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Gilroy Gardens is a magical wonderland for families with young kids, featuring over 40 fun rides and educational exhibits nestled among gorgeous gardens and over 10,000 trees. The park is also home to the world-famous “Circus Trees,” incredible works of living art that you simply have to see to believe!
The trees were originally shaped and grafted into whimsical shapes starting in the 1920s by Swedish immigrant and farmer Axel Erlandson. Inspired by observing a natural graft between two trees, Erlandson began to shape his woven wonders made from “threads” of living wood. He spent over 40 years of his life shaping and grafting the bodies and arms of trees. He carefully bent, rather than cut, straight tree trunks and branches into complex and compound designs in shapes like hearts, lightning bolts, basket weaves, and rings. He even learned techniques to control the rate of growth, either slowing it down or speeding it up, to blend his designs to perfection.
In 1946, Erlandson opened the “Tree Circus” in Scotts Valley for locals and tourists to experience the wonder of “The World’s Strangest Trees.” The trees gained fame and were featured in Ripley’s Believe It or Not and Life Magazine. But in the decades following Erlandson’s death in 1964, the trees were mostly forgotten and neglected.
In the 1980s, Michael Bonfante launched the “80-Ton Tree Caper” rescue operation to carefully dig up the surviving trees, transport them over the Santa Cruz Mountains, and transplant them at what is now Gilroy Gardens Family Theme Park.
Today, 18 of the Circus Trees can be found throughout the park, including the iconic “Basket Tree” (which is actually six Sycamores woven together) as well as the “Four-Legged Giant,” “Arch,” and “Emblem.” In 2017, Visit California, the official state travel and tourism organization, recognized the Circus Trees as one of eight “Hidden Gems” in California.
They are truly living masterpieces!
For more information about the Circus Trees, see www.gilroygardens.org/play/circus-trees.