Botanical Tour: Leaning Pine Arboretum

Nestled in the hills above the Environmental Horticulture Science Unit at the north end of the Cal Poly campus in San Luis Obispo, a stunning five-acre display garden secretly sits, tucked away from student traffic and hidden from view.

Welcome to Leaning Pine Arboretum

Welcome to Leaning Pine Arboretum

I visited Leaning Pine Arboretum last week, for the first time in years, and an immediate sense of nostalgia arrived just as I did. After endless hours spent wandering through its winding pathways, welcomed by weeping boughs and mesmerized by back-lit blooms, this magnificent place holds a truly special place in my heart.

The Dwarf & Unusual Conifer Garden

The Dwarf & Unusual Conifer Garden

Grasses blooming in winter, illuminated by sunlight

Grasses blooming in winter, illuminated by sunlight

Aloe plicatilis in the South African Garden

Aloe plicatilis in the South African Garden

Over fifty years ago, Leaning Pine Arboretum was established as a two-acre collection of various tree species, which was developed into the existing five-acre botanical garden by long-time arboretum director Tom Eltzroth. He contributed his extensive horticultural knowledge with enthusiasm, led fundraising efforts, created information tools including signage and a website, and implemented sustainable gardening methods. After over forty years with Cal Poly and eighteen years as the director, Eltzroth retired in 2008, and the arboretum is now managed by (my former arboriculture teacher) Chris Wassenberg.

A combination of plant forms, textures and hues

A combination of plant forms, textures and hues

Back-lit Acacia in the Australian Garden

Back-lit Acacia in the Australian Garden

Leucospermum in the South African Garden

Leucospermum in the South African Garden

Leaning Pine Arboretum is constantly putting on an ever-changing show of foliage and inflorescence, attracting beneficial and pollinating insects, wildlife, and people alike. The garden contains hundreds of plant and tree species, mainly natives to the five Mediterranean climate regions of the world, which are well-suited for our California landscapes. Plant collections from Australia, South Africa, Chile, the Mediterranean, and California are all featured in the arboretum, alongside a New Zealand Garden, Formal Garden, Palm & Aloe Garden, Dwarf & Unusual Conifer Garden, and a Primitive Garden.

Muhlenbergia rigens provides bio-filtration and stabilization for a swale in the California Garden, while Bishops Peak overlooks

Muhlenbergia rigens provides bio-filtration and stabilization for a swale in the California Garden, while Bishops Peak overlooks

Cycads in the Primitive Garden

Cycads in the Primitive Garden

Aloes blooming among other succulents and palms

Aloes blooming among other succulents and palms

Since its inception, the arboretum has been used as a living laboratory; horticulture, botany, forestry, and entomology classes all utilize the garden as a hands-on outdoor classroom, embracing the Cal Poly motto, Learn by Doing. During my time as a horticulture student at Cal Poly, Leaning Pine Arboretum was where I memorized a never-ending list of Latin plant names and learned how to properly climb a tree with gear; where I sucked up tiny insects in an aspirator to identify for my entomology collection and sharpened my chainsaw skills; where the Adirondack chair I built in my landscape construction class was placed, and still sits to this day (eight years later), a bit worn and weathered but steadfastly providing a place for visitors to rest and become enveloped and enchanted by the botanical world around them.

Agave blues in the Palm & Aloe Garden

Agave blues in the Palm & Aloe Garden

A succulent-surrounded seating area

A succulent-surrounded seating area

The olive grove anchors the Mediterranean Garden.

The olive grove anchors the Mediterranean Garden.

The pathway winding through the California Garden

The pathway winding through the California Garden

Agaves in the California Garden

Agaves in the California Garden

Besides functioning as a learning space for students, the arboretum is a valuable resource for community education and recreation. Self-guided tours by brochure or by cell phone are available, and organizations can arrange for a guided tour by an arboretum staff member. For those looking for a more informal experience with the garden, they can simply meander along the blue-grey decomposed granite walkway that loops through the property, connecting the plant collections and gathering spaces. There are signs positioned to direct visitors through the arboretum, and plant varieties are individually labeled in each section. 

Signs lead the way

Signs lead the way

The main pathway, flanked by California and Mediterranean natives 

The main pathway, flanked by California and Mediterranean natives 

The gazebo and lawn area, just beyond the California Collection

The gazebo and lawn area, just beyond the California Collection

Seating areas are scattered throughout the five acres, including a semi-circle stone bench in the California Garden that wraps around a fire pit and boasts breathtaking views of Bishops Peak and the surrounding hills. A gazebo abuts the picnic-perfect lawn area, and a built-in BBQ can be found right inside the arboretum entry. Leaning Pine Arboretum is an ideal place for a peaceful stroll in solitude or an afternoon nap in the sun, photographing flora and fauna, a weekend outing with friends and family, finding inspiration for your own space, and so much more. It's open to the public year-round and fee-free, so there's no excuse not to take advantage of this local beauty!

The South African Garden, covered with Crocosmia

The South African Garden, covered with Crocosmia

A honeybee visits a Hardenbergia blossom in the Australian Garden

A honeybee visits a Hardenbergia blossom in the Australian Garden

Glowing Leucadendron bracts, from South Africa

Glowing Leucadendron bracts, from South Africa

Check out http://www.leaningpinearboretum.calpoly.edu/ for more information on the plant collections, horticultural practices used in the garden, and visiting the arboretum.

One of my absolute favorites, this California-native Manzanita is vibrant in the January sunlight

One of my absolute favorites, this California-native Manzanita is vibrant in the January sunlight

Local Spotlight: Walker x Higuera

Here at Landwell we love searching for design inspiration; sometimes that entails a flight across the globe, other times all it requires is taking a walk around our wonderful little city of San Luis Obispo. In the last couple of years one less-alluring section of town has truly grown on us, and it has become a favorite and frequented spot for refreshing our creative vision, along with a glass of wine.

Just south of downtown SLO is an industrial area, speckled with historic remnants of the era of highways and railroads. This stretch of mid Higuera Street between Marsh and Madonna might not look very inviting at first glance, but there are a couple of gems that are definitely worth a visit. First stop, The Station.

The Station

The Station

At the corner of Walker and Higuera Street, an old 1920's service station that hasn't pumped gas for 35 years has been completely transformed into a polished wine bar and gathering space. The run down, vacant building got a total face lift inside and out after the new owners (who also own Granada Hotel & Bistro downtown) bought it a couple of years ago. It was renovated and restored to retain as much of the original architecture and character as possible, and the result is quite charming!

Succulent spread

Succulent spread

Station Wagon reflections

Station Wagon reflections

Hesperaloe, sedum, senecio, agave, etc.

Hesperaloe, sedum, senecio, agave, etc.

The Station Wagon

The Station Wagon

Upon arrival, it's pretty much impossible not to immediately notice the beautifully planted parking strips, brimming with different succulents of all forms, textures and colors. The Station Wagon is usually parked out front as well; a mint green mobile version of the shop in food truck form, with a vintage vibe to match.  The entry is protected by the overhang that once sheltered gas pumps, and just inside is a welcoming and knowledgeable host, local marketplace goodies and shelves stocked with wine bottles from all over the world. In the adjacent room, window-filled garage doors let lots of natural light into the space that once was the mechanic's garage, illuminating the exposed brick walls and large wooden bar tables. In our temperate Central Coast weather the doors can be rolled up for fresh air and easy access during events.

Host post and a glimpse into the rentable meeting space

Host post and a glimpse into the rentable meeting space

Worldly wine selection

Worldly wine selection

The Station sign

The Station sign

The Station hosts a variety of functions including Art After Dark, several food and wine classes, craft workshops, food truck nights and a pop-up paint and sip program called Art Bar. Even when there isn't an event taking place, The Station is a unique and worthwhile stop to fuel up with wine, bubbly or Root Elixirs soda with spirit, one of our local favorites which you can taste on tap or fill a growler to go!

Appendage + Bough

Appendage + Bough

A peek into the A + B showroom

A peek into the A + B showroom

Garage door up and ready for visitors

Garage door up and ready for visitors

Just down the block on Walker Street is another diamond in the rough, Appendage + Bough. This funky barn-shaped building may be in an obscure location, sitting askew at the corner of Walker and Pismo Street, but its corrugated metal siding and bright turquoise paint job can't be missed, and what's inside shouldn't be either.

Built-in workshop blends into the rest of the room

Built-in workshop blends into the rest of the room

California-made candles

California-made candles

A hip collection of art, objects, apparel and furniture, carefully curated with a serious eye for detail

A hip collection of art, objects, apparel and furniture, carefully curated with a serious eye for detail

Artfully displayed jewelry

Artfully displayed jewelry

Camp vibes

Camp vibes

The shop contains an eclectic mix of locally made home decor and gifts, clothing, jewelry, vintage finds and skillfully handmade furniture. The two talented owners Tim Beebee and Ryan Ratzlaff (both hobbyist-turned-professional builders) utilize reclaimed materials, lumber milled in-house, and swap meet treasures to create custom tables and more, for the store, online shop and for commissioned projects. Their truly one-of-a-kind pieces are impeccably finished, while maintaining a rustic retro aesthetic. 

The showroom featuring work by If You Give a Girl a Saw and Mikey Gaumann

The showroom featuring work by If You Give a Girl a Saw and Mikey Gaumann

Wooden hex tiles

Wooden hex tiles

Tile tessellations

Tile tessellations

Warm wood tones and industrial form

Warm wood tones and industrial form

A newer addition in the tiny front showroom, meticulously crafted furniture and decor items by If You Give a Girl a Saw (owned by woodworker Janine Stone) and Mikey Gaumann are sure to impress with geometric shapes, clean lines and incredible detail. The pieces feel simultaneously modern and timeless, and that's right up our alley. We recently attended an opening at Appendage and Bough for the duo and won a gorgeous set of hexagon coasters. Best raffle prize, ever! Dropping by A + B during an Art After Dark artist reception, or one of their other lively gatherings? Be prepared to be welcomed with a toasty campfire out front, a glass of wine or a beer, and lots of local love.

As a small new company in San Luis Obispo, it's inspiring to see this collection of brilliant, creative and determined entrepreneurs, sharing spaces and supporting each other to make big things happen, and improving our community while doing so. On top of sharing their craft and talent, these businesses are drawing attention to buildings that have been forgotten and changing the way we perceive them; bringing new life to what once was, pushing through challenges to pay homage in a current context. The perfect combination of old and new. It's encouraging to witness the beginning of the revitalization of a historically valuable area of our city, especially one with such proven potential. We hope the trend to restore and enhance mid Higuera Street continues, and we can't to see what pops up here next!


The Station | Appendage + BoughRoot Elixirs | If You Give a Girl a Saw | Mikey Gaumann

For an interesting read, check out the Mid Higuera Street Enhancement Plan and learn about what the City of San Luis Obispo had proposed for this area back in 2001.