December 2, 2002 - Sacramento Bee: Peru RPCV Warren Roberts heads arboretum at UC Davis

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Peru RPCV Warren Roberts heads arboretum at UC Davis

Read and comment on this story from the Sacramento Bee on Peru RPCV Warren Roberts who heads the arboretum at UC Davis. In 30 years on the job, Roberts has made the 110-acre garden a point of pride for campus and community. Read the story at:

On The Job: He's cultivated a first-rate arboretum at UC Davis*

* This link was active on the date it was posted. PCOL is not responsible for broken links which may have changed.

On The Job: He's cultivated a first-rate arboretum at UC Davis

By Pat Rubin -- Bee Staff

Published 2:15 a.m. PST Monday, December 2, 2002

At an age when most young children were thinking of new bicycles and Saturday morning cartoons, Warren Roberts already knew about the disadvantages of alkali soil.

He knew that late rains could spoil fruit on the tree and that summer winds quickly dry the soil. Roberts, whose parents and grandparents were knowledgeable about gardening and agriculture, also knew both the common and botanical names of the plants around him in the Central Valley.

It's no wonder he grew up to become the superintendent of the arboretum at the University of California, Davis, a position he's held for 30 years.

Roberts first visited the arboretum as a youngster in the 1950s, never dreaming he'd someday be making decisions about the plants housed there.

Roberts has a bachelor's degree in landscape horticulture and a master's degree in horticulture, both from UC Davis. He also spent some time in Peru with the Peace Corps, traveled throughout Europe and taught horticulture and botany at Cal Poly Pomona before signing on as arboretum superintendent in 1972.

The arboretum, 110-plus acres, follows the slightly meandering path of Putah Creek for about two miles through the Davis campus and easily contains 4,000 plants.

In the early days of Roberts' tenure, the arboretum more closely fit the classic definition of a collection of trees and other plants for research or study. Roberts not only helped design plantings, he wielded a shovel.

Today the arboretum also contains several theme gardens, including one of drought-tolerant plants, one devoted to white flowers and another featuring Mediterranean natives.

Perhaps most important, the arboretum has become a focal point and a source of pride for both the university and the community.

With about 15 full-time staffers and a cadre of volunteers who donate some 18,000 hours annually, Roberts, 61, finds his role has become more that of an adviser and his duties that of an ambassador for the garden.

Roberts gives advice on the best vines to plant in Yolo County, for example, or suggestions on designing a garden of native plants for a school project. But he also continues to critique designs and lists for new plantings as well as plans for renewing old ones, and he works with the groundskeepers who maintain the collection. Roberts still works alongside volunteers in the garden and fields phone calls from the public.

Somewhere along the way, though, Roberts himself became a living part of arboretum history. He knows every plant, as well as where and when it was planted. He knows plant origins and nomenclature, and how to make horticulture come alive in talks to garden societies and community groups.

Roberts remembers the stories of the volunteers and community leaders, both past and present, who believed in the arboretum and worked to preserve it.

"It's become a way of life," Roberts said.

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