She wanted a home, and that was how it began.
When Marianne Taylor and her husband, John, first stumbled upon the old board and batten house on a corner lot in the Los Rios Historic District in San Juan Capistrano, she felt a yearning for the 128-year-old structure.
The Los Rios area has been called the oldest occupied neighborhood in California, with buildings dating to the late 1700s.
She hesitated only briefly at the sight of weeds taking over the half-acre grounds and handicapped accommodations for the resident who lived with a caretaker at the dilapidated 128-year-old structure. Taylor wanted to restore the broken house and make it a home for her family, which includes an adult son and daughter.
While the pessimists called the Taylors "nuts" and suggested that they move to the then-newly developed Dove Canyon in Trabuco Canyon, they instead became the home's third owners. That was 25 years ago.
Shortly after the purchase, a coral tree gave way and broke the lattice structure covering a porch. But Taylor even saw that as a blessing, noting that destruction opened up entry to the hidden back patio.
"We saw the beauty through the ashes," Taylor said. " We loved the outside and the possibilities, and we knew it had a spiritual feel. I saw the peace and tranquillity, and I wanted to share that with others."
Taylor, who began gardening when she was a young adult, planted wisteria, Valencia orange trees and pomegranate trees at the home. She cut up the patio's cement, stained the newly poured grounds and interspersed Astro Turf between the cement squares.
Her mission was to have her family and plants thriving together. Eventually she would want to share that sense of interconnectedness with others, and in 2009 she founded Goin Native Therapeutic Gardens at her home.
The nonprofit organization provides programs focused on sustainable garden design, yoga, cooking and community garden creation.
People of all ages, abilities and backgrounds are welcome, Taylor said, emphasizing the importance of helping special-needs adults, at-risk and underprivileged youths, military members, veterans and their families, and the elderly.
When visitors are not participating in a yoga class in Taylor's garden — which is filled with succulents, Mexican sunflowers and birds of Paradise — volunteers at Goin Native may donate their time at the nearby city-owned Los Rios Park with the Garden Angels.
Since the park opened more than five years ago, the group of volunteers has met every Thursday to maintain the grounds, which are abundant with Mexican petunias, milkweed and rosemary.
A few years ago, Taylor and the garden volunteers began a collaboration with the Capistrano Unified School District to help students learn life and employment skills as they tend to the gardens, raking leaves, watering plants and picking up trash. The team will write letters of recommendation for the participants.
"We want this to be special for others," Taylor said as she stood in the park's gardens, which attract butterflies. "This is our place to share."
Goin Native also has expanded its help and resources to San Juan Capistrano's Reata Park, off Ortega Highway.
The organization hosts 30-minute free walks through the park that include a discussion about California native plants. Also at the park, Goin Native hosts classes like "Smart Gardening" and "Planting the Native California Garden," presented by the UC Cooperative Extension Master Gardeners of Orange County.
And to make gardening tips accessible to people who might not be able to meet on the grounds, Taylor posts on her organization's website news articles on subjects like pruning, ways to collect rainwater and fundamentals of foundation plantings.
Taylor said she hopes to eventually beautify the entire Los Rios Historic District.
Her garden, she said, has been a place of healing and rehabilitation.
"It's been very rewarding for me to be maintaining this jewel of a place," Taylor said. "We found the perfect house, and I'm happy to share it with others."
For more information, call (949) 606-6386 or visit goinnative.net.