Conceptual sketch for a pedestrian bridge linking the main botanical garden to the five-acre Mather Redwood Grove across Centennial Drive as included in its 2030 strategic plan. Credit: Courtesy of UC Botanical Garden

The leaders of the UC Botanical Garden have outlined their plans and dreams for the 34-acre garden overlooking the UC Berkeley campus in a new long-range strategic plan. 

And they’ve let their imaginations bloom a little bit wild. 

Among the proposals are a new carnivorous plant garden to showcase the Sarracenia (pitcher plant) collection and a $4 million renovation of the Garden of Old Roses, formerly a popular wedding destination.

Conceptual sketch for a glass-domed visitor center at the UC Botanical Garden. Courtesy of UC Botanical Garden

More pie-in-the-sky: A $40 million visitor center with a glass-domed exhibition atrium, which could be used to display the ever-popular corpse flower, a small cafe, and a new parking structure topped with a children’s garden. Also: A pedestrian bridge to connect the main garden with the Redwood Grove across Centennial Drive. 

The projects outlined in the garden’s plan for 2030 and beyond are all intended to support the living museum’s central missions of maintaining plant diversity amid climate change, being a resource for researchers, and educating the public.

“This is a very unusual garden, and we look at our role as really being stewarding and maintaining this very exceptional collection of plants … increasingly valuable as habitats disappear and environments change,” said Lewis Feldman, the UC Botanical Garden’s executive director.  

Read the botanical garden’s strategic plan

One section of the document outlines the garden’s most critical tasks: preparation for floods, high winds, wildfire and earthquakes; backup power for its seed bank freezer, which holds the seeds of many endangered species; a laser engraver for plant labels (the current plastic labels in use are “subject to damage by squirrels”); and a four-wheel drive vehicle for the garden’s conservation team, which frequently takes plants and other supplies into remote parts of the state and is currently using a nearly 20-year-old vehicle. 

Upcoming facility upgrades include a $3 million office space for its horticulturist staff and a $1.4 million renovation of the Virginia Haldan Tropical House, which will give visitors a glimpse into where coffee, vanilla and papaya come from. The 40-foot-tall greenhouse is expected to include an indoor pond, a canopy, and a living wall showcasing previously undisplayed orchids and interesting plants including the iridescent, fern-like Selaginella.

The garden is aiming for a reopening date for the tropical house in 2024, but still needs to raise $200,000 to finish the interior renovations, said Mary Canales, the garden’s development director. Exterior renovations for the tropical house were finished in 2021.

A rendering of the Virginia Haldan Tropical House, estimated to reopen in 2024. Credit: Courtesy of UC Botanical Garden

Major repairs for the leaky, 80-year-old Japanese Pool, which newts had been drowning in, were completed several weeks ago, said Andrew Doran, the museum’s collections director. A new pavilion at the entryway of its Asian Area, built from wood from a redwood tree that fell in March, is in the works, as are stair, handrail and pathway repairs. 

During the 2022-2023 fiscal year, the garden’s operating budget was $4.6 million. It received $750,000 from the UC Berkeley campus and roughly $650,000 from its endowment payout. The garden made up the $3.6 million difference through admission, membership, event space rentals, donations and gift shop and plant sales. 

Whether more ambitious capital projects outlined in the plan become reality depends mostly on funding. 

“You can’t always tell what priorities are going to take shape or what project is going to go first,” Doran said. “We hope it’s the staff offices, but other projects are almost self-driving in that incidents happen or a donor comes along and says, ‘I really want to see that project completed.’” 

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Iris Kwok covers the environment for Berkeleyside through a partnership with Report for America. A former music journalist, her work has appeared in the San Francisco Chronicle, KQED, San Francisco Examiner...