Garden Party

Botanical oasis gains momentum

By Gary Delsohn
December 2023

City life, by its very nature, requires places to escape. Even in our most livable urban areas humans need sanctuaries to get away from traffic, noise, congestion, crowds and other annoyances.

That’s why we cherish parks, museums, beaches and other oases. Calm, relaxing locations where we slow down and forget the stress.

Few places offer the peace and beauty of a well-designed, plush botanical garden. Now a group of determined Sacramentans is working to bring this amenity to the capital city.

Garden advocates are encouraged by conversations with the Sacramento Regional County Sanitation District for 61 of its 2,150-acre “buffer lands” near Consumnes Boulevard in South Sacramento.

There are still many details to be worked out, among them how to raise the estimated $40 million in development costs. Also, negotiations with the city and Delta Shores landowners about using another privately owned 27 acres targeted for a park.

But sanitation district staff and board members have been supportive about a possible lease for some of its property. Renee Taylor, a longtime local public relations executive and former SMUD board member, is interim chair for the Sacramento Botanical Garden nonprofit. She’s optimistic about producing a final plan next year.

Bryan Young, environmental program manager for the sanitation district, tells me, “We’re open to the idea and continuing to talk. We think we have plenty of common ground. Our involvement would require board approval, but we definitely think there’s a way it can be done. We see it as an asset to the community.”

Ideally, the gardens would be more centrally located, and not near a sanitation facility, even with its expansive buffer. But cheaper land is a plus and could make the project, which would include a restaurant, conservatory, public art, a small amphitheater for entertainment events and other features, pencil out.

Another reason for optimism, Taylor says, is new energy in the garden’s leadership. Project enthusiasts Bruce Ritter and Linda Ching, who launched the idea about four years ago, recently stepped down from board positions. The group added new, politically connected civic leaders.

“The Sacramento Botanical Garden founding board worked diligently for the past four years to lay the foundation for the project, and now we are moving to the next phase in garden development,” Taylor wrote in an email. “We identified what is likely the perfect location for a 60+ acre botanical garden in Sacramento, and we are focused on the work to confirm the site.”

New members of the board include William Ishmael, vice chair, local artist and civil engineer; Ray Tretheway, co-founder and former director of the Sacramento Tree Foundation and former City Council member; Jeff Townsend, landscape architect; Christi Black-Davis, public relations executive; and Julia Burrows, former senior policy adviser to mayors Darrell Steinberg and Kevin Johnson.

The board makes the case for the project on its website at

“Throughout the world, major destination cities have included botanical gardens as one of the attractions for visitors. Think of the New York Botanical Garden, the Huntington in the greater Los Angeles area, or the Royal Botanical Gardens in London.

“A botanical garden in Sacramento is a way to restore our green spaces, provide a place for learning, relaxation and conservation.”

My wife and I recently spent a week in Vancouver, British Columbia, one of our favorite cities. We had a wonderful time exploring Van Dusen Botanical Garden on the site of an old golf course in the heart of the metropolis. The 55-acre garden boasts more than 7,500 plant species. It’s a top attraction.

Given Sacramento’s climate and verdant setting, a botanical garden should have happened long ago. Let’s hope the new board can pull this off and create a serene island to escape, reflect and enjoy gorgeous landscapes.

Gary Delsohn can be reached at Follow us on Facebook, X and Instagram: @insidesacramento.

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