Couple dreams big with botanical project
By Jordan Venema
Of the 35 largest cities in the United States, only two do not have botanical gardens, Sacramento and Fresno. Bruce Ritter and Linda Ching hope to leave Fresno alone on that list.
It could be years before a Sacramento botanical garden blooms, but the seeds are being planted. In January, Ritter and Ching co-founded the nonprofit Sacramento Botanical Garden and launched a capital campaign to raise $25 million to build the project.
For Ching and Ritter, the money is a small price to pay for value received.
“We need to recognize the importance of having green space,” Ching says. “Being out in nature is great for your mental health, your physiology, but we need places to go.”
The Sacramento couple believes green space really is a question of civic priority, public access and even conservation. They recently returned from a trip to New Zealand where “they invest in their gardens. Public funding goes to cover the salaries of those running the gardens,” says Ching, adding, “Would we rather use our water to support a botanical garden or a golf course only used by golfers?”
Ritter believes the price tag of $25 million is relatively affordable. In April, the Sacramento City Council approved a $33 million contribution toward a soccer stadium planned by billionaire Ron Burkle. “And we’re asking for $25 million and an underused park,” Ritter laughs.
As for the site of a potential botanical garden, the couple has considered locations at Del Paso Regional Park and Granite Regional Park, a quarry that could be converted like Quarry Park in Rocklin.
“But one of our ideal locations would be associated with the zoo,” Ritter says. “We feel that a botanical garden partnered with a zoo is just a great idea.”
The timing could be right for a shared location. The Sacramento Zoo is making plans to relocate from Land Park, its home since 1927, under threat of losing accreditation from the Association of Zoos & Aquariums. The old zoo is only 14 acres, too small for large animals.
The North Natomas site of the former Sleep Train Arena is one possible location for a new zoo. The site is 183 acres, but the Kings control the land and have filed plans to create a mixed-use residential and business village. A zoo would need at least 100 acres, and Ritter says 50 acres are ideal for a botanical garden.
Ritter and Ching have met with five councilmembers or assistants to discuss support for the botanical garden. They recognize corporate sponsors will be essential.
“We’re open to the idea of naming rights, like the Sacramento Botanical Gardens at Kings Park, or something like that,” Ritter says.
The price and size of the garden will depend on location, but Ching and Ritter are far along in their vision. The garden will include a 20,000-square-foot glass conservatory, water garden with giant lilies, demonstration and conservation garden, Chinese garden, butterfly-pollenated garden, tropical garden and formal garden. Ritter hopes to convince local orchid growers to donate their plants.
“We have some of the best orchid growers in the country, and we can amass one of the best orchid gardens in the world right here,” he says.
The botanical garden will feature a wedding and event venue, as well as a “garden-to-fork restaurant that serves as much as we can grow in the garden,” Ritter says.
Additionally, Ritter wants the gift shop to support local artists.
“I want to have a section devoted to all the local artists and artisans and selling their work on consignment to give them an opportunity to show their work with no risk,” he says.
Ideally, the couple believes a botanical garden could be completed in seven to eight years. While Ching and Ritter continue to meet with city officials, they hope to raise donations through their website sacbo.org.
“If we don’t act quickly, there won’t be space available,” Ching says.