Marin Master Gardeners
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All Stars for your Garden

January 30, 2012
Dot Zanotti Ingels

Spring is on its way and we will all soon be anxious to get outside to plant in our gardens.  Master Gardeners are always advising people of the importance of planting the right plant in the right place.  Now is a good time to do some advance planning with the help of the University of California Davis Arboretum.  The Arboretum’s All-Stars program is making plant selection easier and helps us avoid plants our gardens would be better off without.  The horticultural staff of the UC Davis Arboretum has identified 100 tough, reliable plants that have been tested in the Arboretum, are easy to grow, don’t need a lot of water, have few problems with pests or diseases, and have outstanding qualities in the garden. Many of them are California native plants and support native birds and insects. Many of the All-Star plants can be successfully planted and grown throughout California, but some may not be as well suited to all parts of Marin.  The Arboretum is the main source of horticultural information for a Mediterranean climate with hot, dry summers and cool, wet winters unlike the Pacific coast, which has a very mild climate where most plants flourish.

Traditional methods of yard care often use lots of water, can contaminate streams and rivers with pesticide runoff, and contribute to air pollution with power equipment emissions. A visit to the Arboretum will teach you more about more environmentally-friendly alternatives such as Mediterranean-style garden design, water-saving irrigation systems, mulching, companion plantings, biological pest control, and other sustainable practices that reduce the use of water, energy, and chemical inputs and support native pollinators, birds, and beneficial insects.

The UC Davis Arboretum was founded in 1936 to support teaching and research at the University of California. It occupies 100 acres along the banks of the old north channel of Putah Creek, in California's Central Valley. The collections include 22,000 trees and plants adapted to our Mediterranean climate. The plants are arranged in a series of gardens that represent different geographic areas, plant groups, or horticultural themes.  For those of you who are very visual and like to see before you plant, you may want to make a trip to see what they have.  You can schedule a guided tour or sign up for a cell phone tour.  There is no charge to visit the Arboretum. The gardens are open 24 hours a day, every day of the year. You can download a visitor map, or pick one up at the Arboretum Headquarters. The main path through the gardens is a 3.5 mile loop.  The office is open Monday–Friday, 8 a.m.–5 p.m. Parking is easily available.  It is free to park on Saturday and Sunday and costs $7.00 per car on weekdays.  There are permit machines in the visitor parking lots that accept bills, coins and ATM and credit cards.  The dog can come, but must stay on a leash.  Parts of the Arboretum are level and easily accessible to wheelchairs or people with limited mobility, and disability accommodations can be arranged with advance notice. They also offer PDFs of our educational exhibits for visitors with limited mobility.

Some of the plants on the list can also be seen at the Marin Master Gardener’s display gardens at Falkirk Cultural Center, 1408 Mission Avenue in downtown San Rafael. 

The UC Davis Arboretum is committed to practicing, promoting and teaching about sustainable horticulture. All-Stars also have one or more of the following features:

  • They are low maintenance
  • They are drought tolerant  
  • They attract beneficial wildlife


The arboretum has designed gardens for you that include a layout and plant list.  The gardens include a California Native Garden, a Low Maintenance Garden and a Wildlife Attracting Garden.  They are based on a 10 by 10 foot space.  There are photos of the plants and each plant on the All-Star list comes with information on how to plant and care for your new garden entry.  The lists are easy to follow as is, or can be mixed and matched to achieve the look and goals you want.

For information about all 100 UC Davis Arboretum All-Star plants, their care requirements, and how to use them in your home landscape, enjoy a visit to their website at http://arboretum.ucdavis.edu/about_us.aspx.  From there you can use the All-Stars database to find the right plants for your garden, search through a list of the 100 UC Davis Arboretum All-Stars, view an audio slide show about the All-Stars plants and download the 2011 Arboretum with a full list of all 100 All-Stars with detailed information about each plant plus so much more.

The Arboretum nursery has All-Star plants for purchase.  They have also collaborated with nurseries throughout the state to stock All-Star plants well suited to the local conditions such as climate and soils.  The nurseries in Marin are the Sloat Garden Centers at 700 Sir Francis Drake Boulevard at Wolfe Grade in Kentfield and 2000 Novato Boulevard at Wilson in Novato.

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