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Saratoga Horticultural Research Foundation

Changing California’s Landscape 1951-2006

In 2006, the Saratoga Horticultural Research Foundation donated its archives to Special Collections along with funds to process the collection. Processing of the collection is now complete and the collection is fully available to researchers. This exhibit showcases the Saratoga Horticultural Research Foundation Collection and chronicles the Foundation’s role in creating ornamental landscapes perfectly suited to California’s challenging climates.

Early Years

Ray Hartman, founder of the Saratoga Horticultural Research Foundation

The Saratoga Horticultural Research Foundation (SHRF) was founded in 1952 by a group of horticulturalists and nurserymen committed to improving western horticulture. Named after the location of its original headquarters on Verde Vista Lane in Saratoga, California, the SHRF grew out of nurseryman Ray Hartman’s vision of a horticultural experiment station for developing hardy, reliable trees and shrubs for the California landscape. Hartman engaged his longtime friend Maunsell Van Rensselaer, a horticulturalist, and a handful of others interested in examining the possibility of establishing an experiment station as a foundation.

First Foundation building under construction, 1951

The Saratoga Horticultural Research Foundation was ultimately established as a non-profit organization under the direction of a Board of Trustees, which was advised by a Board of Councilors drawn from prominent figures in the fields of western horticulture, arboriculture, landscape design, and botany. The Foundation’s activities were advised by a director who reported to the Board of Trustees. During their fifty-four years, the Foundation introduced several new cultivars of magnolia, California lilac, and manzanita, and strongly promoted the use of drought-tolerant landscaping.


The SHRF was instrumental in developing the ornamental landscaping familiar to Californians today. The Foundation conducted research into plant quality and propagation methods, evaluated trees and woody plants for street and shade planting, established test sites for investigations into climate and cultural techniques, and ultimately patented varieties of magnolia, Chinese pistache, and olive trees. The Foundation also investigated plants from Australia, New Zealand, and Chile as potential low-water-use and fire-retardant introductions to California gardens.

Ornamental and Shade Trees

Among the well-known plants and trees the Foundation promoted for home and commercial landscaping are: Liquidambar “Palo Alto” and Ginkgo biloba “Autumn Gold,” which provide brilliant red and yellow fall foliage; several varieties of Ceanothus, or California lilac, known for its spikes of purple and blue flowers; and the many varieties of Manzanita commonly used in hedges and ground covers.

One of the SHRF’s major activities was the selection and promotion of street trees. The Foundation sought out hardy, attractive trees that would blend with the landscape and thrive with little maintenance.

Drought-tolerant Landscaping

During the mid-1970s, a period of drought struck the Sacramento and San Joaquin Valleys. In response to the increased need for water and energy conservation, the Foundation expanded its mission to include the promotion of drought-tolerant landscaping. It encouraged the use of California native plants and trees, shade trees to maximize cooling, and alternative plantings for heavily-watered areas.

“Today there is a growing change in attitude and a common understanding that we cannot continue using water resources as if they were unlimited. … With this in mind, Californians have begun to look beyond their garden walls to the hillside, valley, and seashore to discover where plants grow naturally — taking into account soil, rainfall, and exposure.”

A California-Style of Gardening, Dennis White.

The Foundation actively evaluated and promoted native and other low-water-use plants and trees.

Outreach and Education

Associates of SHF newsletters: 1976, 1986, 1989, 1991

At the height of its membership, the Saratoga Horticultural Research Foundation had approximately 400 members engaged in research, educational outreach, and promotion of selected cultivars. The Foundation provided the findings of its research to members of the nursery trade, landscape architects, students, teachers, and other researchers.
The Foundation was known for its spring plant sales and Fall Festival, during which the public could tour the Foundation’s nursery and purchase native and unusual plants. Most of the outreach activities were coordinated and carried out by the Associates of Saratoga Horticultural Foundation, the SHRF’s docent and fund-raising group.

Saratoga Horticultural Research Foundation’s Legacy

“New Endowment Established at UC Davis to Support Horticultural Research and Education”, College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences

When the Foundation elected to disband in 2006, it had met its mission of raising interest in California native plants and creating an ornamental landscape perfectly suited to California’s Mediterranean climate zones. The Foundation’s fifty-four years of activity were essential in guiding nurseries to continue the Foundation’s work to select, evaluate, and introduce climate-appropriate plants to the California landscaping and gardening public.

This guide draws on the Foundation’s legacy of researching and promoting strong, well-chosen street and shade trees.

Some nurseries specialize in California-appropriate plants and trees.

The Department of Special Collections is very grateful to the Saratoga Horticultural Research Foundation for their generous donation in support of the processing and promotion of this collection.

SHRF Collection: Plant Culture Data Sheets

© Saratoga Horticultural Research Foundation, Inc.
This information is provided by permission of Ing. Robert de Bree, Director of SHRF, Inc.

The finding aid for the Saratoga Horticultural Research Foundation Collection is available at the Online Archive of California.

For more information, please contact Special Collections, (530) 752‑1621,

The Plant Culture Data Sheet project began in 1985 under the direction of Director Phillip McMillan Browse. This project continues in an effort to provide more information about the various selections that have come through the Saratoga Horticultural Research Foundation Program. Over time, the decision was made to not update the data sheets, but, rather to present them in a historical sense reflecting the earliest dates of cultivar introduction. This information has been culled from the files of the Foundation and will be added to as more information is found and processed. As a benefit of membership, periodically our newsletter will announce new data sheets as they become available.