Gardens at Stanford University
Welcome to Stanford! Those of us who work and study on this beautiful campus experience diverse gardens with their ever-changing palettes of colors, scents, and animal visitors. If you love gardens and trees, Stanford is a wonderful place to experience a variety of garden settings that have been developing since before the university was built. Below you will find the location and background information about each garden, including descriptions of the history, features, and notable plants.
This iconic entrance to the campus is a 1 kilometer long paved road from Palo Alto’s University Drive to the Oval. It is delineated by more than 160 Canary Island Palm trees. In aerial photos from 1915, the palms encircled the oval, totaling over 200 palm trees. Take a stroll down the drive to admire the Stanford Arboretum, a favorite place on campus for Senator Leland Stanford, or appreciate the symmetry of the main quad’s facade from a distance.
Palm Drive branches into a circular drive around the Oval. Until around 1990, Palm Drive connected with Serra Mall, the road that runs in front of the quad. To separate bus and car traffic from pedestrians and bicycles, there is now a barrier separating the two roads. As trees died along Palm Drive,
replacements were harvested from the Oval. Today the palms continue on the outer arc of the Oval connecting to Lomita Drive on the west side and with the Lathrop Library on the east. There are just a few palms still remaining around the Oval itself, but California Live Oaks offer shade to visitors.
The primary feature of the Oval is the broad expanse of lawn with a central walkway, which formerly functioned as a much wider carriage path. Punctuating the geometric center of the Oval is a round emblem garden, encircled by a short privet hedge with a layer of bunch grass and white and red roses surrounding red and white wax begonias typically arranged to depict the Stanford block S. During the most recent anniversary the emblem garden held the number 125 to commemorate the 1891 opening of the campus to students. Each ring of the emblem garden is a different color and texture, creating a framing effect similar to how a picture frame and mat both protect and emphasize the central object (in this case, the red and white emblem). Surrounding the emblem garden are symmetrically placed benches, and even symmetrically placed trash cans. Beyond the oval to either side are lush oak groves that disrupt this symmetry. Explore these groves to find cool patches of shade and picnic tables.
The grand scale and symmetry of Stanford’s Main Quad facade is enhanced by symmetrical plantings. The monumental scale of Palm Drive, the Oval, and the Quad inspire awe - these features recall the layout of the grand palaces of European royalty, but here, there is no gate or guard. Stanford is imagined as a
palace of learning, and visitors are welcome. The Quad buildings are highly uniform in style and are laid out in two rings, separated by the iconic sandstone arcades and a series of smaller courtyards containing gardens of a more modest scale, whose lack of monumentality makes them more personal spaces for relaxing between classes or eating lunch. Buildings 1 - 100 are in the inner ring of buildings, and higher numbers are in the outer ring. The subject matter taught or administrative unit housed in each Quad building is listed on the black entrance doors.
Beyond the main pillars of the Quad is a modest-sized courtyard, Memorial Court, which has symmetrical red rose beds and pathways that criss-cross the space. But not everything is symmetrical: look for the drinking fountain and the placement of Rodin’s
Burghers of Calais sculptures. These sculptures were cast in 1981, but Rodin created the original molds in 1884 to commemorate the six men who sacrificed themselves for their city during the Hundred Years War. They are a popular location for photos, and Rodin thought of these casts as
an opportunity to celebrate the idea that heroic deeds may be performed by ordinary people. It is fitting, then, that these sculptures are located in Memorial Court, which is dedicated to soldiers from World War I.
Beyond Memorial Court is the Main Quad. The Quad is a huge space. Its ground cover was dirt until the early 1990s, before which the 8 oases were raised like islands above the
dusty desert plain. The condensed plantings show Olmsted recognized that water was precious in this environment. Additionally, the oases may be representational of the idea that knowledge is equally precious, but that this was the place it could be sought. At its inception, Stanford opened its doors to students with diverse backgrounds and training and did not require students to have a high school diploma, unlike UC Berkeley, which accepted students based on academic excellence. For non-traditional students, the idea of an oasis of knowledge was very apt: they had traveled far and had many adventures in the intellectual desert of the
Wild West, and now were motivated for systematic study at the University. Until 1920 there was no tuition at Stanford, and nearly all students worked on campus - as gardeners, cooks, maintenance workers, in the fire department, as lifeguards, and in other positions using skills taught on campus or learned elsewhere. The oases used to hold dense trees with edible fruit, but since the Quad was paved, they have been contained by circular concrete benches and the trees and plantings have been significantly thinned. Still, the 8 oases contain an impressive array that reflects the Stanfords’ history as botanical collectors.
Each oasis contains 2-4 palm trees of different varieties: pindo palm, Canary Island date palm, windmill palm, and California fan palm are some of the species on display. Intermediate height plants fill in the spaces between the taller trees and provide interesting shapes, colors, and flowers. These plants include Mexican blue palms, palm lilies, escallonia, sago palms, fuschia, desert spoon and Chinese fan palms. The ground inside the oases is planted with low aloe cactuses, pink and orange flowering lantana, and star jasmine. A jacaranda tree with bright purple flowers in early spring that is native to South America is flanked by the Empress tree which also produces purple blossoms in the spring. Two stout Kurrajong trees from Australia and a bottlebrush tree frame the entrance to Memorial Church from afar. The Pohutukawa tree, native to New Zealand, identified by its fluffy red blossoms from New Zealand stands next to the floss-silk tree, whose green trunk is covered in thorny spines. The camphor trees’ wide bright-green canopies provides shade to the concrete bench below. Enjoy this stunning variety of plants, or simply admire the impressive facade of Memorial Church--the space offers something for everyone!
No visit to Stanford’s beautiful Memorial Church is truly complete without a visit to its surrounding gardens. The small but peaceful space is often neglected by visitors, but deserves attention just as much as the vaulted ceilings of the church. Artfully planted and designed with care, the garden offers a quiet reprieve perfect for reflection after a visit Memorial Church, extending the religious experience outside of church walls to this green space.
Walking around Memorial Church to the right, the visitor is presented with a winding pathway that meanders through a series of green spaces. As one steps away from the Main Quad, the bustle and noise from the larger space melts away, the path leading past planting beds brimming with a variety of green grasses, shrubs, and small trees. Walking through the archway feels as if one is stepping into one of the oases that rings Main Quad, creating a cool and lush space that contrasts starkly with the hot, dry pavement of the Quad. This transition signals a shift from the chaos of everyday life and invites the visitor to pause and reflect within a tranquil space, much in the same way that the church this garden surrounds invites its visitors to do.
As one enters the garden from the right, they can find a short but meandering path that leads around the side of the church. The curves of this path hide different parts of the garden from view, creating interest and intrigue, but also providing privacy for other visitors to reflect in solitude. Benches are available throughout the garden, indicating that spending time here is expected or encouraged. The garden also has several artificial "rooms" that are useful in providing further privacy and space for contemplation.
The first of these rooms is happened upon quickly as one enters the garden. A circular cement planter blocks off this space from the path, creating some distance from the rest of the garden. Hedges planted into the top of this planter provide further screening that feels more open than a dense cement wall, and gives the room the splash of green that is expected from a garden. A patterned paver floor with an inscription reading
For the troubled may you find peace ~ For the despairing may you find hope ~ For the lonely may you find love ~ For the skeptical may you find faith provides a focusing point for meditation and offers the visitor an opportunity to rest and reflect. Continuing past this small room, the path splits and gives the visitor the option to continue following the path as it disappears around the side of the church, or to stop and investigate another
room space. This room, dedicated to Amy J. Blue, a former administrator who passed away from brain cancer in 1988, gives the gardens a temple-like or memorial aspect. This room is greener than the previous one, comprising of all plants and wooden benches, which corresponds with the visitor leaving the sandstone of the Main Quad further and further behind. A sundial engraved with "I count only sunny hours" and a birdbath add a novel and entertaining aspect to the garden. In the springtime, this garden room erupts with a plethora of blooms that overwhelm the eye. Various shades of pinks and reds can be seen bursting from almost every tree and shrub. The planting scheme of these pinks and reds is reminiscent of Stanford Cardinal, yet does not overwhelm the visitor with this association in such a contemplative and separate space. A simple tree in the center of the circular space provides another reflective focal point that also offers shade on sunny days.
Continuing along the path now that runs around the side of the church, the visitor is confronted with a wholly different space. A water feature creates visual interest and adds ambient noise to an impressive view of the back of Memorial Church. Cardinal and white garden roses flank either side of the fountain, contrasting with the simpler wild roses seen elsewhere on campus, perhaps an acknowledgment of the extravagance of the scene created here. Stepping back from the garden the visitor can see that this space is a small formal garden, symmetrically arranged to accent the impressive view of the back of Memorial Church. This space feels much more elegant and formal than the spaces on the sides of the church, but is equally beautiful.
Continuing along the path to the other side of the church, the visitor finds a small grove with two benches. This space does not feel deliberately planted, but instead feels like entering a small forest, with towering redwood trees as well as various shrubs that will grow denser in coming years. This space feels unique amongst the others presented elsewhere in the garden - its less organized planting makes the space feel more wild and natural, offering another unique space for thought and reflection. The towering redwood trees dwarf the visitor, creating a new sense of scale within this space and adding a layer of visual interest that rises over the visitor’s head.
The garden utilizes a variety of plant species to achieve its eclectic yet effective mix of plants. Cornerstone species such as redwood trees, Japanese maples, American maples, and palms create focal points of interest and height, while species such as rhododendron, privet hedges, and various grass species are used as groundcover and hedging that add different shades of green and interesting textures to the garden’s spaces. The rich variety of plants makes the space feel almost tropical in its lushness, while also providing plenty of cover to shield visitors from the outside world.
While it is easy to get caught up in the visual delights of the garden, the space also caters to different senses. During the spring months, in addition to being visual focal points of the garden, the numerous flowers create a sweet perfume that permeates the garden. The subtle yet enticing scent adds another layer to the garden’s overall experience. It is also possible to hear the songs of numerous bird species while sitting in the garden. The many trees in the garden offer a place for the birds to perch or nest, creating an almost never-ending background music that contrasts starkly with the normal noise of human voices, engines, and bike gears that prevails on campus.
Taken as a whole, the various components of the garden come together to create a tranquil space that offers the visitor several novelties and surprises as they continue along the winding garden paths into the various rooms found along the way. The whimsical layout and feeling of calm and detachment from the hustle and bustle of the rest of campus make the garden seem like an extension of the church - an almost magical place that offers visitors a break from the outside world. This feeling of exclusion from the outside world makes the garden feel all the more like a contemplative space, as if the religious experience offered within the church can be continued just outside of its walls.
This tranquil garden is located near the Clock Tower, behind the current Language Corner of the Main Quad (historically this was Engineering Corner, the name carved in the sandstone arch). The garden recognizes Stanford alumni and friends from the state of Oregon in appreciation of their support following the 1989 Loma Prieta Earthquake. Their gifts and donations to The Stanford Restoration Fund helped to make possible the repair and renovation of Stanford’s historic buildings for the use of future generations. The design of the Oregon Courtyard is very simple, yet elegant and serene. The center of the courtyard is roughly twenty-five feet in diameter,and takes up a majority of the space. There are four rectangular hedges about three feet tall and twenty feet wide that encircle the center, creating an enclosed space. The bright green leaves on the hedges are very glossy, brilliantly reflecting sunlight, which adds to the vivid garden atmosphere. Beds within the hedges contain cherry trees, a gift from the Gifu Cherry Blossom Association. Cherry blossom trees are the national trees of Japan, and their flowers are nearly pure white, tinged with the palest pink near the stem. The Cherry trees in Oregon Courtyard tend to bloom briefly in autumn and early spring, offering very short periods where community members can relish their beauty and serenity. Cherry blossoms are a symbolic flower of the spring, a time of renewal, fitting for a memorial concerning the rebuilding of Stanford after a natural disaster. Cherry trees demonstrate the fleeting nature of life: after their beauty peaks about two weeks after the first flowers open, their blossoms start to fall.
Stanford’s Meyer Courtyard, better known as Meyer Green, is a bustling center of activity on campus. Located between Green Library and the Law School, it opened in early 2016 and is one of the newest gardens on campus. It formerly held Meyer Library named for J. Henry Meyer, a San Francisco banker and philanthropist, and the space still retains its namesake. Instead of going to the library to hit the stacks, now you can go there to appreciate the sun, relax, or picnic at one of the green’s many sitting areas. A gently sloping lawn leads you down to the central bowl of Meyer Green. The sloping grassy area around it is an ideal place to sit: the space is scattered with Adirondack chairs and the mulched area around it holds picnic tables. Stairs on the east and west sides lead down to the center, and a handicap-accessible sidewalk winds down to the central platform. Students often spend afternoons with nice weather studying on the lawn, and occasionally, an event is held in its center bowl. In the spring and summer, look for the white blooms of star jasmine, fortnight lilies, and white flower carpet roses in the beds leading towards the lawn. Four groves of trees circle Meyer Green, each covered with a mulch pathway that is soft underfoot and notoriously difficult to ride a bike over, a design choice that makes the space pedestrian friendly. Red callistemon
Bottlebrush and coffeeberry shrubs separate the groves, and California lilac
Ceanothus is used as a xeriscopic ground cover. Bright green Japanese pagoda trees encircle the central platform most closely, but they are flanked by coast live oaks, eucalyptus, elms, and blue cedar trees, the outermost of these preserved from when the library was torn down. Each grove also features several shaded places to sit -- tree stumps, benches, and picnic tables. Nearby is the Shumway fountain on the southern side of Green Library, commonly called the
Red Hoop fountain. This fountain was designed by Tony Sinkosky with PWP Landscape Architecture. Canfield Court is adjacent to Meyer Green and serves as a large sculpture garden. Eucalyptus and coast redwood trees tower at the edges of the two large lawns in this sloping space. Oak trees and sycamore trees dot the edges of the lawns, and four sculptures mark out the corners of the space. Three of these sculptures are abstract, geometric, metallic forms but the other is a tall carved totem pole nestled against redwood trees.
The Main Quad opens to the East toward Green Library, and beautiful Centennial fountain welcomes visitors to the library. This fountain commemorates one hundred years of alumni support. This fountain is two-tiered and encircled by a concrete bench, which is inscribed with the names of donors to the University. Centennial Fountain is a
whispering gallery, whose form allows quiet noises to be amplified and travel across the space. Expansive plantings of bubblegum pink roses surround the bench, and two oak trees shade the space. This space is excellent for moments of rest and reflection, and a great place to sit and watch the world go by since it borders the busy Lasuen Mall.
PAPUA NEW GUINEA
The Papua New Guinea Sculpture Garden was inspired by the multiculturalism movement in the early 1990s. Stanford student Jim Mason initiated this project by arguing that the physical environment at Stanford should reflect the expanded global canon now being taught at Stanford, rather than simply reflect Western thought, which had been the focus of the University for decades. Mason collaborated with 10 artists from Papua New Guinea and landscape architects Kora Korawali and Wallace Ruff to recreate an environment that reflected this cultural recognition. Planning began in 1994 and the garden was opened in 1996. Obscured among the oak trees, the sculptures and garden share an important moment in Stanford history. The physical setting of the garden was complicated by the political environment of the time, in which Mason sought to challenge the
construction and uses of primitivism in the West by connecting two cultures. Mason had the Papuan sculptors work within the oak grove in which the sculptures would be placed. This setting of the carvers and the progression of the sculptures in a public location was a part of Mason’s focus on interpersonal understanding. The University implemented programming for the garden including tours, stories, musical performances and weekly lectures to engage the Stanford community. Two translators facilitated exchange between the carvers and visitors. Some worried the relationship between artists and visitors would be exploitative, but Mason notes that instead, the project built interpersonal relationships and drew a huge interest from community members, with about 3,000 attending opening day ceremonies. This great success of connecting cultures aided Mason’s message that the carver’s artistic process was an intentional, creative process, characteristics typically reserved for Western art. The design process shows intentionality and attention to detail -- concrete expressions that visually challenge the constraining narratives of art and artifact, authenticity and inauthenticity, and the guise of primitivism often forced onto non-western artists. The Rodin sculptures on campus, specifically
The Thinker and
The Gates of Hell, are reinterpreted in the Papua New Guinea sculpture garden.
The setting for the sculptures takes the shape of a diagonal path through a groundcover of wood-chips that weaves from a sunnier, open space to a more forested area with a bridge at the back. This path represents the Sepik River, the main waterway in the region where the carvers live. The open space emulates the ceremonial grounds where these animistic sculptures would be located in New Guinea, but these sculptures are decorative and not ceremonial (and would not be located outside, in public, if they were of this ceremonial status). During the project, Mason’s pet cat died. Traditionally, honored community member’s skulls are buried under ceremonial sculptures to ritualize them. The sculptors made an American adaptation to this ritualization, burying Mason’s cat’s skull under the center pole of the garden, where it remains today.
WINDHOVER CONTEMPLATIVE CENTER
The gardens surrounding the Windhover Contemplative Center, which opened in 2014, are well worth a visit. Please note that entry into the Contemplation Center requires a Stanford ID. The architects of Windhover Center are Aidlin Darling Design. Landscape designer Andrea Cochran worked closely with the architects to imagine a series of experiences (a
choreography) connecting the outside and inside of this new facility. Starting at Santa Teresa Street, the visitor will first see the weathered-steel fence on which the facility name,
WINDHOVER, is incised. Toward the building, a green wall of bamboo and Gingko trees, whose leaves are a pale green in the spring and golden in the fall, creates a shield between Windhover and the surrounding parking lots. The lines of sight created by these landscaping elements allow for many perspectives within the landscape and creates a sense of privacy. Although the visitor may feel alone, Windhover is not a lonely place; the scale of the building and landscape are anti-monumental. The effect of this is a sense of privacy. Windhover allows a visitor to slip away from appearances and blend into the landscape as well.
The path’s texture changes as it approaches the entrance to the building, located on the West side. On the way, touch the building - it is
rammed earth, a special mix of concrete and earth extracted from the site, and La Paz gray river rock softens the divide between the building and the ground. On the West side of the building, slits in the steel wall and low hedging reveal glimpses of the path terminating at a serene reflection pool. The designers used materials found in
the boneyard, Stanford’s site for unused and excess materials from building projects to create rock benches, chairs, and the sculpture in the reflection pool. These benches are placed in such a way that visitors may have private moments at the edge of the reflection pool without interrupting one another. Tall plants, rammed earth wall, and the weathering steel fence used at the front entrance enclose the reflection pool and unite the materials used in the structure. These different materials form a permeable fence that maintains a visitor’s privacy while allowing for glimpses of the outside world and avoiding the feeling of confinement. A heavy chain that connects the roof to the planting beds limits the noise of dripping water while redistributing rainwater to where it is needed. An oak woodland surrounds the back of the facility. Through these trees and back toward Santa Teresa Street is the outer area of the contemplative center that holds a rock garden, a fountain, and a Japanese maple enclosed in an internal courtyard. On this eastern side, the architects accommodated a tall California pepper tree by allowing a notch to be cut from the roof. The graceful transition from landscape to architecture in the Windhover Center might make you question why other buildings seem to be designed to be sensory deprecatory and insular. In Windhover, the fluidity of nature fills the empty spaces in the building. There are a lot of
happy accidents in the design of this building that enhance the space. For example, when the sun hits the reflection pool at a certain angle, the very shallow pool reflects water ripples onto the roof overhanging the water. When the sunlight comes through the trees at the correct angle, it creates dancing shadows of trees inside of the building. Though these elements were not planned, they evolve with the building’s form.
To the east of the Windhover Center is a double labyrinth, which can be used for meditative purposes. This labyrinth has two colors and hence, two paths. Start on the outer edge and carefully follow a path to the center. Allow your stress and distractions to be drawn away, contemplate and meditate for a moment at the middle, and return on the path on which you entered, setting your intentions. This labyrinth is modeled on a 13th century installation at Chartres Cathedral in France; there is a similar installation at Grace Cathedral in San Francisco.
Previously the site of Terman Engineering Center, the space next to the Thornton Center and Roble Gym was renovated in 2011 into a sunken park for everyone to enjoy. Terman Court features a huge rectangular fountain shallowly set into the gravel ground with sloping lawns where large-leaved sycamore, bright green Chinese pistache trees, and Marina arbutus trees (identifiable by red bark and small, bell-shaped clusters of pink flowers) offer spots of shade. To reach the expansive gravel floor of the garden, descend the steps or take the ADA-accessible path that cuts diagonally through a wall of lush rosemary. The benches at the edge of the fountain offer a space to sunbathe, and on hot days a visitors should feel free to dip their feet in the cool water. A rose garden located to the right of the Thornton Center overlooks the fountain. The height gradient decreases from the mature eucalyptus trees, blue pines, and oaks around the periphery of the garden to the younger sycamore, pistache, and Marina trees across the lawn to short grass and rosemary and finally to fine-grained gravel in the center. The garden’s large capacity is made even more impressive by the strategic height considerations that move upwards from the center in a parabolic form, accentuating the natural bowl shape of the terrain. This variety gives visitors a variety of textures and shades of green to enjoy.
SCIENCE AND ENGINEERING QUAD
This 8.2-acre quad containing four engineering buildings was begun in 2010, 122 years after Olmstead’s original quad was built, but much of his original vision remains intact. An east-west path lined with tall palm trees connects the Main Quad with the Science and Engineering Quad through Lomita Mall. A second north-south axis starts at the Green Earth Sciences building and continues downhill towards the Biology and Chemistry buildings. The Science and Engineering Quad is now the home of cutting edge research in energy and environment studies, biological engineering, and chemical engineering.
The Science and Engineering Quad features circular
oases similar to that of the Main Quad, including grassy knolls crowned with trees, sunken gardens, and geometrically planted flower beds. The five knolls scattered throughout the quad provide shady areas for students to talk, rest, and study in the sun. Additionally, the Quad has two sunken gardens encircling Coast Live Oak trees, and two sunken courtyard entrances to buildings at either end of the quad. The knolls and the sunken gardens disrupt linearity in this space and stand in contrast to the straight arcades along the buildings. Five circular beds divide the ground-level space between these sunken gardens. Adjoining many of the circular plantings are rectangular beds and long benches. These beds contain a variety of drought-resistant plants in tones of red and purple including purple sea lavender, sage, catmint, and flowering quince. Several eastern redbud trees provide shade to the nearby benches. Perhaps the most beautiful bed is the arrangement in the northwest corner, next to the Engineering Quad Coupa Cafe. It features tall, vibrant red, fuzzy-stalked Kangaroo Paw plants that are whimsically reminiscent of a Doctor Seuss book, and a leafy shrub with gorgeous, pink cylindrical flowers that complement the delicate red fronds of its neighbor. Although the more famous gardens may be elsewhere on campus, the Science and Engineering Quad’s modern landscaping complements the architecture of the buildings and makes this special addition to the Stanford campus gardens well worth a visit.
Tucked alongside the Keck Chemistry Building on Roth Way, the California Native garden is easy to miss, with only a small placard to denote its presence. The garden was designed and installed in 2002 by Meg Webster, a land art and installation artist, after an anonymous donation was made to support its creation. Lack of maintenance and signage has left this space in a state of disrepair, however underneath the layers of overgrown plants, the bones of a great garden space are still there. Originally developed to celebrate the wide variety of plants native to the state of California, the garden showcases species like sage, carpenteria, toyon and manzanita, and even features a small redwood grove. The colors of the space appeal the gray-green palette characteristic of California, with splashes of white, purple, and red flowers that liven up the area. Underneath layers of weeds and debris from California plants that have perhaps flourished a little too well in this environment, one can still spot a raised, bowl-like inset in the land, which frames a small alcove hidden from the street. Undulating cement benches no longer look inviting for a sit, but mark the space as more than an ignored plot of land. There is a lack of paths through the space, which may discourage some visitors, however it may appeal to the adventurous spirit of others who wish to pick their own way through the garden. Despite its lack of care, the California Native Garden may present a nice change of pace for visitors interested in experiencing a less manicured, more natural garden experience that pays homage to the native beauty of California.
Nestled on the roof of the McMurtry Art Building, the McMurtry rooftop garden is a hidden gem that is well worth the elevator ride or staircase-climb needed to reach it. The McMurtry garden offers the visitor stunning views of the Main Quad and Hoover Tower, and because the garden is much quieter than many spaces on campus, it is an excellent space for reflection or for studying. This garden’s form continues the modern architecture of the building, and the space is reminiscent of a large version of Corbusier’s Villa Savoye. McMurtry and this rooftop garden were designed in 2015 by Diller Scofidio + Renfro. The space is partitioned off into informal
garden rooms by concrete planters, whose flora create
walls that screen other visitors from view while still allowing the space to feel open. A few of these rooms seem to have been designed with specific purposes in mind. Some spaces are clearly meant to be social, with cafe-like tables and chairs set up to encourage connection and conversation, while other spots seem to encourage individual work, with small tables or singular chairs for more serious studying. The space is excellent for art students looking for a place to sketch, but it also is open to students across disciplines seeking a quiet place to read or work on problem sets.
The garden is planted with a variety of flora native to Australia and New Zealand. This exotic landscaping choice is also pragmatic, due to the species’ drought resistance. Kangaroo paw, Australian legume trees and New Zealand flax give the garden bright pops of red and yellow that liven up the gray and brown backdrop created by the concrete and wood of the rooftop. The plants have been arranged to mimic the descending slope of the planters. The variation in heights and textures of the plants makes each garden bed unique, and some hold surprises like toyon bushes - cool to the touch - or fluffy Australian ferns. The McMurtry garden is also worth a visit at nighttime. Strategic lighting within the planters illuminates the plants as the sun goes down, and the nighttime views of the Bay Area are an excellent reward for the trek up the stairs. A nighttime visit also hides from view the large parking structure that dominates the view to the west during the daytime, which visually detracts from the natural and calming atmosphere created by the garden.
The Rodin Sculpture Garden, flanks part of the Cantor Center for Visual Arts at the corner of Lomita Drive and Roth Way. This is a garden in need of refinement, but one that still merits a visit. Born from Stanford University’s collection of large monumental pieces of art (something not available to many universities in the east, which lack the land needed for this), the Rodin Sculpture Garden is clearly landscaping built around these sculptures, not for its own use as a garden. Robert Mittelstadt designed the Rodin Garden, and it was dedicated in 1985. The garden incorporates many French design elements into its form, simulating the ordered public gardens in Paris in which Rodin’s art is displayed. The garden feels more formal than other gardens at Stanford due to its simplicity, but several elements divide the space further. The garden is divided by axes of symmetry that lead the eye to major points of interest and partition the space into different, seemingly disconnected spaces that each offer the visitor something slightly different. The sculptures themselves are impressive works capturing the capabilities of expression of the human form, and the Rodin sculpture garden contains casts of The Three Shades (Les Ombres), The Gates of Hell, and Despair, among others.
A long, sprawling lawn on the west side of the space invites students and visitors to picnic or study. This space is divided by a tall row of Italian cypress tree from the section of the garden holding the majority of the Rodin casts, which is landscaped according to strict formal French garden design principles. Yet the concrete steps and gnarled oak tree surrounding
The Gates of Hell do not acknowledge these rigid design principles. The discordance between the areas of the garden feels haphazard, even sloppy. It is clear that the main focus of the garden is intended to be the impressive collection of Rodin sculptures with garden elements incorporated in an attempt to accentuate the art pieces. The effect might be a reinterpretation of French formalism, but this strong adherence in some elements but not others does not show a coherent fusion. The use of lavender, Italian cypress, ivy, and pale limestone are reminiscent of Paris at the turn of the last century and are particularly effective because it is reflective of Rodin himself, who was French and did much of his work in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century. His works are often symbols of the influence of the French Revolution on Western philosophy. Directly inside the Cantor gallery sits
The Thinker, who leans toward the garden and its neighbor. This way, history is subtly woven into the garden while also creating a more beautiful space to house the art pieces. The French aesthetic is elegant but not extravagant, so it does not detract from the focal point of the sculptures. Several benches sit within a small oak grove that looks onto the garden. At present, symmetry is key in bringing together several parts of the garden, which align on an axis that lead to major points of interest such as the Cool Cafe, the back entrance to the Cantor, and the crown jewel of the Rodin collection, the Gates of Hell. The symmetry is not always maintained, however, especially in the case of the Gates of Hell, making for a visually unsettling space which detracts from the grandeur of the museum’s architecture and of the art pieces.
Lushness in a desert is seemingly a contradiction, but this paradox is a foundational characteristic of Stanford’s Arizona Garden. This space, colloquially called the
Cactus Garden, was established around 1883 and is one of the university’s oldest gardens. It was designed by landscape architect Rudolf Ulrich as a private garden to flank the Stanford mansion, which was never built. Like much of the Stanford estate, the cactus garden was intended to impress - the garden exhibited a wide collection of rare botanical specimens. At the time, cacti were not available for purchase, and the only way to obtain them was to take a train to the Sonoran Desert and other deserts of the American Southwest and collect them yourself - as Ulrich did. It is notable that the Stanford’s wealth came from their railroad empire and that these specimens represent the distance between East and West. The more elusive the plants, the greater stature they afforded their patron. Because of this, the Arizona Garden served as an ostentatious display of the Stanford family’s money and power. Ulrich’s design furthered this effect by using rare plants to create a lushness and to show abundance.
There are three levels of plants in each major bed: ground covers flanking the paths, mid-size specimens, and centrally placed monumental plants. Ulrich designed densely populated beds of cacti, juxtaposing a great variety of species that would not naturally be found in the same environment and taking advantage of desert plants’ convivial nature. The unlikely groups of cacti were initially kept alive and pristine by dedicated gardeners Chung Wah and Ah Wah. Thomas Douglas was hired by Olmstead to supervise university landscaping in this period. The result of their care must have undoubtedly impressed the Stanford’s guests. However, the Arizona Garden fell into disrepair after 1925, only restored beginning in 1997 due to the help of dedicated volunteers who replaced missing plants, keeping with Ulrich’s vision. Stop by to see the huge blooms of the agaves, which look like tall Dr. Seuss trees, and stop by in the spring and summer to see cactus blossoms and hummingbirds. The Stanford Family Mausoleum is only a short walk from this Garden.