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Retired nurseryman Ernest Schoefer and his wife, Betty established the Gardens in 1961 with the aim of growing plants that thrived in the water-rich soils, foggy coastal air, and mild air temperatures of southern California. The Schoefers managed the botanical garden as a private enterprise for the following 16 years, after which the property was sold to a group of investors who leased the Gardens to The Mendocino Coast Botanical Gardens Preservation Corporation (MCBGPC), which continues to manage and operate the Botanical Gardens today.
The Mendocino Coast Botanical Gardens features a variety of gardens, collections, specialty gardens and habitats of plants and species that enjoy the cool Californian climate. These include a coastal and marine zone garden, a closed-cone pine forest, a camellia garden, gardens with conifers, dahlias, magnolias, and Rhododendrons. There are also habitats such as heaths and heathers, a Heritage Rose Garden, a succulents and Mediterranean Garden, a vegetable garden, a perennials garden and the Mae E. Lauer Display House, which features Begonias and Fuchsias
The Mendocino Coast Botanical Gardens are renowned for their incredible collections of hybrid rhododendrons that produce beautiful fragrant blossoms all year round. Native to the humid cloud forests of the Himalayas and Southeast Asia, these magnificent blooms thrive in the foggy, coastal climate of the northern California coast and can only be found in a narrow band here. The Gardens have more than 125 species of rhododendrons and over 190 cultivars and feature a unique collection of rhododendrons hybridized in Fort Bragg known as the Fort Bragg Collection, which includes the official flower of Fort Bragg, the 'Noya Chief.'
Other notable gardens include the Perennial Garden, which features flowers, bulbs, grasses, cactus and succulents that bloom from spring to fall, and an acclaimed collection of the camellias in the Heaths and Heathers Garden. The natural areas of this garden also harbor six different rare and endangered plants and an unusual forest of pines. The Gardens are also a haven for birds, who flock there in the summer and include species such as swallows, sandpipers, hawks, ospreys, and Canada geese, among others.