Free Garden Festival at UC Riverside

Oct. 6 event will commemorate the 50th anniversary of the gardens and help launch a fundraising effort to establish a Children’s Fund

RIVERSIDE, Calif. ( — The Friends of the University of California, Riverside Botanic Gardens will be hosting a free Garden Festival on Oct. 6 to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the gardens and help launch a fundraising effort to establish a Children’s Fund as way to usher in the next 50 years.

The Garden Festival is scheduled from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. and will include vendors, children’s activities, demonstrations, music and food. The event is free, but there is a $5 parking fee.

Activities include: tours of the gardens, including the butterfly garden and turtle pond; garden demonstrations and information sessions by the University of California Cooperative Extension Riverside County Master Gardeners and landscape designers; and children’s activities, including story time readings, a scavenger hunt, face painting and puppet making.

“This is really meant to be a family festival that raises awareness of the garden and creates interest in the newly created Botanic Gardens Children’s Fund,” said Margo Chabot, who is co-chairing the 50th Anniversary Friends of the UCR Botanic Gardens committee with Brightie Dunn.

The Friends of the UCR Botanic Gardens was established in 1980 to help maintain and raise money for the gardens. The group currently has more than 1,000 members who coordinate and implement all education events and programs at the gardens. The group has a goal of raising $50,000 for the Children’s Fund.

chidlren creating fairy gradens

Children at a recent workshop at the UC Riverside Botanic Gardens

The Children’s Fund will be used to help develop a children’s garden and create outdoor teaching areas, permanent educational and directional signage and additional restrooms that are needed for students during school tours.

“Our focus, for the next several years, will be promoting educational opportunities for children as they explore and learn about the importance of plants and nature to our environment,” Chabot said.

The idea for the UC Riverside Botanic Gardens dates back to 1954. Then, Victor Goodman, a UC Riverside botany professor who came from Missouri, was unfamiliar with western plants and without a local botanical garden to learn from and use in teaching.

That same year Frank Vasek joined UC Riverside and was appointed to spearhead the quest for a garden. In 1962, funds were allocated to begin the development of what was then called the “Life Sciences Experimental Area.” The first plantings were made in 1963.

Since then, the gardens were renamed and many amenities were added, including asphalt roads, bridges, a pond, a conference room, a greenhouse and a geodesic dome lath house. A recently added butterfly garden has become one of the gardens most popular attractions.

Since Vasek, the gardens have been led by George Gillett (1967 to 1973), Louis Erickson (1973 to 1981) and Giles Waines (1981 to present).

Today, the gardens have more than 3,500 plants species on more than 40 acres nestled in the foothills of the Box Springs Mountains on the east side of UC Riverside. Gardens are devoted to roses, lilacs, irises, subtropical fruits, cactuses and herbs. There are also collections focused on geographic areas, including South Africa, the Southwest deserts in the United States, the Sierra foothills, Baja California and Australia.

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