Australian Rock Garden a Resource for Home Gardeners

[From Tom Karwin's On Gardening column, Santa Cruz Sentinel, July 21, 2022]

One of California’s most valuable horticultural resources, the Australian Rock Garden at the University of California Santa Cruz’s Arboretum and Botanic Garden, displays an intriguing collection of smaller plants from “down under.”

To put this featured garden in context, arboreta by definition are collections of specimen plantings of trees and shrubs. They have considerable value for research and educational purposes, particularly for botanical researchers and students. They also have value for home gardeners by exhibiting plants that might enhance a residential landscape. 

The trees and shrubs in an arboretum could grow to mature sizes that are difficult to include in a home garden. Some of the UCSC Arboretum’s varieties of Eucalyptus trees, for example, reach majestic heights, more than most gardeners would have space to cultivate.

The UCSC Arboretum, which was initiated early in the campus’s development, has evolved to be titled “Arboretum & Botanic Garden.” This name broadens the scope of its collections to include smaller herbaceous plants. The Australian Rock Garden, in particular, is an exceptional resource for home gardeners for its display of attractive plants of sizes that could be accommodated in a typical residential garden. Many public gardens include arrays of “garden worthy” plants, and serve to guide and inspire plant selection projects for home gardeners. UCSC’s Australian Rock Garden rises well above the typical public garden displays for its impressive scale, its focus on Australian plants, and its naturalistic design. 

In future columns, we’ll review the development of this featured installation and recognize its noted designer, Melinda Kralj, now retired from a productive career as a member of the Arboretum’s staff. For the present, we will focus on a small sample of the plants of the Australian Rock Garden.

These botanical portraits were created by Bill Bishoff, a volunteer photographer who has expertly documented much of the Arboretum’s collections. He made scores of Australian Rock Garden photos in May of this year and has launched a plan to produce seasonal records of that garden’s plants. We already have many of his photos of appealing plants to share, and will have more in the future.

view of the rock garden

This landscape view of the Australian Rock Garden suggests its scale and location within the Arboretum’s Australian section. A map of the Arboretum’s grounds and directions for visiting can be found here.

Astroloma foliosum

A striking Australian plant is the Candle Cranberry (Astroloma foliosum). This is an erect shrub with dense growth, reaching three feet tall and wide. Its red and yellow tubular flowers, emerge from the needle foliage from autumn to spring. The blossom colors are accented by a black band. A member of the Heather plant family (Ericaceae).

Verticordia plumosa

The Plumed Featherflower (Verticordia plumosa 'Pink Lace') produces clusters of lavender-pink blossoms in winter and spring. The shrub grows in a rounded form up to two feet tall, with evergreen needle-like foliage. Member of the Mrytle plant family (Myrtaceae).

Beaufortia schaueri

The Dwarf Pink Bottlebrush (Beaufortia schaueri). This small, rounded shrub can rise to over three feet tall and wide. Its conspicuous globular displays of bright pink flowers appear in the spring at the ends of branches. Another member of the Mrytle plant family (Myrtaceae).

 Craspedia globosa ‘Billy Buttons’

The Drumstick Flower (Craspedia globosa ‘Billy Buttons’) produces a leafy mound that is one foot tall and wide, and flower stems that rise to two feet above the foliage. It produces a profusion of one-inch wide yellow blossoms resembling golf balls. The blossoms are favored s cut and dried flowers. This is a sun-loving plant that has few pests or diseases and is tolerant of most soils. Member of the Sunflower (Asteraceae) plant family.


Enjoy your garden!


Tom Karwin is past president of Friends of the UC Santa Cruz Arboretum and the Monterey Bay Iris Society, a Lifetime Member of the Monterey Bay Area Cactus & Succulent Society, and a Lifetime UC Master Gardener (Certified 1999–2009). He is now a board member of the Santa Cruz Hostel Society, and active with the Pacific Horticultural Society. To view daily photos from his garden, For garden coaching info and an archive of previous On Gardening columns, visit