Find me at the Rose Garden

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Rachael Garner/Courtesy

Most of the freshmen I’ve met in my first three weeks have agreed that Berkeley is a big place. I myself moved from a small suburb of Los Angeles with some 25,000 people to a school with just about the same number of students enrolled. In an effort to explore the place we now call home, a few floormates and I decided to make the 1.5-mile walk from Southside to the Berkeley Rose Garden.

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Completed in 1937, the garden includes 3,000 rose bushes arranged along a terraced amphitheater as well as in surrounding planters. Despite its positive reputation — the city of Berkeley’s website says the garden is “considered by many to be the finest rose garden in northern California” — it would be easy for a new freshman to have no clue the rose garden even exists, because of its secluded location.

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Unfortunately, we entered the garden to see signs announcing the closing of the upper trellis, with no indication of when it would reopen.

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The garden’s stone steps offered us pathways through the numerous terraces of the garden. But we walked cautiously, as they proved to be a popular spot for family photoshoots. The professional photographers were not thrilled to see teenagers lurking in the background of their portraits.

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Although many lay dormant this late in the year, the gardens feature 250 species of roses, including the Queen Elizabeth Rose. These roses bloomed beautifully amid many other wilted varieties, showing off impressive durability and offering a last reminder of the summer months as fall quickly approaches.

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We came across a specific variety paying homage to Pasadena, California, home of the annual Tournament of Roses parade and football game.

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The many wooden bridges around the park reminded me of ones I used to cross raging rivers on a backpacking trip in Yosemite last spring. Although they didn’t help me cross anything nearly as extreme, they did encourage us to keep walking through the 3.5 acres the park encompasses and help prevent the daunting “freshman 15.”

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When we returned to the main garden, we noticed that benches lined the outer side of the terraces. We claimed the lowest, as the others were occupied by couples reading or a man enjoying an afternoon nap.

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I saw a young feral cat as I stood near the terraces. I whistled, and the cat came toward me as if I had called its name. Surprisingly unafraid, he proceeded to purr and walk alongside my floormates and me for a few minutes before following the calls of children a few feet away.

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Walking through the gardens, I came across Kris and Richard Pitschka, two farmers from outside San Juan Bautista who attended UC Berkeley in the 1960s and had returned to Berkeley for the day. Richard lamented that because it has almost reached official autumn, the garden isn’t at its peak, but said it still provides a sort of sanctuary from the “constant roar” of the college town.

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Once my friends and I felt that we had adequately explored the grounds, we sprawled out across a section of one of the terraces to enjoy the view over pita chips and hummus.

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After leaving the gardens about 6 p.m., my floormates and I had the chance to see the extraordinary views of the San Francisco Bay and Golden Gate Bridge from atop Berkeley’s hills; as we continued heading south, just as Euclid Avenue turned into a sharp downhill, I glanced up to see the Campanile through the trees.