Tibetan prayer flags fly on the top of the hill in the garden
Sonoma Botanical Garden; photo by Saxon Holt

Visit Sonoma Botanical Garden

Share this story

Located near Glen Ellen, at the heart of the Sonoma Valley, Sonoma Botanical Garden boasts one of North America's largest and most important collections of temperate-climate Asian plants as well as California native plants. 

Along with waterfalls, ponds, and photo-worthy views of Sonoma Valley, the Garden's 25 acres house mature flowering Asian trees and shrubs, many of which are rare and endangered varieties, and  a 22-acre parcel of oak savannah and chaparral.

More than 90 percent of the Asian collection was grown from seeds collected during yearly expeditions into the wild regions of the world (mainly China, Japan, Tibet, Yunnan, India, and Nepal). Other trips have collected from parts of North America. 

Sonoma Botanical Garden dates to 1968, when Jane Davenport Jansen purchased 61 acres of land, all sitting on Coastal Miwok land, in Glen Ellen for vineyards. The property was pocked with old rock quarries, which filled with water during heavy winter rains, creating a stream with ponds and waterfalls. In 1987, Jansen started a garden on 20 hillside acres, and originally named it Quarryhill. That same year representatives made their first seed collecting expedition to Asia. In 1988 a nursery was established, and planting began in 1990. 

Added in 1998, the 22-acre Three Springs Ranch property celebrates California native plants. The "living museum" expands the Garden's environmental educational around the conservation efforts of endangered Asian plants and California native plants.

Some of the varieties preserved at the Gardens are threatened with extinction in the wild due to habitat loss, which usually comes about through human actions like deforestation, agricultural expansion, and/or resource consumption. The fact that these plants grow at the Gardens, and that their seeds are being saved, increases the chances that they will not become extinct. 

An arched bridge over a small stream is surrounded by green, lush plants
Photo by Vi Bottaro

One example is a magnolia tree, Acer pentaphyllum. Botanists believe that this plant will be extinct in China within a decade. The Gardens grew several hundred from seeds in pots and then replanted them on the grounds. The ultimate goal is to produce seed from the new trees, sending them to China for reforestation. 

Another example is a rose that's endangered in the wilds of China, Rosa rugosa. It is now widely planted at the Gardens. The Gardens also Rhododendrons, which are native to both Asia and California.

In addition to rare and endangered plants, the Gardens also include comprehensive collections of wild Asian roses, oaks, maples, magnolias, lilies, and dogwoods. Throughout the Gardens, visitors will find Tibetan Prayers Flags, Fu Dogs, and other relics, all Asian relics offering protection, that have been gifted by donors of the Gardens. 

A bench sits alongside a pond surrounded by plants

Visitors are welcome to picnic in designated areas. Dogs, bicycles, and smoking are prohibited. Both self-guided and docent-led tours are available. A gift shop at the entrance features a variety of gifts for botanical-lovers. Docent-led tours are about two hours long for walking tours, or one hour for the Glen Ellen Green Tour done by cart. When visiting, please be respectful of the land and stay on the paths. Do not step on plants or remove cuttings.

Pick up picnic supplies at the Glen Ellen Village MarketOak Hill Farm of Sonoma sells organic produce in its Red Barn Store off Highway 12.

Wine tasting opportunities abound in tasting rooms and wineries in Glen Ellen and throughout the Sonoma Valley. Lodging is available in the 22-room Jack London Lodge on the tree-lined Sonoma Creek; in the historic and stylish Gaige House + Ryokan; and in boutique hotels, bed and breakfast inns, and vacation rentals throughout the area.

For more ideas, read 24 Hours in Glen Ellen and 5 Fun Things to do in Glen Ellen.