When Michael Bonfante opened what was then called Bonfante Gardens in 2001, he was preserving work begun much earlier. Axel Erlandson’s famous “circus trees,” which he started creating with complex grafting techniques around 1925, are today only one attraction in what’s now known as Gilroy Gardens, though they’re every bit as fantastic as they were when Erlandson first grew them in the early 20th century.
While Gilroy Gardens is replete with informational kiosks and educational guided garden tours, Bonfante says, “We don't ever want kids to think this is a museum or an arboretum, because those are the last two places they want to go.” Adding some 40 attractions and rides in addition to the gardens and circus trees ensures that everyone can have fun and learn a little something at the same time.
Gilroy Gardens's Circus Trees
The phenomenon that started everything was Erlandson’s circus trees. Over nearly 40 years, he grafted 70 tree creations to create intricate, woven designs. Twenty of those circus trees are on display in Gilroy Gardens, including the very first one Erlandson made—the Four-Legged Giant. There’s also a beautiful basket tree, an arch tree that visitors can walk underneath, and one Erlandson designed to look like an oil well.
In addition to the circus trees, Gilroy Gardens also has six different garden areas that, depending on the time of year, can be awash in color. The Camellia Garden’s namesake flowers are at their best in spring, while the Japanese maples and hydrangeas take over later in the year. Explore the colorful Rainbow Garden from the seat of a round boat as it drifts around the various floral displays. The Monarch Garden is inside a semi-tropical greenhouse to keep plants that wouldn’t appreciate the natural climate happy and blooming.