San Diego Botanic Garden

The mission of the San Diego Botanic Garden “is to inspire people of all ages to connect with plants and Nature.” After strolling through its incredible 35 acres, I am inspired. I’ve visited many gardens, both small and large, and I always try to imagine what the gardener was thinking during plant selection and placement. The horticulturists responsible for the San Diego Botanic Garden were apparently channeling heaven as they constructed the park.

Real flowers, not plastic

It’s amazing! I felt like I was experiencing natural nature and the actual habitats represented in the many earth zones throughout the garden. While enjoying the shade of monstrous bamboo, I was transported to Asia. Then suddenly I forgot I was walking through a botanic garden and felt like I was discovering a passionate gardener’s home garden as a pond and vibrant flowers appeared.

Enjoying the bamboo garden

Bananas, pomegranates, grapefruits, avocados, and other mysterious, exotic fruits dangled enticingly in the subtropical fruit garden. Around the corner I stumbled upon an expansive herb garden with “living” sculptures that made me want to sit, relax, and sip a little Sangria.

Bringing a Mariachi band to life

Many large cities have botanic gardens that represent their region and highlight local plants. With the construction of greenhouses and pavilions they can grow and display non-native plants. San Diego is blessed with a temperate climate that mimics disparate locations of our planet. Without a single greenhouse they can showcase Mexico, Africa, New Zealand, Australia, Asia, and Central and South America. All of their gardens are in the open air.

The San Diego Botanic Garden began as “Quail Gardens” in 1971, and the address and local signs reflect that start. In 1993 they lost financial support from Dan Diego County and the non-profit Quail Botanical Gardens Foundation, Inc. was formed to operate the gardens. The current name was instituted in 2009.

Stewards of the environment, new parking lots have permeable surfaces to reduce runoff, solar panels produce electricity, green roofs cool buildings while reducing water runoff, and of course all plastic, paper, and metal is recycled.

They’ve constructed the botanic garden using water wise gardening methods. Through the use of recycled water, weather sensitive controllers, and low-water sprinklers, they use and display remarkable ways to save valuable resources. Prunings and leaves are shredded and composted and reused naturally in the gardens as mulch.

A water controller proudly displayed

The entire Garden is very user friendly and educational. There is an obvious attempt to encourage local gardeners to replicate the plantings. So many civic gardens operate with an attitude of, “look what we’ve grown and you can only look at.” San Diego Botanic Garden operates with an attitude of, “look what we’ve grown and you can too.”

A tutorial on using rocks in the garden

I find that approach very appealing. I don’t live anywhere near San Diego and am inspired to try some of their designs and plantings in my gardens. I recognized plants that grow well for me already, but in new displays and settings. The creative gardener in me is already planning new beds and new designs for next year.

I can construct a similar succulent bed

A separate children’s garden makes gardens fun with a tree house and outdoor activities for the little ones. I’ve always believed that capturing the positive spirit of gardening for children benefits them and us.

So often in professional gardens one wanders through, admiring the beauty, while stupefied by the plants. Everything mingles together with no identification of the individual components. That experience is non-existent in San Diego. Everything is exquisitely labeled with an abundance of interesting plant information. On the few occasions I saw a planting with no identifying sign, a quick search revealed information hidden under a branch or limb of a neighboring plant. They’re unobtrusive and blend in well.

An informative plant label

The design of the self-guided tour allows visitors to experience the gardens at their own pace and allows lingering. A walk on a boardwalk overlooking natural, native zones ends at an overlook of the garden, the town, and the beautiful Pacific Ocean. A spectacular waterfall and meandering creek lies hidden in a back corner of the gardens. Imposing and interesting sculptures from professional artists are mingled with the plants and are available for purchase.

A waterfall hidden in a jungle

The San Diego Botanic Garden doesn’t reside in San Diego itself, but rather in Encinitas, California, about 30 minutes north of the city proper. There are few signs announcing it’s location so I recommend getting directions ahead of time or relying on a GPS.

At this writing the admission price for adults is $12, with a $2 parking fee. I found a 50% off coupon in the magazine “101 Things To Do In San Diego”, which can be found in most local tourist centers and visitor bureaus. The $14 total price my wife and I paid was the best expenditure of our vacation.

I don’t know when we’ll get back to San Diego; our last trip was two years ago. Even with that uncertainty I’m sorely tempted to become a member of the San Diego Botanic Garden. Even though I won’t be able to use the benefits, I can help an organization that is doing everything right for the world of plants and gardening.

If you’re a gardener, and planning to visit San Diego, check out the San Diego Botanic Garden. If you live in or near San Diego county, consider becoming a member. You be a richer gardener for either choice.

Link to San Diego Botanic Garden


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