The Dunsmuir Botanical Gardens are managed as a non-profit organization and supported entirely by donations, annual memberships, fundraisers and dedicated volunteers. Please explore the links at right for further information about our organization and how you may expand your enjoyment of this remarkable community resource.
Dunsmuir Botanical Gardens Mission Statement
The purpose of the Dunsmuir Botanical Gardens is to enhance the natural setting of the Dunsmuir City Park for the enjoyment and horticultural education of the public through the establishment and maintenance of native and woodland plants. Through its fundraising efforts, the Dunsmuir Botanical Gardens Board of Directors works with other community organizations and local schools to increase civic pride and the beautification of the City of Dunsmuir.
History of the Dunsmuir Botanical Gardens
The City of Dunsmuir, a historic railroad town, had depended on the railroad for its economic fortunes from its inception in 1887. Its strategic location made it possible to add extra engines to the back of the trains heading north to move up the steep grade. In the 1990’s Dunsmuir found itself dealing with the declining presence of the industry that had created it. With the modernization and consolidation of the railroad’s facilities and the advent of the interstate highway bypassing the community, Dunsmuir’s population had slowly dwindled from over 4000 to just over 2000 people. At a Town Hall Meeting, the citizens identified Dunsmuir’s assets and liabilities and set a course of action. A Community Revitalization Committee was formed in order to develop projects and programs that would strengthen the community’s economic base.
Garden Club members attending the Revitalization Committee Meetings felt that a botanical garden could be a project that they could establish that would bring visitors to Dunsmuir. Sites were explored and when the City Park was suggested it seemed like a perfect fit. Although the site presented some problems (it was in a canyon and shaded by a dense canopy of trees), the forested setting bordered by the Sacramento River had splendid potential. It was apparent that the City Park could benefit from the improvements a botanical garden could provide and the botanical garden would offer a recreational and educational resource for all who visited there.
Lucy Depoli and Gene Fleet of the Dunsmuir Garden Club spoke with the Dunsmuir Recreation and Parks District Board to “plant the seed of the botanical garden idea” at the July 1990 Board Meeting. At the September Community Revitalization Committee meeting, Bill Whitson, director and conductor of the Palo Alto Chamber Orchestra and a part-time resident of Dunsmuir, suggested bringing the Palo Alto Chamber Orchestra to the City Park for a benefit concert as a way to provide funds for the new project. By February 1991 when the Dunsmuir Recreation District Board met with the Garden Club members to discuss the upcoming concert, plans were already being finalized for the creation of the Gardens.
In 1992 the Dunsmuir Botanical Gardens Committee was formed by a small group of Garden Club and community volunteers and began making improvements in the City Park and the Gardens in earnest. The locust trees were removed from the eastern hillside by the Public Works Department of the City of Dunsmuir, an automated irrigation system was installed and the planting of the new lawn in the meadow was completed. Because the funding from the 1991 concert had been allocated for other projects in the Gardens, the Botanical Gardens Committee sought donations from individuals and service groups to fund plant purchases and additional improvements in the Gardens. Lucy Depoli stated in an April 1992 newspaper article, “A person can even offer a donation for the planting of a rhododendron in memorial for a loved one”. The Dunsmuir Rotary Club purchased and planted rhododendrons to adorn the newly cleared hillside. The Dunsmuir Lions Club held a band concert with the proceeds funding a 16’x16′ expansion to the stage.
It was in the summer of 1992 that Joan Mac Mahon came to the Botanical Gardens Committee wanting to place a sundial in the Park in memory of her son, Kelly Niles. As she walked through the Gardens and inspected the intended site among the newly planted rhododendrons, she was drawn to the three native dogwoods near the center of the meadow. The plan was to create a garden bed using railroad ties in this area but Joan wanted it to be more beautiful and reflect the Gardens’ setting by the river. The decision was then made to use river rock for the garden wall surrounding the trio of dogwoods and a bronze sundial was placed in the wall as a memorial tribute to Kelly. This garden was the first design element constructed for the Gardens and the use of the river rock was to determine the overall design of the hardscape within the Gardens for the future.
Mrs. Mac Mahon funded additional rock work in the Gardens. Her gifts included the grand entrance staircase, several garden bed retaining walls, a drinking fountain and four sets of stairs throughout the Gardens. She provided funds for a step added along the front of the stage and a ramp to the north end of the stage. She was a strong advocate for the design and building of the handicapped restroom facilities. In the four years from her initial walk through the Gardens and her death in 1996, Joan Mac Mahon’s generosity provided the framework for what the gardens were to be.
It was apparent to all involved that the Gardens were becoming a reality and a Master Plan for the Botanical Gardens was prepared in 1993 by Michele Driggs of Native Expressions in Redding with input from Gary Matson of the Redding Arboretum and Botanical Gardens’ Committee member, Gene Fleet. The Dunsmuir Botanical Gardens Committee set out to have a garden that consisted of native plant materials. While it would not include tropical plants because of the special care they require, it would include a variety of colorful and interesting plants that already grew in the area or were adaptable to the conditions here. The Plan was the springboard and would provide the guidelines that shaped the course of progress over the next 14 years. Donations and memorials from individuals were an important source of revenue that helped to fund the improvements within the Botanical Gardens. Specimen plants and trees were added to the garden areas surrounding the meadow. More river rock was used to create new garden beds, retaining walls and drinking fountains. Benches were added throughout the Park and renovation of the picnic area was completed with the installation of barbecues and concrete picnic tables. A charming gazebo was also constructed overlooking the river across from the children’s playground.
In 2003 the Dunsmuir Botanical Gardens organization was incorporated and received its 501(c)(3) designation as a non profit corporation in the State of California. That same year, the Botanical Gardens’ Board of Directors, along with the Rotary Club of Dunsmuir and the City of Dunsmuir, took on the project of renovating the historic Alexander Dunsmuir Fountain at the entrance to the City Park.
The Botanical Gardens’ Board embarked on another major project in 2006, the updating the original 1993 Master Plan. Gardens’ Oversight Chair, Candace Miller explained, “With the development of an updated Master Plan, the Gardens will be able to showcase plants native to our area, have more variety of plantings throughout the Gardens, provide color within the gardens spring through fall, reduce expenditures needed for planting annuals, develop a catalog of plants for the Gardens, provide education through the development of an identification system and interpretive programs and offer the opportunity for volunteers within the Gardens.” In 2007 the Botanical Gardens became a member of the American Public Gardens Association.
Through donations, memorials, memberships, the annual “Tribute to the Trees Concert’ featuring the Palo Alto Chamber Orchestra and the hard work of dedicated volunteers, the seed planted seventeen years ago has certainly grown into something of which all can be proud, The Dunsmuir Botanical Gardens. 96025. We invite you to help with a tax deductible donation – just click here for our secure donation page on Paypal.