The Tree Circus

In years past, tourists and locals traveling between the Bay Area and   Santa Cruz would pass several roadside attractions including alluring signs encouraging travelers to stop and experience the wonder of the “Worlds Strangest Trees”. The year was 1947 when Axel Erlandson opened “The Tree Circus”, a display of nearly 70 trees that he had shaped and woven into intricate designs including the Basket Tree, Four Legged Giant, Arch, Revolving Door, Spiral Staircase and others. The botanical adventure began near Turlock in the 1920’s when Erlandson, inspired by observing a natural graft between two trees, began pruning, weaving and grafting young trees into creative shapes. His first major project, the “Four-Legged Giant”, brought together four sycamore saplings grafted into a 6 foot square cupola. Noticing the success of Santa Cruz’s Mystery Spot to attract paying visitors, Erlandson carefully replanted his trees on a small parcel of land that he purchased in Scott’s Valley and began to exhibit his wonders to travelers on the San Jose - Santa Cruz highway. Many of his creations were featured in Life magazine as well as appearing 12 times in Ripley’s Believe it or Not. Income from the roadside attraction was meager and with the rerouting of the highway in the 1960’s, Erlandson sold the property to new owners who expanded the site and added a couple dozen realistic life sized dinosaurs. The new expanded park was named “The Lost World”, Erlandson was kept on as caretaker and his grove of his trees was renamed “The Enchanted Forest”. Erlandson died just a year later while the roadside dinosaur park hung on for a bit longer but was ultimately sold to a commercial developer. The plaster dinosaurs were demolished and Erlandson’s creations were nearly bulldozed until a committee of concerned Scotts Valley citizens was formed to save the historic trees. In 1985 Michael Bonfante, owner of Nob Hill Foods purchased the trees and transplanted the remaining 24 survivors in his new amusement park, Bonfante Gardens (now Gilroy Gardens). Portions of the Tree Circus live on and are on display at Gilroy Gardens while several of Erlanson’s dead trees were preserved and are on exhibit at the Museum of Art History in Santa Cruz, and at the Maryland American Visionary Art Museum in Baltimore.

Thousands of commuters and travelers pass within a few dozen yards of the former Tree Circus every day unaware of what took place here at the former home of the unusual living sculptures. You don’t need to be an artistic pruner to practice creativity as it takes endless forms like artwork, photography, music, cooking, gardening, writing and more. The list is endless! Talk with Laurie about scheduling our kitchen gallery for a display of your unique examples of creativity.    -Bill