Retirement Announcement: Melinda Kralj, Curator of Collections

June 25, 2021


Everything has its own career through time and Melinda Kralj, Curator of Collections, is retiring at the end of this month, on July 1.  I know this may come as heartbreaking news to some of you, and we will certainly miss seeing her every day, but she’s not packing up and moving to Nebraska. She will be coming back and forth and roaming the Arboretum as a highly honored and respected free agent for a very long time coming!

Melinda is the hardest working and most talented individual the Arboretum has ever experienced and I truly doubt that any of us could, or ever will, surpass her extraordinary exuberance, endurance, and steadfast loyalty.  

Melinda first caught our attention in the early- to mid-1980’s.  By then she was one of the principal horticulturists at San Lorenzo Lumber’s nursery, which was known for assembling new plants for California landscapes for its customers. It was not only a great place to buy plants but a mecca of knowledge and sharing. The nursery trade was still reeling from the great drought of the mid-1970s.  Melmelinda-rock-garden-med.jpginda and others understood the profound affect the drought had on the landscape industry and to the home gardener. She recognized the opportunity this represented and she was keenly aware of the various sources of new plants for California landscapes. The UC Santa Cruz Arboretum was among these along with Western Hills Nursery, Nevin Smith’s Wintergreen Nursery, Ray and Rose Williams Nursery, the California Horticultural Society, the North American Rock Garden Society, an array of California native plant nurseries and enthusiasts, to name but a few. She started volunteering with us in the Arboretum and shortly, we hired her part time.

What she may not have realized at the time was that we had a plan. We needed her a lot more than she needed us. She liked her job at the nursery working with her friends and helping people discover their new plants and we sensed that this courtship with the Arboretum might take time. Behind the scenes we raised money to hire her for more than just the 4 or 5 hours a week she was working then. Soon enough, we were able to dangle a half-time position, which she accepted. A little while later, approaching the eve of the 1990s, we were able to offer a career position and she was put in charge of the entire Australian Garden.

Melinda flourished. No matter the ups and downs of the Arboretum through time, Melinda was solid, like a rock. But not just a rock. Like a promontory rock island with a permanent light house beacon that never goes out. She probably has never known the importance her beacon of exuberance has been to all of us within the Arboretum community.

Imagine what the Arboretum would be today if we had three Melinda’s or even just two. A huge player-coach, Melinda assembled a marvelous group of volunteers known as the Aussie Weeders who have come every Thursday for years.  Their work has accomplished tremendous stewardship in the Australian gardens and many of us have tried to replicate Melinda’s model with other garden groups, and this, successfully.

As Curator of the Australian Area, she out did all of us with her ability to inventory and enter data and get labels into the garden. She planted like there would be no tomorrow and yet there always was. She travelled to Australia a few times, once with Ray Collett and Rodger Elliot and later went back to work at the Royal Botanic Gardens Victoria—Cranbourne Garden, in the Mornington Peninsula south east of Melbourne, Victoria. They were about to begin their planting which was a huge effort. I recall at the time Nevin Smith’s comment that the Cranbourne Garden Staff will never forget the positive and immense work that Melinda would accomplish there as she rolled into town with her powerhouse of one.  I believe that this prediction came through.

aussie-weeders-pic.jpgOne of Melinda’s most recent and triumphant accomplishments has been the design and development of the Australian Rock Gardens adjacent to the Redwood Grove. This garden offers a continuous series of wonderful surprises much like its designer. There is always something new coming along. The garden is a wealth of floristic examples of nature’s evolutionary experiments.  Ray Collett first announced the Australian Gardens as serving more then just the practical and scientific purposes set forth in its purpose but that the garden serves as a reminder of other floras around the Pacific and therefore takes on the qualities of an ambassador. Melinda has also served as an ambassador for the Arboretum in countless circumstances and with countless groups and individuals. Every institution, every garden needs ambassadors. Would that they all be so fortunate to have someone like Melinda to be their ambassador.

Melinda, we will miss seeing you every day in the Arboretum. Please don’t let there be too long of a gap between visits. Thank you for everything you have done and that you do. Its beyond magnificent.

Brett Hall, California Native Plant Program Director