UC Santa Cruz Botanical Garden and Plant Sale

My oldest son recently started as a Computer Science major at UC Santa Cruz. So, when I learned the University was having a Fall Plant sale it made sense to drive down and check out the goods. I had no idea what to expect, but of course I was hoping for a nice selection of aloes, agave, cactus, and possibly some companion plants for a little bit of variety. I picked up my son and three friends who surprisingly wanted to go as well! Parking is easy as UCSC seems to have no shortage of land. Upon arriving at the sale, we were greeted with the bucolic California landscape you'd expect so close to the ocean.

UC Santa Cruz Fall plant sale

I have to admit it definitely felt like there should be more plants - although to be fair, we arrived two + hours after the gates opened, and more plants were behind me in the above shot.

Below shows some of the succulent tables. You can see they had a seasonal table, a soft succulent table, and just out of shot, a few landscape succulent tables.

UCSC Fall plant sale - succulent tables

UCSC Fall plant sale - landscape succulent table

The succulent tables were very popular

I spoke with one of the volunteers and asked if they were propagating their own agave, aloe etc. To paraphrase his response - No, but succulents have become very popular so they buy most of their succulents from local wholesale nurseries. This might explain some of the higher prices I saw listed on fairly common plants. For example, the Agave bracteosa pictured below in a 10" pot listed for $25 and while it is a nice, healthy specimen, I've seen similar plants for two-thirds the price at retail nurseries.

Agave bracteosa for $25

Aloe "Johnson's Hybrid"

As I do not have one yet, I thought about buying this little aloe simply from a collector's standpoint. I was also tempted to buy this little Agave geminiflora below. In the end, I wasn't sure if it was a good price, and I've definitely bought too many plants for too many $$s already  - so I erred on the side of caution. Probably a mistake.

Agave geminiflora 'Leaping Lizards' - $25
I think overall I was disappointed with the selection and price points of succulents at the UCSC plant sale this fall. I didn't end up buying any plants, but two of my son's friends bought a couple of smallish cacti.

However, this wasn't a plant sale dedicated to succulents; they had lots of plants such as several varieties of Leucodendron and Leucospermum which I believe they propagate on site.


Ribes malvaceum
The Ribes above was part of selection of plants brought by the CNPS (California Native Plant Society).

With the plant sale done, it was time to explore the adjacent gardens which included plants from a few of the world's other Mediterranean regions. Most importantly, we visited the Succulent Garden which looked to have been the most recently updated.

UCSC Arboretum signage
UCSC Arboretum signage

By comparison, the UCSC succulent garden seemed to be roughly one fourth the size of the UC Berkeley succulent garden (which admittedly won't mean much if you've never visited the UC Botanical Gardens :) ). However, that's still plenty to look at during an afternoon trip.

Aloe plicatilis
Aloe plicatilis

The garden had several mature specimens. For example, I love the ancient (and somewhat tortured) looking form of the Fan Aloe above.

UCSC succulent garden main path
The garden itself is situated on a roughly western facing hillside with access via a meandering path.

Here's a shot of my son showing interest in an agave (possibly for my benefit). Notice the conifers in the background? Much of the UCSC grounds sit among the redwoods which give way to rolling grasslands which themselves slope toward Hwy 1 and the ocean beyond.

Agave celsii
Agave celsii looking almost tropical

Looking back up the succulent garden path
See that flower spike at the top left-hand corner of the picture above? Let's walk back up the path to get a closer look.

Agave shawii v. shawii

Up here there are a lot of mature A. filifera and based on other plants this looks like an older part of the garden.

Agave filifera

But back at the bottom of the path near the gift shop, there appears to be a much newer part of the garden. I imagine it was quite a bit of work placing all those boulders. Lots of potential here.

New rock work behind the garden gift shop

I'm happy my son now goes to a school with a botanical garden. In fact, I found the scale of their succulent garden inspiring as I have a hillside roughly the same size. Some day I hope to convert my own hillside into a giant garden of agave, aloes, and cacti.

[many thanks to my wife and daughter for helping me place at least a dozen commas]


  1. Hi Hans! UCSC is definitely on my list of gardens to visit, as is UC Berkeley's garden. UCSC reportedly has a great collection of Australian plants so, if your interests include those, you should check them out the next time you visit your son. I read about the UCSC sale on Gerhard Bock's blog 'Succulents and More' and it sounds as though you need to be a member of the botanic garden and be in line when the sale opens to get the best selection. In any case, the sale you attended is definitely superior to those down this way (with the possible exception of that held by Huntington Gardens).

  2. Thanks Kris. Yep, I'll most likely become a member and more so because I'll be visiting our oldest son at UCSC every so often. I did walk through some of the Australian garden but everything is very dry this time of year; I figured going back in the later Spring for some pics might be a better time. Speaking of the Huntington ... I've never been and am toying with the idea of a winter trip. I'd very much like to catch some of the Aloes in bloom.


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