BERKELEY -- It's no surprise that savvy gardeners have long had the date of the UC Berkeley Botanical Garden fall plant sale marked in green on their calendars. On Sept. 29 they'll have the opportunity to select from an amazing variety of specimens suitable for Bay Area climates from all over the world as well as to tap into the wealth of knowledge and experience that comes from running a botanical museum.

The garden specializes in specimens from regions that closely match our Mediterranean climate, with plants from South Africa, Australia, the Mediterranean region and South America, as well as a large California native representation.

"We have one of the country's most diverse plant collections and whenever possible we try to propagate and make these plants available to the public," said garden Director Paul Licht. "The sale plants vary from very unique rare plants to a large palette of those we think are suitable for the Bay Area. We have every type of plant to satisfy the novice to the specialist."

The plant sale serves a dual purpose, to raise money for the garden and to complete its mission. Though a campus unit, the university does not fund the garden completely and holding two annual plant sales, spring and fall, is an important revenue source to support the plant collection. Offering a way for the public to take part of the garden home also ties in with one area of its mission which is to increase public awareness of plants.


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As many as 6,000 to 7,000 plants will be on sale, all of them propagated by volunteers. "We prepare for years because many of the plants we sell have been growing for two and three years before they're ready for sale," Licht said. "There's constant preparation going on over the years and then very intense preparation starting months before each sale to get over 150 volunteers and all our staff organized."

Licht was clear that volunteers are critical not only to the annual plant sales but to the running of the garden itself. He sees volunteering as a form of philanthropy where people give of their time rather than money.

"I say that this is the most valuable form of philanthropy because money you can replace but time you can't replace in your life," he said.

The garden welcomes volunteers with plant expertise as well as those who come with an interest but no prior knowledge. There is a wide range of areas where they can participate in the daily life of the garden.

Volunteers can propagate plants or work as docents after completing a 26-week class. Others work in the garden shop; assist garden staff with weeding, raking and mulching; or serve as ambassadors greeting visitors. Indoors volunteers act as curators, making plant labels, cleaning seeds and preparing specimens for research and the herbarium; while library volunteers maintain and catalog the garden libraries and archives.

"We have over 350 volunteers and it's impressive how many volunteer in more than one area," Licht said.

Benefits from volunteering are as varied as the types of jobs volunteers perform, from a sense of pride and satisfaction in supporting and helping maintain a beautiful and important plant museum to forming close social bonds among groups of like-minded individuals. Among the more tangible benefits are a 20-percent discount to member-volunteers on everything sold in the garden and special volunteer programs, such as lectures and parties.

While plants are available for sale throughout the year and the annual spring plant sale is even larger, anticipation is high for Sept. 29 and preparations are underway. The staff advises anxious gardeners to become members in order to get a head start at selecting their favorites, to check out the map and devise a plant-plan, and to bring their own wagons for transport.

"There is a lot of excitement and activity," Licht said. "It's fun to be in this exciting environment. It's a festival of plants -- of living things."

If you go
Fall plant sale: UC Botanical Garden, 200 Centennial Drive in Berkeley is Sept. 29. Members sale and silent auction 9-10:30 a.m., public sale 10:30 a.m. to 2 p.m.
Details: 510-643-2755 or botanicalgarden.berkeley.edu.