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Botanic Gardens in County Grow Slowly but Surely

October 01, 1994|MARESA ARCHER | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

It is not easy getting a botanic garden started. Many public gardens in Orange County, such as the Sherman Library and Gardens in Corona del Mar, started out as private gardens and by the time they went public were fully developed.

Starting a garden from scratch is more difficult. There are two botanic gardens in Orange County that are gradually being developed: the Niguel Botanical Preserve in Laguna Niguel and Golden West College California Native Garden.

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On a slope overlooking the green expanse of Crown Valley Park's lawns is the Niguel Botanical Preserve. For more than 14 years volunteers have been working to get the garden of Mediterranean-climate plants going, according to Malcolm Patten, vice president of the preserve's board of directors. "In 1980 the county gave us 19 acres along the slope above the park," Patten said. "We knew we wanted it to be a botanical garden for Mediterranean plants to match the Southern California climate."

Staffed by volunteers, with a budget of donations, the garden has been slow to develop. At first volunteers would plant whichever drought-tolerant plants they could get. The garden includes plants from Chile, Australia, Mexico and South Africa.

When the first species were planted there was not a formal, master plan for the garden. Plants were not labeled, and watering was done by dragging hoses around the plantings.

Now most of the irrigation has been put in place, and slowly plants are being identified, according to Mark Lindsay, a landscape architect who has been with the garden for more than a decade. "Luckily many of the plants, especially the larger shrubs, have naturalized and need little water."

Unlike well-established gardens, the preserve does not have interpretive signs so visitors are not yet able to learn about the plants. But Lindsay is optimistic that the garden is well on its way. "We have the Boy Scouts and local Rotary clubs volunteering to adopt sections of the garden . . . things are looking better all the time."

The garden is open during regular park hours, and there is no entrance fee.

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The idea for Golden West's California Native Garden was conceived 14 years ago, but construction didn't get underway until about nine years ago. The garden is expected to open to the public in late 1995. It is used by many of the biology classes at the college, according to Roderick Wallbank, co-director of the garden. "We still have some pathways that need building, and we need to finish the amphitheater before we can open to the general public," he said.

The idea came from the biology department. With financial support from the department and many campus clubs, the 1 1/2 acre garden now has plants representing habitats from all over the state including riparian, oak woodland, redwood forest, coastal sage scrub, Channel Island and mixed foothill woodland.

"It's been amazing how much has been done through volunteers and donations. The college hasn't had to lay out any money for the garden," Wallbank said.

When opened, it will be the only all-native plant public garden in Orange County.

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