Photo by  Richard Reames. Wikimedia
Photo by Richard Reames. Wikimedia

Had a great visit recently to a place we’ve been wanting to see for years: Gilroy Gardens. You probably don’t know about the “Circus Trees” lovingly grown and tended by a real one-of-a-kind gardener: Axel Erlandson. A Swedish immigrant to California, in 1925 he began to shape trees as a hobby. He drew his designs on paper first and then set out plants: pruning, grafting and bending them over many years to achieve any incredible variety of shapes. In 1947 he opened his collection to the public advertising it as “The Tree Circus” (admission 25 cents!). Erlandson considered his methods trade secrets, so when children asked how he got his trees to grow like this, he would reply, “I talk to them.”

After Erlandson’s death, the trees came under the care of Michael Bonfante who transplanted them to his amusement park in Gilroy. The trees are still growing strong today with over 18 on view. The majority are formed from sycamores (Platanus occidentalis) or box elders (Acer negundo) persuaded to combine into imaginative shapes like the “Oil Well”, the “Basket Tree,”and the “Four Legged Giant”. Bring the kids along for the fun rides and the water park, and enjoy the circus trees and the gardens yourself: a great day out for the whole family!

Where: Gilroy Gardens Family Theme Park, 3050 Hecker Pass Hwy, Gilroy, Ca, 95020 USA – approximately 1.5 hours south of San Francisco on Hwy 101

What to do there: circus trees, amusement park rides, water park

Company website:

Country Visa info:

Cost: $12 parking, $32- 37 adults, family packages available

Time: every day in summer 11 to 6pm, weekends only during school year: see website

Food: a number of snack bars and restaurants on site

Family experience: A great day out for all ages