'Urban Oasis' Stresses Buzz of Bees, Not Cars

Patrick Mott is a regular contributor to Orange County Life

It doesn't make sense that one of the most tranquil spots in the county could be within a few feet of a busy freeway, but then neither does the flight of bumblebees. There is, therefore, a kind of natural logic in the bumblebees at the Fullerton Arboretum peacefully coexisting next to the Orange Freeway on 25 very tranquil acres in the northeast corner of the Cal State Fullerton campus.

The arboretum, a plant-lover's Disneyland, isn't easily spotted by the drivers who whiz by on the freeway, California 57. At least it isn't easy to spot it for what it is.

"Our emphasis is on being a kind of urban oasis," said Lorra Almstedt, a spokeswoman for the arboretum. "In here, everything slows down to a nice, gentle pace."

Almstedt said the arboretum was established through a cooperative effort among the students, faculty, administrators and trustees of the college in the early 1970s "when there was that big emphasis on natural things, getting back to nature."

It took almost 10 years of acquiring plants from around the world, as well as planting, landscaping and construction, before the arboretum was opened to the public in 1979.

The centerpiece of the property is Heritage House, the original residence of George Crook Clark, Fullerton's first doctor. Built in 1894 as Clark's home and office and moved from its original location on the west side of the city to the arboretum in 1972, the restored Heritage House contains a broad collection of Victoriana--furniture, kitchen implements, clothing, dishes, lamps, tools--as well as much of Clark's medical equipment and office paraphernalia.

Next to the house is an 1880s outhouse, a windmill and pump house of the type found in the area around the turn of the century.

Heritage House is surrounded by plants that would have grown near Clark's residence at the time the doctor was living in it: orange, avocado and walnut trees, roses, vegetables, an herb garden (used in Clark's homeopathic practice), a wisteria-covered arbor and a working apiary, where bees produce honey that is sold by the arboretum.

Also nearby are several "community plots," small gardens reserved for those paying a small water fee for the right to work a small part of the arboretum with their own plants.

"You see people out here at 4:30 in the afternoon in their business suits, making sure everything is watered," said Lynda Shulte, a volunteer docent.

The remainder of the arboretum is a wide mix of plants from nearly every climate zone--altogether more than 40 distinct sections.

The arboretum also presents three special events each year: a plant sale in the spring (just completed), a Victorian Christmas display in early December and a Victorian Fair, scheduled for this weekend.

The Victorian Fair presents demonstrations of period crafts, antique automobile and bicycle exhibits and Victorian entertainment. Many visitors, as well as staff members, arrive in period costume.

While many people who come to the nonprofit arboretum are biology, botany or horticulture students from the university--or avid plant lovers that Shulte called "true gardeners"--many day-to-day visitors are "people who leave work and come over here for a quiet lunch."

"We have a botanical garden here, but people tend to use it as a park," Shulte said. "It's a plant zoo, if you will, but lots of people come just because it's a pretty place."


What: A grouping of botanical and cultivated gardens, featuring plants from around the world, as well as a Victorian museum at Heritage House, the restored former residence of Fullerton's first doctor.

Where: The northeast corner of the Cal State Fullerton campus. Enter on Associated Road just south of Yorba Linda Boulevard.

Hours: Arboretum--8 a.m.-4:45 p.m. daily. Closed on major holidays. Heritage House--2-4 p.m. Sundays. Closed in August and on major holidays.

Tours: Arboretum--2 p.m. Sundays. Heritage House--2-4 p.m. Sundays. Weekday group tours of the Arboretum grounds or Heritage House, by reservation one month in advance. Tours canceled in inclement weather.

Admission: Arboretum--free. Heritage House--$1 adults, 50 cents children.

Parking: Free.

Information: (714) 773-3579.

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