BERKELEY -- Native plant enthusiasts take note, it's time to start collecting boxes and pulling red wagons out of the garage. Come April 20, the Regional Park Botanic Garden is offering a once-a-year opportunity to choose from an unmatched diversity of California native plants at its annual Spring Plant Sale and boxes to carry home your pickings are at a premium. Organized by the Volunteers of the Regional Parks Botanic Garden, the sale will showcase plants propagated from the garden's own collection, many not available in commercial nurseries.
Located in Tilden Regional Park, the botanic garden promotes the collection, growth, display and preservation of California native plant species. In 10 distinct statewide sections, the 10-acre garden displays plants that represent California's 160,000 square miles and many of these will be available for purchase on plant sale day.
The purpose of the annual sale -- in addition to generating income -- is to share with the public the tremendous variety of plants within the garden and the conditions under which they are grown. "Everything generated by the sale goes right back to the garden," said Joe Dahl, Botanic Garden supervisor. "The funds help us buy materials for projects that we couldn't otherwise afford to do."
Pretty much every plant type is represented, from seeds, ground cover, grasses, ferns and annuals to bulbs, perennials, shrubs and trees; plants to fit the conditions of gardens throughout the Bay Area.
To prepare for the event, the garden relies on a dedicated group of plant sale volunteers who come in to propagate plants from the collection.
"We propagate all year long, primarily from cuttings and sometimes from seeds," said Ron Clendenen, a 15-year volunteer propagator. "We have a mission in getting native plants out to folks at reasonable prices so they can start their own native plant gardens."
On sale day close to 5,000 plants will be labeled by name and arranged by species around placards containing information about whether the plant is drought-tolerate or fire- or deer-resistant.
Experts will be available with advice and gardening tips. "If people don't know a plant, the best thing to do is take advantage of the people that are helping at the plant sale," Dahl said.
He also suggests that a pre-sale trip is a great way to scout out possible purchases and take advantage of the botanic garden. "Everything for the plant sale should be out by April 12 so people can come up and preview and then just walk around the garden and get ideas," Dahl said.
Sale day advice includes arriving early. The sale is popular and it can get crowded.
Plenty of parking is available and directors keep traffic flowing, but locations are dispersed so walking may be necessary.
Another reason to come early is that crowd favorites, including coral bells, bush anemone, flannel bush, manzanita and wild iris go quickly. Species like trillium take about seven years from seed to bloom, so supply never equals demand.
The plant sale demonstrates the importance of volunteers to the Botanic Garden and a wide variety of volunteer opportunities exist. Besides propagators, other groups help maintain the garden by weeding, raking and nursery work; the Seedy Friends collect, process and package seeds for sale; and the Friends of the Regional Parks Botanic Garden publicize and raise funds.
Docents go through a 20-week class learning everything from pollination to native plant uses and taxonomy, then lead tours of the garden.
Volunteering benefits are two-sided. Along with filling in on jobs that can't be covered by garden staff, volunteers learn a lot. "I've learned practically everything I know about native plants from my years volunteering," Clendenen said.
And they learn it in a very special environment. "This is a really peaceful place that many people find very refreshing," Dahl added. "The benefit is the experience of being outside and being with the plants."
So whether the plant sale beckons, volunteering is on your to-do list or a garden stroll sounds tempting, the Regional Parks Botanic Garden is one resource that shouldn't be missed.
The Native Plant Sale is 10 a.m.-3 p.m. April 20 at the Regional Parks Botanic Garden, Wildcat Canyon Road and South Park Drive in Tilden Regional Park in the Berkeley hills. Admission is free. Details: 510-544-3169 or www.ebparks.org/page156.aspx.
Volunteer opportunities: http://www.nativeplants.org/volunteer.html.