Skip to Content

Mission of the Fullerton Arboretum

Provide our visitors the opportunity to gain knowledge and appreciation of the plant world through collections that preserve and promote stewardship of worldwide plant diversity and regional agricultural heritage. Serve faculty, students and the broader community through education and scholarly activities.
bottom sub logo Early Interest In A Fullerton Arboretum
In the fall of 1970, Dr. David Walkington and Dr. Eugene Jones, along with other faculty members and a group of students at Orange State College, later to become California State University, Fullerton, began to discuss the idea of a arboretum to be developed on a parcel of land at the Northern end of the campus. An orange grove which had been part of the Gilman lands was in a serious state of disease known as quick decline, leading to almost certain death of the trees, neglected for some years. Most of the area was, in fact, a field of wild mustard and little hope was held for saving any of the trees. In time, a group of faculty wives led by Teri Jones pitched in to help find community support for future development of the acreage. A group called the Arboretum Committee was formed and to everyone's surprise and delight won a Disneyland Community Service Award for its environmental efforts. In 1971 the Associated Students of Cal State College began a drive to raise funds for the future project.

Dr. Franz Dolp and Dr. Jones of the faculty began an attempt to salvage some of the citrus trees, but the effort was more successful in getting student and community support than it was in saving the doomed trees. The student and faculty group then planned to use an area of the land for organic gardening plots to demonstrate the environmental values of that type of gardening. In the winter of that year a tree cutting time was set and the dead trees were cut down, roots removed, the wood sold for firewood and later used for surfacing of paths in the area.

In the following year, after substantial lobbying by interested citizens, the California State University Trustees considered setting aside land for a future botanical garden, the first of its kind on university land in the state. This was followed by the formation of an Arboretum Society which began a series of fund-raising activities on campus to build a fund for the future botanical garden.

Coincidentally, a group of citizens, again led by faculty wives and other interested local women, located an historic house in Fullerton which was slated to be moved or destroyed. Another chapter of this story discusses the process of saving what is now Heritage House, a part of the Arboretum.

The Arboretum Society sought assistance from the City of Fullerton to further the idea of Fullerton Arboretum, the first serious effort to receive official community support for the project.

University president Dr. L. Donald Shields became involved in the development process assisted by Vice President James Sharp who became the point man from the university. In January of 1972 the Trustees of the California State University system gave approval to the planning of a botanical garden at CSUF and a month later set aside the twenty-six acres for the project.

Originally, planning for the project was passed to students and faculty at sister CSU campus, Cal Poly, Pomona where landscape design and related fields were part of the curriculum. Among early plans for the land use was an amphitheatre to be used by the performing arts students of the college, but as time passed interest in this aspect declined as on-campus facilities were approved.

In early 1972 a community group called the Friends of the Fullerton Arboretum was formed as an outgrowth of the Arboretum Society to pursue the goals of development. In due course the Friends organization was chartered as a tax-exempt, non-profit corporation and granted a license to raise funds for the future development of the Arboretum.

bottom sub logo Early Development of the Arboretum
As the university students, faculty and the community began to show increasing enthusiasm over development of the grounds which were originally viewed as a parking lot, various people began organizing fund-raising events. The Arboretum Society was formed and the spring of 1971 the first plant sale, Weeds, Seeds and Garden Needs was held and later evolved into the popular annual Green Scene Garden Show.

Students at Cal Poly, Pomona provided a number of examples of how an arboretum might look to university architect Bill Bridges in January, 1972. An estimated cost of $75,000 at the start grew to $750,000 by the time the project became reality. Community interest was supported by the nationwide bicentennial celebration and fund-raising materialized from several sources. In 1976, university trustees and the city of Fullerton named the landscape architect firm of Bridgers and Troller to complete schematic drawings. Contractor Goodman and Pelogran of La Habra was awarded a $621,000 bid to begin construction in October of 1977. Throughout the first twenty years of arboretum development and growth, the day to day efforts of Dorothy Callison as assistant to the various Directors and Friends leadership was of utmost importance in maintaining continuity and good relationships with the University and the City.

As evidence of broad community support, the Redevelopment Agency of the City of Fullerton entered into a precedent-setting Joint Powers Agreement with the University whereby the Agency agreed to finance the initial grading and construction costs and then co-operate in funding basic operations until the year 2020. The agreement also established a public entity, the Arboretum Commission, containing City and University appointees, to govern the Arboretum for that period.

Before construction, university greenhouse manager, Leo Song, had begun starting plants which would eventually be the basis of worldwide plant variety which characterizes the Arboretum. Part-time worker Celia Kutcher also was accumulating and identifying more than six-hundred other plants. One of the Arboretum's original commissioners, Fred Mason, has vivid memories of extensive debating about whether it would be best to spend money on larger ten gallon can trees or the five gallon size. The five gallon was chosen and plants thrived. As plantings continued, the Arboretum Commission sponsored several Big Digs, inviting people from the community to join in Saturday planting days. An early planting on the land which preceded any actual formal plans was that of the Ombu tree (Phytolacca dioica x weberbaueri), a cross between two native South American trees. This tree, dating back to 1970, thus predating the Arboretum as a whole, is now one of the major attractions of a forested section of the grounds. Supervision of the grounds by John Copeland, Rico Montenegro, Glen Williams and Chris Barnhill were vital to the selection, maintenance and growth of the plant collection.

bottom sub logo Groundbreaking and Construction of the Arboretum
At 1:00pm on Sunday, December 11, 1977, Dr. C. Eugene Jones presided over a formal ceremony which included a flag raising by Boy Scout Troop #74, music by the Orange Empire Barbershop Chorus and speakers CSUF President L. Donald Shields and City of Fullerton Mayor Duane Winters. The groundbreaking was led by Commission President Martha McCarthy, Teri Jones of the Friends and other commissioners. Citizens were given the opportunity to become life or corporate members of the Friends, their names to be on permanent plaques near the entrance yet to be constructed. The event attracted considerable public attention and attendant press publicity. It is impossible to give too much credit to Dr. C. Eugene Jones, the first director, for the establishment and early growth of the Arboretum. Jones and his wife, Teri Jones, were for the entire peiod of development, influential in gathering support from the university system and community members to make the Arboretum a reality.

As the first construction phase of the Arboretum itself began, a small storage building was noted on a point of land. the grounds construction crew wanted it for an office but early community supporters who became part of the Friends of the Arboretum quickly established a gift shop committee with an eye to fund raising. Adrienne Ford, Wanda Ferren and Pat Sawyer organized the task. By the end of the week the building had shelves, a counter, a gazebo and volunteers to act as sales people. Everything but merchandise to sell noted Pat Sawyer who became the first volunteer coordinator of the shop.

When trees were sought for foresting the grounds in the early 1970's, a program called Trees for Arboretum Growth, TAG, was begun and hundreds of memorial trees were planted. However, over the years, many were destroyed by storms and other events and TAG was discontinued. Memorial gifts were noted in a Book of Remembrance. Today, some of the original gift trees remain. The earth moving, irrigation system, waterfall, pond and lake systems with re-circulating water and various plantings took place over many months.

Although the grounds were open to the public before that time, the official opening ceremonies and ribbon-cutting took place on Sunday, October 21, 1979. The program opened with a rousing medley by the CSUF Varsity Band conducted by Don Gunderson. Following a welcome by City of Fullerton Director of Community Services, Dr. N. Allen Riley led the dedication, CSUF President L. Donald Shields spoke on The Arboretum: Educational Implications. Fullerton Mayor Louis Velasquez added his remarks on The Arboretum and the Community. Finally, the ribbon-cutting was performed by President Shields and Mayor Velasquez and guests were invited to take the first official tours of the gardens and enjoy refreshments served under the wisteria arbor.

From time to time the plantings are modified to allow for improvement. The 2004 construction of a new visitors center with classrooms, community-use pavilion, museum and other improvements made it necessary to move the nursery, plant propagation area and other features to another part of the grounds.

bottom sub logo The Governance of the Arboretum
The Fullerton Arboretum Authority was created by a Joint Exercise of Powers Agreement between the Redevelopment Agency of the City of Fullerton and the Trustees of the California State University dated March 24, 1976. Under the terms of the Joint Powers Agreement, the Arboretum Authority is governed by a seven-member Commission consisting of three members appointed by the Trustees of CSUF, three members appointed by the City of Fullerton and one at-large member appointed by a majority vote of the other six commissioners. All commissioners serve for a four-year term, and City appointees may be re-appointed for one additional term. University appointees and the at-large members may serve indefinitely. The Arboretum Commission meets four times annually and acts much like a board of directors of a public corporation, overseeing all aspects of the operation of the business of the Fullerton Arboretum.

The Arboretum is located on twenty-six acres of CSU-owned land at the north end of the CSUF campus (and within boundaries of City of Fullerton Redevelopment Project Area 3).

The director of the Arboretum is responsible for the operations of the gardens. The director was initially a faculty member from the biology department of CSUF whose assignment was divided between the biology department and the Arboretum. In later years the director's position was given to other faculty members or administrators, still on a part time basis. The first full time director, Gregory Dyment, was hired in 1997.

bottom sub logo The Friends of the Arboretum
"The commission formalized the Friends as a non-profit corporation, establishing a license and support agreement in 1982." Friends took on the tasks of fund-raising, education, gift shop sales and operations. Quickly the Friends began plant sales and other efforts. Originally an all-volunteer organization, the Friends increasing schedule of fund-raising sales, events and other activities led to the hiring of part-time, then full-time staff. Among the new tasks of the organization was creation of a public relations program for the Arboretum.

Starting in 1974, community leaders considered staging a plant show as a fund-raising activity for the future arboretum. With typical enthusiasm arrangements were made to hold what was essentially a flower show in some of the temporary buildings on the CSU campus. This spring event is now the Green Scene Garden Show, a premier garden event in Southern California. Each April the Arboretum is turned into an impressive presentation of plants for sale by the Friends Potters, dozens of exhibitors and local garden clubs offering specialty plants for sale. A two-day event, Green Scene is one of the principal fund-raising efforts of the Friends and an attraction bringing many return visitors to the Arboretum each year.

Later on, Arborfest and Fall Plant Sale was added as an October event, a different version of the Spring plant sales with emphasis on family participation. Over the years the themes of Arborfest changed from western to insect and wildlife education, evolving in October, 2004 into GreenScene II Garden Show and Plant Sale, a fall planting festival.

Friends of the Fullerton Arboretum supports the gardens through membership dues, fund-raising events and volunteers. In 2003, Friends membership grew to 1800 with representation from the cities of North Orange County, the farther reaches of California and greater distances outside of California. The Arboretum relies on membership contributions at various levels, volunteers and private donations to maintain operations and to fulfill its mission.

The Friends now employs a staff for operation of the program consisting of a manager, an events coordinator, an administrative assistant, a nursery manager, and facilities rental manager all on a full time basis, and a few part time employees.

For some years the Friends supported plans to build a Visitors Center on the grounds to include areas for community use, a museum and classrooms. A new nursery/greenhouse and plant sales area was completed in 2004. With support from the city, generous private donors and civic groups the long anticipated groundbreaking was held and construction of the Visitors Center begun in the fall of 2004, fittingly during the 25th anniversary year of the official opening of the Arboretum to the community.

Facebook Twitter button Instagram

Press Room   |   Job Opportunities   |   Photography Permits   |   Contact Us   |  

PDF Note Download Adobe Acrobat Reader