Gilroy Gardens -- Home of the Circus Trees®!
An amazing example of man's patience and imagination once known as the Tree Circus has been rescued from a forgotten plot in the Santa Cruz mountains and transported to a new home in Gilroy, California where they are now the centerpiece for our horticulturally based theme park.
The collection of unusual trees appeared often during the 1940's and 50's in Ripley's Believe-It-or-Not and Life magazines, as well as other publications in the United States and other parts of the world. These trees represent one of the most visible demonstrations of the love of nature by man - first to create and nourish, then to maintain, and finally to preserve and cherish these stunning creatures.
This botanical adventure began in Hilmar, California in the 1920's when Axel Erlandson (pictured at top right), a farmer by trade, observed the natural grafting of two Sycamores. His first major project consisted of fusing four Sycamore saplings into a cupola he named the "Four-Legged Giant." Using intricate grafting techniques, Erlandson wove his wonders with threads of living wood. Straight tree trunks became complex and compound designs in shapes like hearts, lightning bolts, basket weaves and rings. The photo at uper left shows our famous "Basket Tree" at about seven years. This tree is actually six Sycamores grafted together in 42 different connections to give it its basket shape.
Erlandson claimed to be divinely inspired and spent over 40 years of his life shaping and grafting the bodies and arms of these full-sized trees. He could control the rate of growth, slowing it down or speeding it up to blend his designs to perfection. In 1945, Erlandson dug and moved a dozen or so of his trees to Scotts Valley, California where he continued to create more natural wonders.
When this son of the land died in 1964, he left a legacy of 74 spectacular trees, but with no one to care for them, they languished and began to die. In the mid-1970's, a Santa Cruz architect named Mark Primack led a valiant effort to save the trees, even risking arrest for trespassing in order to water and feed the trees. Keeping as many alive as he could, Primack's efforts finally took root when they attracted the attention of tree lover Michael Bonfante who bought the trees for a theme park he was building in Gilroy.
Due to Michael's creative vision, 29 of the remaining coiled, scalloped and spiral shaped Sycamores, Box Elders, Ash and Spanish Cork trees were saved. During the winter of 1984 they were carefully hand dug and boxed, their roots trimmed, then watered and fertilized to revive the trees. On November 10, 1985, they were hauled over 50 miles of mountains. More than 20 municipal, county and state agencies were involved in the permitting process and the ultimate move to their final home at Gilroy Gardens. With a lot of love and a bit of luck, Axel Erlandson's Circus Trees will continue to awe children as well as adults who can appreciate the time and talent involved in creating this tribute to nature.
The photo to the left shows the "Double Spectacle" being gently loaded onto a flat bed trailer in preparation for its journey over the hill to Gilroy. The photo at right shows the "Four-Legged Giant" ready to go on the road when 29 of Erlandson's creations were moved to a new home in Gilroy, California. All 29 survived the ordeal although only 19 of the Circus Trees are on public display throughout the park.