Hidden beyond a narrow path adjacent to 4.0 hill and nestled in front of Walter A. Haas School of Business is one of UC Berkeley’s hidden oases — the Women’s Faculty Garden. Blooming with dogwoods, salvias, lavender and an array of native foliage, this garden has been a secret jewel on campus for nearly a hundred years.
The construction of the garden began around 1925 as a collaboration between John Greg, the founder of horticulture and later landscape architecture, and John Galen Howard, the campus architect and designer of the William Randolph Hearst Greek Theater and Doe Memorial Library, according to Mary Remy, the club manager since 1996.
The original architectural design comprising two levels of the garden with terraces and walks is still in place today, Remy added.
“Often members themselves often chipped in with things,” Remy said. “In fall of 1928 primulas were reported as a gift from a member and the bulbs were needed, but cannot be obtained from the university gardener, so then they went outside to get things and I think that’s kind of the way things still happen today. Like we tend to bring in a lot of plants ourselves.”
The garden, according to Remy, was originally established as a cutting garden and a way to add privacy — through the plating of the hedge — so people couldn’t see into the windows of the club.
Remy noted that campus faculty, librarians and administrators used the club in the 1920s as a rooming house. Back then, it was taboo for nonmarried women to live alone, so the club was a home for many of these women at the school.
“There are some beautiful pictures we have of different arrangements, even from that time, so that was something that was really important to the women,” Remy said. “There were a lot of stories about the particular tables that everybody had and it was three meals a day like a rooming house.”
Throughout the years, the flora of the garden has changed quite a bit, according to Remy. One of the most drastic changes was the removal of two Solandra trees that stood on either side of the entryways going down the stairways to the club.
Unfortunately, despite all of the efforts led by Remy and Robert Raabe, a professor emeritus of plant pathology, the trees got a water mold disease and were unable to survive.
“We tried everything to save those trees, but we eventually had to take them out. So that is where we now have two Dogwoods on either side of the entrance pathway, but for years, members really kind of mourned those two trees,” Remy said. “I certainly did; I loved them.”
The other primary change to the garden has been the installation of the American with Disabilities Act accessible pathway, according to Remy. This pathway starts in the garden and winds down to Senior Mens’ Hall.
This pathway also replaced an old rose garden that had been growing near the club for many years, Remy noted.
“I really don’t like putting in hardscape, but I thought that was the thing we needed to do back there,” Remy said. “I’d worked with the campus landscape architect and they basically agreed if we could build a patio back there it would be much more usable space for the club and for members and so that was what we started out to do.”
Along with the new pathway, the garden has evolved to include a lot more native plants, according to Remy. Flowers such as roses and hydrangeas were replaced with salvias, lavender and various herbs for use in the Women’s Faculty Club kitchen.
Remy said she even planted a Meyer lemon tree, but it was unfortunately stolen during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Today, the garden is maintained by the grounds department, which Remy said is headed by Theron Klos, the landscape services manager. However, this wasn’t always the case.
“In the early years, we had a gardener that was assigned, not just to that building, but the entire area,” Remy said. “They would pay particular attention, but that hasn’t been for quite some time now because of budget issues.”
Remy said the recent fundraising project for the garden has led to significant changes in the way it is used today. She added that she had the idea to put in tribute benches as a way to raise money for the club.
All of the benches have been used to honor deceased UC Berkeley faculty, alumni or campus affiliated individuals, according to Remy.
“There (are) a lot more students and staff from different buildings that come and use it now for lunches and just to sit and talk and read,” Remy said. “In some ways I feel like the hedge was put in to protect the club from view, but this has really invited the campus in a different way.”
Remy added that one of her future plans for the garden is to acquire Lester Rowntree manzanitas, which are named after native plant pioneer Gertrude.
She explained that Getrude wrote under the name Lester Rowntree to get her work published. She lived from 1879 to 1979.
“There’s a whole book about her and an oral history in the Bancroft Library, and it’s a testimony to the strength and conviction of early women pioneers in different fields, such as those who founded and supported the Women’s Faculty club,” Remy said.
While the Lester Rowntree manzanitas Remy initially planted did not survive, she said she is determined to see some thrive in the garden in the future.
Even though the garden seems to be at maximum bench capacity, Remy said she has other hopes for the space moving forward.
“What I want from the garden is just for people to be able to use it and enjoy it,” Remy said. “We’ve had so many wonderful events already on the patio.”