Leaning Pine Arboretum

– Posted in: Garden Photography, Garden Visits

I have been photographing Leaning Pine Arboretum for years, and it has become one of my favorite gardens.

Mediterranean Blue Palm in summer-dry garden – Leaning Pine Arboretum.

For a garden photographer in California, seeking landscape settings for mature, appropriate plants adapted to the summer-dry climate, Leaning Pine is just about perfect.  It is designed as a horticulture display garden for the ornamental horticulture program of Cal Poly in San Luis Obispo, so beauty has been a key criteria for introducing plants to the collection.

Agave attenuata (Fox Tail Agave), flowering succulent, Leaning Pine Arboretum

I see my work as trying to changing the aesthetic of what Western gardeners expect to see in garden photographs, to present gardens that do not fit the typical English or East Coast style.  Don’t get me wrong, I love that lush style – where appropriate; but if the media only shows that style, gardeners in summer-dry climates will think that is the best model, and try to mimic it.

Sometimes mimicry is possible, by using cultivars adapted to the formal style often seen in traditional gardens.  For that, Leaning Pine has a demonstration garden with shrubs that can take formal pruning.

Pruned boxwood hedges; Leaning Pine Arboretum, San Luis Obispo.

But more often the garden presents garden beds in a more naturalistic style with looser arrangements.

Pathway through Mediterranean section of Leaning Pine Arboretum.

These gardens are designed with water conservation in mind. Water is certainly important everywhere and most gardeners recognize it as a resource that must be managed carefully in a world with increasing population pressures, but in California and other summer-dry climates (sometimes called mediterranean), water is especially precious.

It does not rain here in the summer.  That’s not drought, that’s normal; and the plants that have evolved to grow in this type of climate don’t require summer water.  They often look better and are more firesafe with some supplemental water, so the craft of gardening is figuring out which plants can be adapted into cultivation.

This is the beauty of Leaning Pine Arboretum – the gardens are organized by plants native to summer-dry regions, the Mediterranean, Western Australia, Central Chile, the Cape of South Africa, and of course California.  Within each of these sections, garden worthy plants native to their region are organized for horticulture inspiration.

The South African garden with Ice plants and Aloe, Leaning Pine Arboretum

The responsible gardener wants to use plants adapted to his or her own climate. This is a key element of sustainability.  So it is no wonder Leaning Pine has been a great inspiration in my work.  I can see plants from all over the world thriving under the same sunny, dry summer conditions.

Mediterranean Collection at Leaning Pine Arboretum, California garden

I especially love the California native plants that for too long were not considered garden worthy. Leaning Pine has done a great job disproving that idea and has combined native grasses, succulents, and shrubs into classy mixed borders.

Californa mixed border native plant garden, Purple Three-Awn grass, Agave parryi, Fairy Duster shrub at Leaning Pine Arboretum.

All parts the garden are inspiring and I know any photo I take in any section can be useful to gardeners.

From Italian Stone Pines:

Gravel path under Italian Stone Pine trees, Pinus pinea at Leaning Pine Arboretum, California

To California Desert Willows:

Chilopsis linearis – Desert Willow, Californa native tree in morning light at Leaning Pine Arboretum, California

PhotoBotanic gallery of photos from Leaning Pine Arboretum


Saxon Holt
Saxon Holt is the owner of PhotoBotanic.com, a garden picture resource for photographs, on-line workshops, and garden photography stories. An award winning photojournalist and Fellow of The Garden Writers Association with more than 25 garden books, he lives and gardens in Northern California. PhotoBotanic - Garden Photography online at www.photobotanic.com. https://photobotanic.com
Saxon Holt

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