By Phyl Doppelt
On a rainy autumn day, undaunted by the weather, 25 BATW members gathered inside Julia Morgan Hall at the UC Botanical Garden in Berkeley. The event was hosted by Visit Berkeley and organized by BATW program coordinator Laurie Armstrong Gossy.
Visit Berkeley is the tourism office that promotes everything that is happening in Berkeley, from restaurants to hotels, wineries, distillery tours, farmers markets and concerts. Judging by the buzz about Berkeley, they are doing a wonderful job. During the meeting, we heard more about the many ways they are promoting Berkeley.
We were greeted warmly at the entrance by Dan Marengo, Director of Marketing and Communications and Jeff Church Director of Partnership Development from Visit Berkeley and invited inside the Julia Morgan Hall where coffee and tea were waiting and the members were able to mingle before the meeting.
The first speaker to address the audience was Dan Marengo and he drew our attention to the building where our meeting was taking place. Designed by the first female architect in California, Julia Morgan and completed in 1911, we learned the building was moved from the University Campus in 2014, to its present location inside the gardens. In order to do this, it was “divided” into 4 sections, and transported by road to its new location. Here it was seamlessly put together again. With its beautiful interior wood paneling, distinctive architecture and extensive new outdoor veranda overlooking the California Collection, it melds perfectly into the landscape.
Dan was followed by Jeff Church, who highlighted a number of local businesses (TCHO Chocolate is fan favorite) and showcased two of the newer Berkeley hotels: the Aiden, part of the Best Western brand, is the first Aiden to launch in California. It is a smaller boutique type hotel, designed to fit perfectly into its neighborhood. Close to local activities one can explore the neighborhood by foot or cycle using one of the borrowed in house electric bicycles. The second hotel was the LEED Certified Residence Inn by Marriott, an extended stay hotel, also ideally located and a short walk to the UC Berkeley campus.
During the lunch intermission, there was a selection of four box lunches provided by A.C.T Catering, with beer from Trumer Pils Brewery and Gilman Brewing Company. Wine was supplied by Donkey and Goat Wine and Covenant Wines. These are all local purveyors who have found a home in Berkeley. This made for a delicious lunch and another opportunity to mingle and network.
We were privileged to have as our guest speaker, Dr. Lewis Feldman, Professor of Plant Biology and Executive Director of the UC Botanical Garden in Berkeley who spoke about the 34 acre gardens that were founded in 1890. With a huge database, plants with genetic markers and plant histories that go back to the 1890s, the gardens and their plants (many in green houses) are now used for important worldwide research, because of the accuracy of the data.
Divided into 9 geographic regions, all with Mediterranean climates, from South Africa to Australasia, each region’s natural conditions have been duplicated for optimal plant growth. The Gardens have also become a repository for plants confiscated by the government, such as a huge haul of sago palms and another of rare and slow growing cycads, that are endangered and would have been destroyed had they not been saved and brought here to safety some twenty years ago.
The highlight of the day was the afternoon walk through the gardens led by Dr. Feldman with BATW members following him along the main path of the gardens, stopping along the way to talk about a special redwood tree that was over 150 years old, or rocks from Japan that had originally been part of the Golden Gate Exhibition that were transported here in 1939 after it closed, to make the Japanese pool, that is home to aquatic plants and native newts and other stories that make these gardens unique. The BATW members were taking photographs and gleaning information from Dr Feldman because it was a rare opportunity to get valuable and unique anecdotes for articles to be published, that would in turn draw attention to the Garden.