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UCI to Shed Light on Its Bulbs


The long-awaited South African Bulb Garden opens this weekend at the UCI Arboretum.

In full bloom for the Winter Bulb Festival, the display--with rock areas, waterfalls and a bog area--offers visitors an opportunity to view rare and unusual South African wild species bulbs in a natural setting.

More than 30 years old, the arboretum's bulb collection has been used for scientific studies and journal articles. The bulbs were in containers in saran houses until arboretum officials and volunteers brought them outdoors for public inspection.

"Now we can share these beautiful blooms," arboretum nursery manager Laura Lyons said.

The idea of a bulb garden was conceived in 1998 and its planning and design began in February 1999 under the direction of Mark Elvin, the arboretum's curator of the plant and scientific collections.

With the help of many volunteers, including master gardeners, university students and arboretum volunteers, they created the 2,500-square-foot garden over two years.

Elvin said volunteers put in more than 1,100 hours sorting and classifying the bulbs, planning the design, and planting the estimated 5,000-plus bulbs.

"The enthusiasm was contagious," said University of California master gardener Vicky Bowles of San Clemente, who did the garden's initial plan but adds that "the display is a collaboration of many minds."

"We exchanged ideas and information and the garden evolved. Anyone who became involved got pulled in. Students would come to volunteer just for the credit, but would get so excited they didn't want to go home," she said.

Although the bulbs are native to South Africa, which has a climate similar to Orange County's, organizers had to honor the bulbs' growing requirements. Thanks to careful planning, many conditions prevail in the garden.

It took about a year to categorize the many bulbs and their requirements, said Huntington Beach University of California master gardener Herb Wilkinson. "There are so many bulbs, we had to organize them on a spreadsheet," he said.

After the needs of the bulbs were determined, the site was cleared and a habitat was created especially for them.

"Our aim was to make the whole thing natural," Wilkinson said.

As they planted the garden, they also made sure to preserve the scientific validity of the collection, which required tagging and recording many bulbs.

Providing protection from rodents was another labor-intensive, yet important task.

"We installed fencing that was buried deep so that no animals could burrow under it," Lyons said. "We also covered the top of the soil with wire to protect bulbs from animals such as squirrels that can climb the fencing."

Although the project has been monumental, all involved agree that the results have been worth the effort.

"The garden is in full bloom now," Bowles said. "We can watch it evolve and mature. It's going to be even more spectacular in the future."


UCI Arboretum's Winter Bulb Festival, "Prelude to Spring," UCI Arboretum, located just south of Campus Drive and Jamboree Road on the UCI north campus. Today, 10 a.m.-4 p.m.; Sunday, 11 a.m.-3 p.m. There will be a variety of South African bulbs in bloom for sale. $2, children 12 and younger admitted free. (949) 824-5833.

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