors, he emphasized display plantings attractive to such groups and the general public. These plantings and his dedicated personal outreach efforts lead to significant public support through donations of money, materials, plants, and volunteer labor. This eased somewhat the very severe constraints caused by the austere University support.

He started to set aside money for an endowment fund from donations. In the long run this, together with the fostering of the foundation of the Friends, may loom as among the most significant events in the Gardens' developmental history.

The teaching and research missions of the Gardens were significantly expanded and diversified under Professor Erickson's leadership. In addition, he pushed for and obtained University funding of three important structures: the information center, the greenhouse, and the multipurpose building housing the conference room and the herbarium.

The Waines Directorship, 1981-Present


J. Giles WainesWhen Professor J. Giles Waines took over as Director on July 1, 1981, he felt keenly, as did the previous Directors, that the UCR Botanic Gardens was not of a standard in keeping with the University of California's reputation for dedication to excellence. It was not well cared for, and hence somewhat of an embarrassment, especially when shown to visitors from other Universities or Botanic Gardens, both domestic and foreign. He recognized, of course, that this was due largely to lack of adequate support staff, which consisted of 2 1/2 permanent employees when he took over from Professor Erickson. However, the 1981-82 budget, due in part to the effectiveness of Professor Erickson's relentless efforts over a period of years, provided for two additional permanent staff positions. These were a Curator, filled by Dr. Richard M. Adams, and a Nurseryman, filled by Mr. Robin Salter. This doubling of the full-time permanent staff enabled Professor Waines to start off his tenure as Director with added resources to devote to the care of the Gardens. Further, the success of the Friends organization in attracting membership (about 250) and in providing funds (estimated at about $10,000) in the first year gave him cause for optimism concerning the future of the Gardens.

In assessing his new responsibilities as Director, he came to the conclusion that, given the augmented, but still limited, resources at his disposition, the time was ripe to give greater emphasis to doing a better job of maintaining the existing collections, and to give less emphasis to adding new collections or to expanding old ones. Having come from a European background and having considerable experience and training in horticulture, he felt that greater emphasis should be given to landscaping and horticultural considerations in establishing and maintaining the collections. In many cases, trees and shrubs had not been thinned or pruned since planting, and consequently, the overall effect was sometimes that of a crowded thicket of plants competing for space. In addition, he felt that there were too few open, grassy areas essential for providing a pleasing display of diverse plant collections. Thus, he spent much effort during his first few years thinning out collections and in removal of redundant plants to open up grassy areas, such as the base of Alder Canyon.

In addition, Professor Waines decided to continue, and emphasize further, the public service mission of the Gardens. He actively nurtured the partnership with the Friends. He continued and expanded the community outreach programs started by Professor Erickson. Educational activities featuring demonstrations and workshops were organized. He stimulated articles in the Friends newsletters on topics of special interest to dedicated plant enthusiasts. The conference room of the Gardens was made increasingly available to special interest groups, such as the Riverside Rose Society, the Inland Empire Bonsai Society, the California Rare Fruit Growers Association, the Rancho Rose Society, the Riverside Garden Club, the California Native Plant Society, the Inland Herb Society, and, of course, the Friends. Hosting such organizations and related activities fostered public interest and support of the Gardens. Much favorable publicity in the form of newspaper and magazine articles was generated by these activities. In this area, the zealous support of Mrs. Lorraine Small, garden columnist for the Riverside Press-Enterprise and a very active member of the Friends' Board of Directors, was, and continues to be, a key factor in the effective promotion of the Gardens' favorable image and high visibility.

At the beginning of his tenure as Director, Professor Waines had a full-time staff of four university-funded employees plus one half-time employee. These were: Dr. Richard Adams, Curator; Mr. Dennis Kucera, Manager; Mr. Norman Sheppeard, Senior Nursery Technician; Mr. Robin Salter, Nursery Technician; and Mr. William Gary, Nursery Technician (half-time). In addition, he had funds to support the equivalent of about 1/2 of a full-time worker as part-time student helpers. Curator Adams resigned in November, 1983 and was replaced by Mr. Steve Morgan in June, 1984. Mr. Norman Sheppeard retired July 1, 1985. He was replaced by Mr. Remie Gonzalez as Senior Nursery Technician in June 1986. Another full-time employee, supported by grant funds, Ms. April Gacsi, Laboratory Assistant, was added in the fall of 1986 and resigned in fall of 1990. During the six-month period April through September 1988, Elizabeth Lord, Professor of Botany, served as Acting Director of the Gardens while Professor Waines was on sabbatical leave. In the summer of 1988, Clifford Rogers, Groundskeeper, was added to the staff. About a year later, he was replaced by Mr. Abdurrahman "Abe" K�ksal, who was recruited from among the student helpers. In the spring of 1989, Miss Nancy Flexman was appointed as Senior Nursery Technician and vacated the position in the fall of 1990. In 1991, 6 1/2 full time staff positions were available to the Botanic Gardens, but because of early retirement and the recession, this was reduced to 3 1/2 full time University funded staff positions in 1993. In addition, there was a further position, supported by grant funds to help build the handicapped walkway to the fish pond. The Friends funded a senior nursery technician position (20 % time) to have Dr. Daryl Koutnik help maintain the Cactus and Succulent Gardens. The Friends also funded half of the cost of four part time student workers who help with special projects in the summer months and keep the Gardens open on weekends. The other half was funded by regular University funds and donations to the Botanic Gardens. Thus, it is clear that the staff resources were considerably greater in the decade of the 1980's than in previous years. This facilitated a better standard of maintenance of plantings and physical facilities, and enlarged the scope of its public service mission. However, in 1993, the once again meager staff resources were still the major restraint to achieving the legitimate goals of the UCR Botanic Gardens of better maintenance and improvement as a teaching, research, and public service resource.

During the first 10 years of Professor Waines' tenure as Director, two major physical improvements were added to the Gardens: the walkway for the handicapped and the geodesic dome lathhouse. A walkway for the handicapped was first suggested to Mr. John Babbage by Mrs. Mildred Tucker, who subsequently willed a substantial sum to the Riverside Community Foundation for funding projects benefitting handicapped persons like herself. In 1982, Professor Erickson proceeded to draw up a proposed plan for a gently sloping walkway which would provide the handicapped with access to the Gardens. The proposed route ran up Alder Canyon, then up the Canyon's east wall coming out near the Gardens' headhouse-office on the mesa. Early in 1984, the campus architect estimated the cost of the proposed walkway at $43,000. In August 1984, the Riverside Community Fund offered a donation of half of the estimated cost toward the project, subject to a matching donation from the Friends. Six years after it was first proposed, the Handicapped Walkway was dedicated on November 1, 1987. The final total cost of $75,000 was shared by the Riverside Community Fund and the Friends. A member of the Friends, Mrs. Peggy Fouke Wortz, was an especially generous contributor to the walkway fund. A highlight of the impressive dedication ceremonies, presided over by Chancellor Rosemary Schraer, was the reading of a poem she had written for the occasion.

The Gunther Memorial Lathhouse had its beginning when Mr. Robert Gunther, owner of Monterey Domes, donated the framework for the structure. A fund to complete the lathhouse was started in 1985 in memory of the late Professor Francis Gunther, Professor of Entomology at UCR, and of world renown for his pioneer work on plant pesticide residues. He took a keen interest in the development of the Gardens, and served as vice president of the Friends in 1984-85. The foundation of this lathhouse, located just south of the greenhouse, was laid in 1986. The completed lathhouse was dedicated December 7, 1987. This handsome structure provides an attractive setting for collections of shade-loving plants. Several fine specimens of valuable cycads were donated by Mr. W. T. Drysdale, a dedicated volunteer supporter of the Gardens.

There were a large number of diverse and mostly minor physical improvements during the first decade of Professor Waines' tenure as Director. These, in the aggregate, have had a quite significant impact on the Gardens' functioning and general ambience. They have improved the access of the central campus and the public, the ease of communication within the Gardens, and encouraged the support from both private and institutional donors. The following paragraph will touch on only the more visible or significant of the projects comprising the whole.

Only a few physical improvements were funded by the University. The regular staff of the Gardens made many improvements in trails, planting renovations, labelling, and similar activities during Professor Waines' first decade. In addition, University funds provided for lighting the road leading to the Gardens and a fire hydrant serving the entrance area (1981). The irrigation system underwent a major renovation (1984) with special funds provided by Vice Chancellor Carl Bovell. Safety handrails were installed (1986) on some hazardous stretches of walks, and preparation of the site for the Gunther Memorial Lathhouse (1987) was also financed by the University.

The major portion of the following physical improvements were financed by donations from the Friends organization and by private individuals. Such contributions included money, plants, equipment, materials, and volunteer labor. A flagstone patio was added (1982) providing, in effect, an outdoor extension of the conference room. A photographic mission was arranged by Dr. Richard Adams and President Grant Carner of the Friends, with the cooperation of the Riverside Police Department helicopter unit. Some excellent low-level aerial photos were obtained documenting the development of the Gardens in 1982. The Rancho Rose Study Group contributed an attractive gazebo and related improvements (1983) for the rose garden. A bronze entrance plaque, a bench, and some trail marking signs (1983) were contributed by Mr. Frank L. Hagen. A substantial donation was made by Mrs. Norma Jean Lathrop and her husband, William, toward a belvedere (1984), and other improvements for the herb garden. The project was completed in 1987 with some additional funds supplied by the Friends. The aging Alder Canyon pond bridge was replaced (1989) with funds donated by Mrs. Wortz. Three other bridges were replaced in 1990, two across the wash through the lilac collection, and one in Alder Canyon. A fifth bridge was built in front of the conference room. These bridges were financed by money from the Friends and the Botanic Gardens. A computer system was purchased (1989) for printing, processing and storage of plant records, and for desktop publishing of the Newsletter and related educational materials issued by the Gardens. Two new drinking fountains were installed (1990) to better serve the growing visitor load. These last three items were financed by the Friends. The Riverside Bar Association provided a teak bench in memory of the late Mr. John Babbage. The outmoded high-volume sprinkler irrigation system of the Subtropical Fruit Collection was replaced during the 1989-90 period. With funds from the Friends and volunteer help, a low-volume system was installed with a demand (available as needed) water source replacing the rigidly scheduled source.

During the 1980's, several funds have been contributed by family and friends in memory of deceased loved ones. So far, such funds have been earmarked for specific collections or projects in the Gardens. Among the larger of such donations were the Gunther Memorial Lathhouse, the Virginia Miller Azalea Garden, the Boysie Day Baja California Collection, and the Julia Butts Barnes Memorial Endowment.

The growth of the Friends of the UCR Botanic Gardens organization, since its founding in 1980, has been rather surprising. In fact, the term often applied to tropical plant growth -- exuberant -- can be applied to it quite appropriately. By the end of 1981, the membership roster exceeded 250 names. Despite considerable turnover from year to year, membership increased steadily in the decade of the 1980's. In 1990, more than 250 new members were listed on the roster, bringing total membership above 600 for that year. It currently (1993) stands at about 700 members. Each year the Friends have provided substantial funds to the Gardens for physical improvements and renovations, new equipment, publications, student help, and related concerns. For example, the Friends provided $37,500 in matching funds (over a period of several years) for the Handicapped Pathway project, to name one of the larger contributions. Since its founding, the Friends have built up the Endowment Fund from the few thousand dollars started by Professor Erickson to a total of $153,000 in 1993. In addition, in the past decade the Friends have contributed between $10,000 and $20,000 annually in support of the Gardens.

The great impact of the Friends is not revealed by membership statistics or accounting figures alone. With remarkable enthusiasm, its members have embraced the UCR Botanic Gardens as their own. Its Board of Directors, the Director of the Botanic Gardens, and his staff have developed a close-knit and harmonious partnership which has stimulated the Gardens' physical development as a teaching and research resource as well as its extension and community service missions. Perhaps the expansion of these latter activities has been and continues to be among the most important contribution of the Friends. Jointly, Director Waines and his staff and the Board of the Friends have formulated initiatives, such as upgrading the Newsletter, featuring articles on membership activities, both botanical and social, as well as on the botany and culture of plants. No small part of the success of the Friends organization is due to the dedication of the Board members, and the imaginative and vigorous leadership of its officers. The Presidents of the Friends, to date, merit special recognition. They are: Mr. Frank L. Hagen (1980?81), Mr. Grant Carner (1981-82), Dr. Elizabeth Moore (1982-83), Mrs. Dorothy Dugger (1983-84), Mr. John Babbage (1984-85), Mr. Clyde A. Pitchford (1985-87), Professor George Zentmyer (1987-89), Mr. James Dilworth (1989-90), and Mr. Robert Gunther (1990-92).

The By-Laws of the Friends provide for the honoring of people who have "rendered extraordinary services and contributions to the Gardens over a period of several years." So far (1991), seven people have been so honored: Mr. Robert Gunther, Mrs. Lillian Pickoff, Col. Leo Pickoff, Mrs. Peggy Fouke Wortz, Mr. Dennis Kucera, and Professor Frank Vasek.

As indicated previously, Professor Waines, during the decade of 1980's, gave greater emphasis to improving existing collections than to starting new collections. Nevertheless, a few were started. The largest new collection added was of Citrus cultivars and some near relatives. During Professor Vasek's tenure, a collection of citrus was planted in the central part of the Gardens. It was later discovered that all of these trees were infected (or suspect) with a strain of tristeza, a very destructive, insect-transmitted virus disease. All the trees were removed and burned (1983) with the help of a large crew provided by the California Conservation Corps. A new, comprehensive collection of virus-free citrus was established (1987-89) by Mr. Robert Platt, retired UCR Extension Subtropical Fruit Specialist, and Board members of the Friends. This citrus collection is part of the Subtropical Fruit Collection started by Professor Erickson during the 1970's on approximately two acres of land adjoining the UCR Botanic Gardens, having a south boundary in common with the north boundary of UCRBG. This tract is listed by the Agricultural Operations division of UCR as Plot I of Field 21 but has been seconded to UCRBG on a long-term basis. In 1986, before the citrus was added, it consisted of some 57 cultivars, not only of subtropical, but also some temperate and tropical zone fruits. Included were numerous rosaceous fruits, figs, avocados, guavas, sapotes, mangoes, papayas, and others. In 1986, President Pitchford of the Friends appointed Mr. Robert Platt as chairman of an ad hoc committee to develop further the Subtropical Fruit Collection with the objective of providing a collection of fruits of value in teaching, landscaping, and selecting species or varieties suitable for home orchards in the Riverside area. By 1989, he had added some 34 citrus cultivars or relatives, together with about an equal number of other tree and vine fruits for evaluation in the Riverside area. Most plants were obtained through donations. Two major donors were the South Seas Nurseries and Brokaw Nurseries, both of Ventura, California, but a substantial number were obtained from donations of funds for one to three plants by individuals. In December, 1990, a severe freeze did extensive damage to the tropical and tender subtropical plants. Some were killed outright, but most of them regenerated after severe pruning in the spring of 1991.

Other collections added or expanded were the Australian planting and the Sonoran Desert collection. The latter honored the late Boysie E. Day. Beginning in 1987, the Gunther Memorial Lathhouse was planted with shade-loving plants such as cycads, certain palms, and others.

During the 1980's, the South African collection was expanded greatly, adding especially succulent plants. Again, the generous donations and dedicated volunteer work of Col. Pickoff and his wife Lillian was the driving force behind this development. The Mediterranean collection was reorganized and expanded. A number of cultivars of camellias and azaleas were added, providing for more displays of blooms during the winter months. Water lilies, donated by the Van Ness Water Gardens of Upland, California, and the Lily Pond of Phoenix, Arizona, were planted (1983) in the pond. The Native Plant Garden was reorganized and upgraded largely through the initiative and volunteer labor of the Cooperative Extension Master Gardener class. During Professor Waines' leadership, the Botanic Gardens has matured into a major educational asset not only to UCR but also to the many local colleges of the Inland Empire and to the primary schools of this region. The Gardens currently (1991) plays a significant role in at least 25 courses offered at UCR. Although a majority of the courses using the resources of the Botanic Gardens are offered by departments in the College of Natural and Agricultural Sciences, a few are offered by departments in the College of Humanities and Social Sciences. The use of the Botanic Gardens as a teaching resource by local schools continued to experience steady growth during the 1980's. In 1991 there were over 70 school tours averaging around 60 students each with students ranging from kindergarten to high school age.

The first Slosson Trust grant signalled that the UCR Botanic Gardens had reached a level of development sufficient to compete for grants from institutions of this kind. This sizeable grant began in 1984 and ran for three years. Its purpose was to evaluate various sage (Salvia) species as low-maintenance ground covers and accent plants. The project resulted in the identification of several water efficient species suitable for landscape use in the Inland Empire. Beginning in 1987, the Hardman Foundation provided a small grant for research on methods of propagation of a rare and endangered native rose species (Rosa minutifolia) with the objective of establishing it in the Gardens, and possibly reestablishing it in the wild. The Slosson Trust provided a second grant (1987), also running for three years, for the purpose of providing urgent labelling of plants. In 1989 and again in 1990, the California Association of Nurserymen provided sizeable grants to establish Mimulus hybrids for the purpose of continuing the hybridizing and selection work of Mr. David Verity of the Mildred E. Mathias Botanic Garden at UCLA. The Cooperative Extension Service provided a substantial grant (1990) to improve the teaching of chaparral plants of the region and to upgrade the relevant sections of the Gardens.

The Annual Plant Sale, started in spring 1973 by Professor Erickson, has developed under Mr. Steve Morgan into one of the major annual events for the UCR Botanic Gardens in terms of volunteer participation, public interest, and increased visibility. In addition, it has provided a means of introducing promising new landscaping plants, both exotic and native, to the home gardens of the Inland Empire. Special attention has been given to water efficient plants. In addition, it has provided the home gardener with a far greater selection of interesting plants than is available in local nurseries and garden stores. Profits from these sales have also increased steadily. In 1982 the sale netted around $2,000, and by 1991 profits had grown to around $11,000. Much of the growth of the annual plant sale since 1982 can be traced to the enthusiastic support given the event by the Friends and the host of volunteers they have provided or stimulated. A Friends plant sale was started in October 1982.

During the decade of the 1980's, there has been a steady increase in the visitors to the Gardens. In 1989, over 600 visitors were counted on Easter weekend, a popular time for visitors. Other counts made during 1989 indicated that about 34,000 people visited the Gardens during that year. This total included around 60 classes of school children, averaging about 60 per class, or 3600 school-age visitors per year. In 1990, almost 70 school groups visited the Gardens. The demand for such guided tours by classes from local schools and other groups has increased steadily. It was clear, even as early as 1982, that all requests for such tours could not be handled by the Gardens' regular staff without neglect of their other duties. Thus, Dr. Rich Adams and Mr. Dennis Kucera started (1982) a volunteer docent training program. Among the first docents to be trained were Mrs. Dorothy Dugger, Mrs. Betty Coleman, and Mr. Dave Hicks. As demand for this service continued to grow through the 1980's Mrs. Eleanor Charlton, with support of the Board of the Friends and assisted by Mr. Steve Morgan and Ms. April Gacsi of the garden staff, and volunteer Mrs. Doris Stockton, trained 25 more volunteer docents (1989-90). Docent-led tours of school children and other student groups have become an important feature of the Gardens' educational program. Its success suggests a need ultimately for a regular staff member devoted solely to managing the Gardens' activities in this and related areas.

One of the most severe freezes in the Gardens' 28 year history occurred on the night of December 22-23, 1990. In Riverside and many other agricultural areas in California, it did extensive damage to crops, and was especially severe in the citrus areas of the San Joaquin Valley. Prior to the fall of 1991, the UCR Botanic Gardens had no weather stations installed to monitor microclimatic conditions. The 1990 freeze demonstrated that sensors to measure at least minimum temperatures could have been very valuable. Extrapolating from selected fairly comparable nearby stations of the U.S. Weather Bureau and UCR Agricultural Operations, it is estimated that the mesa of the Subtropical Fruit Collection (Field 21 of Ag. Operations) experienced a minimum temperature between 22° and 24°F, with five to six hours below 25°F and 10 to 11 hours below 28°F. It was a typical radiation-type freeze, having a sharply increasing temperature gradient with height above ground level. The lowest elevation at the foot of Alder Canyon probably experienced two or three degrees lower, and the higher elevations of the southern slopes two or three degrees higher, minimum temperatures during this freeze. The Rose Garden - Herb Garden mesa area probably experienced temperatures similar to those of the Subtropical Fruit Collection site. This freeze damaged or killed a number of newly established, tender plants in the Subtropical Fruit Orchard, but there was surprisingly little permanent damage in other parts of the Gardens. This 1990 freeze ranks with six other damaging freezes reaching minima of around 22°F or below that the Riverside area has experienced in this century. These occurred in 1913, 1921, 1928, 1937, 1948, and 1950. In the fall of 1991, four weather stations were installed by Professor Walter Reuther of the Friends board to monitor future temperature extremes.

Up to the present (1993), the Friends of UCR Botanic Gardens have published nearly 50 issues (which make up 13 volumes) of the UCRBG Newsletter. In addition to news items of general interest to the membership, it has featured many articles on research projects at the Gardens and on the biology or history of interesting plants. Also, there have been numerous articles on landscaping, varietal adaptation, propagation techniques, cultural methods, and related topics. Most have been written by UCRBG staff members, but some have been prepared by volunteers. An especially prolific and interesting contributor is Mr. William T. Drysdale, a retired educator and long-time plant and garden enthusiast. In addition to the Newsletter articles, the UCRBG staff and others have published a number of educational pamphlets for distribution to the membership of the Friends and visitors to the Gardens. These include: Birds of the UCR Botanic Gardens, originally written by Ken Y. Arakawa, Richard F. Green and Eugene A. Cardiff (1974), and revised by A.C. Sanders (1985), funded by the Friends; Map of UCR Botanic Gardens and Visitors Guide (1976), funded by the Gardens; Botanic Gardens, a color illustrated brochure (1987), funded by the Alumax Corporation and the Friends; Trees of China by Steve Morgan (1989), a self-guided tour funded by the UCR Cooperative Extension Service; Outdoor Classroom, a 30-page self-guided tour of the UCR Botanic Gardens by A. Gacsi, Steve Morgan, and Dennis Kucera (1989), funded by the UCR Cooperative Extension Service; and Southwestern Deserts, a self-guided tour by Steve Morgan & April Gacsi (1989), funded by the Office of Instructional Development. All of these publications have contributed to the botanical or horticultural education of the membership and other clientele.

During Professor Waines' tenure as Director, the Gardens have made steady progress toward achieving its goal of providing the University and the community with a resource commensurate with the University of California's high standard of excellence. Up to 1991 he succeeded in materially expanding his staff and support budget, but this has since been reduced because of State budget problems. He improved the standards of maintenance of the plantings with greater staff resources than was available to his predecessors. However, inadequate staff remains a major constraint to achieving the standard of care desired. Under his leadership, emphasis was placed on reorganizing, renovating, expanding, or otherwise improving existing plantings. He added a few new collections. He gave special emphasis to improving the landscaping and display features of the Gardens. His program of physical improvements greatly improved access and communications within the Gardens. He and his staff forged strong symbiotic relations with the Friends organization to the great benefit of the Gardens, especially of its public service mission. He obtained research and other grants from prestigious extramural agencies, significantly expanding research, teaching, and related activities. At its present rate of progress, the Gardens should largely achieve its goal of becoming an outstanding resource worthy of University of California standards within the next decade or so. Key factors in its rapid progress in the past decade have been the leadership and dedication of its Curator and staff and the initiative, material support, and infectious enthusiasm of the Friends. By 1991, over 100 volunteers had signed on to help in the Botanic Gardens and in the running of the two Plant Sales in spring and fall. Many of these were also members of the Friends Group.


Most of the information on which this history is based is not to be found in published form available in libraries. The sources include:

  1. oral histories obtained by recording interviews from available retired and current UCRBG personnel;
  2. the annual reports of UCRBG directors;
  3. the minutes of the meetings of the Friends;
  4. the UCRBG Newsletters;
  5. miscellaneous newspaper and magazine articles;
  6. relevant correspondence and other documents.

All of this material has been assembled and placed in a file labeled "Archives, UCR Botanic Gardens," stored in the office annex (Computer Room).

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