The Nevada Traveler: Nature is on display at Reno’s Wilbur D. May Arboretum and Botanical Garden

Entrance to the magnificent Wilbur D. May Arboretum and Botanical Garden in Reno.

Entrance to the magnificent Wilbur D. May Arboretum and Botanical Garden in Reno.

It’s not every day that you can see a Japanese yew or a patch of Mexican hats in Reno. But both are among the many exotic plant species that can be found in the Wilbur D. May Arboretum and Botanical Garden in Rancho San Rafael Park.

The May Arboretum is a virtual oasis of trees, flowers, shrubs and all things botanical. Hundreds of plants, including native species and more exotic varieties, can be found spread over the arboretum’s 12 acres.


The arboretum was created in 1982 with funding from the Wilbur May Foundation. Wilbur May, whose family owned the May Company department stores (they merged with Macy’s in 2005), resided in the south Truckee Meadows for many years and was known as a generous philanthropist during his life.


Perhaps the best aspect of the arboretum is its overall peacefulness. Just minutes from the hustle and bustle of downtown Reno, you can park and walk into lush, green gardens intersected by a gurgling stream. The trees are home to several dozen varieties of birds including golden eagles, falcons, owls, ducks, and geese.
The arboretum grounds are divided into more than a dozen gardens and groves, each with a different theme or atmosphere.


For instance, at the south entrance near the park offices, you wander immediately into the Kleiner Oak Grove, a forest of different varieties of oaks that exhibit brilliant red colors in the fall.


Ahead is the Columbus Garden with its lovely ivy-covered gazebo, while adjacent is the Burke Garden, which is styled after an English country garden with flowering perennials (quite beautiful in the spring).


Honey’s Garden, located nearby, features small, manmade waterfalls cascading over boulders and into small ponds. Here, you’ll find a plethora of white and yellow flowers.


Continuing into the sloping terrain, you can either head west into a series of small gardens including the Songbird Garden, which contains more than 200 varieties of aromatic flowers and trees attractive to birds.


The garden was established in 1985 to foster bird watching at the arboretum. The park’s custodians estimate that more than 50 types of birds can be found throughout the arboretum.


Nearby Kirsten’s Garden, which has a secluded gazebo and is filled with wisteria, iris, magnolia, and other plants.


A picturesque redwood bridge crosses Evans Creek, which winds through the arboretum, and leads to the May Grove and the Kleiner Hardwood Grove, both of which are located on slopes overlooking the creek.


The former supports a stand of evergreens while the latter has mid-western and eastern native deciduous hardwood trees.


At several places along the creek, you’ll find quiet, shaded, grassy spots that are ideal for sitting and reading a book, picnicking, or just contemplating nature’s wonders.


The main trail continues northwest to several other groves of trees and leads up to the Irwin Overlook, located on the crest of the hill above the creek and arboretum. Here, interpretive signs describe the geology, plants, and animal life of the region. This spot also offers a nice view of the entire park.


The Lear Garden at the end of the trail contains a large, round gazebo, a popular site for weddings.


Below the overlook is the Herman Pond Nature Trail, which leads from the arboretum to Herman Pond, a manmade body of water that, when I visited, was quite popular with flocks of duck and geese.


The Wilbur D. May Arboretum and Botanical Garden is open daily sunrise to sunset. There is no admission charge. The arboretum is located at Rancho San Rafael Park, 1502 Washington St., in Reno. For information, go to www.washoecounty.gov/parks/maycenterhome/arboretum/. Download the arboretum’s brochure for a guide to the various gardens.

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