Now that Winter’s gone: a Tribute to the Trees! Dunsmuir Botanical Garden

Every morning this time of year, from the early morning lifting through the trees and on the horizon just before 5 am to that hard to-pinpoint moment when morning has become full-fledged day, the birds regale us with their summer morning songs – symphonic it would seem when put all together in the green spaces, woodlands and garden of the region. One of the most rejoicing sounds of the garden all year.

This weekend marks another annual tradition of song and homage to our great outdoors: the 23rd annual Tribute to the Trees Concert at Dunsmuir Botanical Gardens in Dunsmuir, featuring the Palo Alto Chamber Orchestra. Benjamin Simon Music Director & Conductor. With this event being a primary funding source for the garden’s operations year round, I am reminded that it is imperative on all of us that love resources of this kind to get out and enjoy them – their sights, their songs, the beauty they bring to a world that needs it – and to support and care for them in whatever ways we can. So, even if you can’t make it to Dunsmuir today – support and appreciate the local park, garden, natural world in your area. There’s a concert every day for those who want to enjoy it.

Here’s some history on the Dunsmuir Botanical Garden from an interview I did with them earlier; More information on this year’s concert is at the bottom.


“Always free, always beautiful.” That’s what Candace Miller and Judy Harvey said of the Dunsmuir Botanical Gardens as they toured me around recently. Judy, married to a former Dunsmuir City Manager, is the Chairman of the Board of Directors and Candace the lead horticulturalist for the non-profit, 10-acre wooded gardens which are tucked behind the Dunsmuir City Park along the banks of the Sacramento River. Photo: Dogwoods are signature plants at the garden.

Chances are, you either did not know there was a small gem of a public garden in Dunsmuir, or, like me, you had driven at 65 miles an hour (ok, ok maybe 72 miles an hour) past the billboard-sized sign visible from I-5 going north through Dunsmuir, which reads: Dunsmuir Botanical Gardens, and which is ornamented with a painting of dogwood blossoms. Really? I would say to myself each time I drove by. But eventually my curiosity as a gardener got the better of me and I stopped to take a peek. Photo: The long view across the Great Lawn at the Dunsmuir Botanical Gardens.


I have now visited the gardens several times in several seasons and this little pocket garden of meandering walks through soaring northern woods is well worth the stop – for a half an hour reprieve or a two hour mid-winter holiday ramble through the woods and along the river. In winter the road down to the garden is closed due to snow and visitors can hike or snowshoe in. The atmosphere of the Dunsmuir Botanical Gardens ranges from tranquility pooling in the central open meadow-like great lawn, to dramatic grandeur as you make your way around the interesting if small collections of plantings. Photo: Signature rock work stairs welcoming visitors to the Dunsmuir Botanical Gardens.

Officially started in 1990, with the first of what have become annual fundraising concerts held in the gardens by the Palo Alto Chamber Orchestra each June, the DBG turned 20 in 2010. Judy has been involved for over 16 years, she helped to write the 501c-3 in 2001 and has been on the 11-member BOD since 2006. On the BOD since 2006, Candace is a Dunsmuir native who took her BS in Horticulture from Chico State and then spent many years in the commercial greenhouse world. A ceramic artist as well, she returned to her hometown in 2005 and quickly became involved in the DBG. She has helped to grow the gardens along a more clearly defined path: “Started with the idea of community revitalization, the gardens had developed as several small collections of not necessarily related garden plants and plantings. I asked the board: ‘What do you want to be?'” Photo: Lead Horticulturist, Candace Miller at the Dunsmuir Botanical Gardens.

With Candace’s purposeful and artful eye, and Judy’s administrative one, a 2003 Master Plan for the gardens has evolved and much of the gardens and gardeners’ work now is aimed at honing the fledgling of a botanical garden’s collections to focus on interesting woodland native plants, including their signature dogwood collection. Others of the gardens’ strengths include a well-known Japanese maple collection, as well as fern, rhododendron and hosta collections. Photo: Japanese maple.

In the past few years, Candace – who was named Citizen of the Year for Dunsmuir in 2010 -has successfully applied for several grants to keep the gardens growing and directed. “The gardens are on a sloping heavily wooded site – and getting enough sun is always a problem,” she tells me and one of the big grants went to removing unwanted trees and overgrown shrubs that were crowding and shading out smaller plants or collections. Candace has also diligently forged symbiotic relationships with regional native plant people including Forest Service botanists from nearby Mt. Shasta and Mt. Eddy, the local fire council and resource conservation district and more. Candace trades growing information and actual plants with these resources. Improving signage for individual plants as well as the gardens as a whole, and cataloguing the collections is also being worked on, and Candace has even started an herbarium catalogue of the gardens and the site for educational and reference use in the future. A demonstration, teaching garden is being dreamed of for the future. Photo: The Dunsmuir Botanical Gardens are rightly proud of their growing native plant collections with some choice specimens of native woodland plants such as the wild ginger and the creeping variegated ceanothus seen here. Other plants to look for when you visit are the penstemons, the rattlesnake plantain and the two Shasta snowwreaths once thought to be extinct.


The cool, shady nature of the site affords interesting opportunities as well as challenges. One of these opportunities is growing unusual plants that might enjoy the cool shade – specifically alpine plants that many other regional display gardens might be too hot and sunny to grow well at their lower elevations. With this in mind, the DBG applied for and received a grant to install a crevice rock garden at the sunny end of the great lawn. Over the course of 2009/2010 the grant paid for internationally renowned alpine rock garden expert Josef Halda from the Czech republic to come to the North State to design and install the garden, which will be planted in spring 2011. Look forward to an article on this as work gets underway. Photo: View across the mounded scoria rocks of the Crevice Rock Garden at the Dunsmuir Botanical Gardens.

One of the things that I enjoy about the DBG is its easy combination of natural environment and gardens. Is it a park? Is it a garden? Is it a nature walk? It’s all three.

Another aspect I enjoy about the DBG are the formal elements that thread their way around the gardens, from the Alexander Dunsmuir fountain as you near the entrance to the gardens, to small benches and local-rockwork walls and hardscape throughout. Many of these elements have been donated over time and are testament to the success of the “revitalization” project that was at the heart of the founding the gardens 20 years ago.

“It’s fun and often touching to see how many people use the gardens and site each year, as well as how they use it,” Candace and Judy share with me. “Anglers on the river use the great lawn for casting practice, highschool groups come to volunteer time and labor, and we have one elder couple who come for a picnic lunch nearly every Thursday – early spring to late fall. It is truly a public garden.”

And no matter where you live or where you might be traveling to or from, a walk in the woods – or park or garden – is a welcome gift.

The Dunsmuir Botanical Gardens are supported by sustaining memberships, annual fundraising and educational events, donations and grants. For more information visit: http://www.dunsmuirbotanicalgardens.org/index.html

“For this years 23rd annual Tribute to the Trees concert the theme is Puttin’ on the Ritz: A Black and White Affair promises a gala evening befitting the setting. Sounds and feast awaiting our patrons.

This annual fund-raiser saw its conception simultaneously with the Gardens themselves. Former Music Director and Conductor of this prestigious student group, Bill Whitson, kept a fishing get-away in Dunsmuir. And as plans for the new gardens got under way, he proposed a benefit concert to raise the much-needed funds for this exciting addition to the community he loved. That tradition continues.

This year’s concert features two student conductors, Jared Pabilona and Aku Sorenson. In addition, it highlights four student soloists in the performance of Vivaldi’s Concerto for Four Violins in B Minor, who will be joined by 12 young members from our region, The Siskiyou Violins. This ensemble, based in Ashland, Oregon, is a group of exceptionally talented young violin students from southern Oregon and northern California. The program also includes the world premiere of the Youth for Youth Commission “Adagio and Allegro”, composed by Stephen Spies, as well as works by Puccini, Gershwin, and Donizetti. A jazzy special treat, “The Penguin,” by American composer Raymond Scott accentuates the evening’s theme.

Gates open at 3:30 PM for: cocktail hour, a popular Silent Auction, sales of raffle tickets and Boutique items, socializing and the opportunity to ogle any black & white finery present. Delight in an elegant alfresco supper at 5 PM catered by Chef Kate Chadwick of the Dogwood Diner. The concert itself begins at 6:30 PM.

Prices begin at $20 for the concert only; concert and supper tickets are $45. Our Concert Sponsors receive VIP treatment, including reserved seating for both the meal and the concert for their $75. Certain discounts are available. The box office opens on May 14th. Please contact Dunsmuir Botanical Gardens at the Dunsmuir Recreation and Parks District at 530 ¨C 235- 4740 for more information and reservations, or find us at our website info@dunsmuirbotanicalgardens.org Please find us and “friend” us on FaceBook. ”

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In a North State Garden is a weekly Northstate Public Radio and web-based program celebrating the art, craft and science of home gardening in Northern California. It is made possible in part by the Gateway Science Museum – Exploring the Natural History of the North State and on the campus of CSU, Chico. In a North State Garden is conceived, written, photographed and hosted by Jennifer Jewell – all rights reserved jewellgarden.com. In a North State Garden airs on Northstate Public Radio Saturday mornings at 7:34 AM Pacific time and Sunday morning at 8:34 AM Pacific time.

Jennifer Jewell
In a North State Garden is a bi-weekly North State Public Radio and web-based program celebrating the art, craft and science of home gardening in Northern California and made possible in part by the Gateway Science Museum - Exploring the Natural History of the North State and on the campus of CSU, Chico. In a North State Garden is conceived, written, photographed and hosted by Jennifer Jewell - all rights reserved jewellgarden.com. In a North State Garden airs on Northstate Public Radio Saturday morning at 7:34 AM Pacific time and Sunday morning at 8:34 AM Pacific time, two times a month.
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3 Responses

  1. Thanks for another fact-filled, inspiring weekend column, Jennifer. I've put the Dunsmuir Botanical Gardens on my visit list. 🙂

  2. Avatar adam says:

    This year's concert features two student conductors, Jared Pabilona and Aku Sorenson. In addition, it highlights four student soloists in the performance of Vivaldi's Concerto for Four Violins in B Minor Ficus Benjamina Bonsai