Volunteers and tons of fresh gravel lay foundation for new chapter at Huntington Beach’s Secret Garden

A dump truck drops fresh decomposed granite to resurface the Secret Garden at Huntington Central Park.
A dump truck drops fresh decomposed granite to resurface the Secret Garden at Huntington Central Park on Wednesday, May 24.
(Jessica Cuchilla, Robert Mayer Leadership Academy)

Volunteers performed much-needed repairs Wednesday, laying the foundation for a new chapter for the Secret Garden, a hideaway in plain sight at Huntington Central Park.

The garden had initially been restored by the Huntington Beach Tree Society in 2014 and was being maintained by the small, local nonprofit. They were planning a major face-lift of the open space for 2023, on the heels of one of the wettest winters Southern California has seen in years.

“We’ve been undergoing a big, sort of a second phase of our work of upgrading everything and getting it maintained it the way it should be,” Tree Society member Juana Mueller said Thursday. “And the rains just really said, ‘You gotta do this.’ It had rutted out the path so badly that it was actually not safe anymore.”


Heavy downpours created cracks and furrows that made the garden’s gravel walkways more difficult to traverse. It had to be closed in April, a few weeks after the green space was featured in a Daily Pilot article, Mueller said.

But participants of the Huntington Beach Chamber of Commerce’s Robert Mayer Leadership Academy had pledged to resurface the garden’s walkways. After raising over $1,700, they showed up on Wednesday with a new roller, shovels, carts and a dump truck loaded with tons of decomposed granite.

Six members of the Tree Society, all retirees, worked with six volunteers from the academy to address trip hazards and make the paths running through the Secret Garden easier for children and strollers to wander through. They started at 10 a.m. and were supposed to work until 2 p.m., but managed to finish an hour early, Mueller said.

About 94% of Irvine’s residents live within a 10-minute walk from a park, and programming and facilities for people with disabilities makes many inclusive spaces where all can recreate.

May 25, 2023

“I had to leave for a bit at 11. I was called and they said, ‘Don’t come back. They’re done,’” Mueller said. “It was very impressive, especially when we had one of the women there who was six months pregnant.”

Their efforts reopened a much-needed haven for reflection and rejuvenation for the Huntington Beach community, Mueller said. She lives in an apartment and said places like the Secret Garden and others taken care of by the Tree Society allow her do something she loves even though she doesn’t have space for the hobby at home.

Before the Tree Society began working on the Secret Garden in 2014, it was part of a pilot project to demonstrate the viability of drought-tolerant plants that had apparently been forgotten, Mueller said. Back then, the path through it wasn’t even visible, let alone walkable, due to the overgrown pride of Madeira and passion vines that had overtaken the plot. It took years to turn it into a secluded feature at the heart of Huntington Central Park frequented by families, nature lovers and local photographers.

“It’s a respite,” Mueller said. “It’s a place they come to just, sort of reenergize themselves.”

Fresh gravel was laid on the paths winding through the Secret Garden at Huntington Central Park Wednesday, May 24.
(Jessica Cuchilla, Roberty Mayer Leadership Academy)

Mueller hopes some of those who visit the garden might develop green thumbs of their own. She added that the Tree Society would welcome fresh hands to help them preserve the sanctuaries they have sown in the city for future generations.

Because a lot of us are up in age, we would like to get a more youthful team coming in than we are,” Mueller said. “Because you need to hand it off. It was restored by volunteers, it was kept by volunteers and it will continue to be done by volunteers.”

“When I say youth, it has to be someone who’s retired,” Mueller added. “Because it’s pretty much a full-time endeavor to keep it maintained... but still, when you’re retired and you’re 60, you’re still hot to go!”