Descanso Gardens to unveil ‘Lakeside Lookout’ designed to attract, sustain local wildlife

On Monday, Descanso Gardens officials will unveil a project that’s been under wraps for the better part of the summer when they open a new “Lakeside Lookout” designed to attract local wildlife and provide educational opportunities for young visitors.

The area fronts Descanso’s man-made lake and leads visitors to the Boddy Lodge and north to the 7-acre oak woodland, opened to the public in 2014. It housed a bird observation station used for bird watching and ornithological talks, but will reopen on Oct. 2 as a wildlife education center with hands-on exhibits for children, according to Rachel Young, Descanso’s director of horticulture and garden operations.

“The original goal for this building was wildlife,” Young said. “So we wanted to take that and create an interactive experience for people to see wildlife.”

To revitalize the area, the La Cañada botanical garden partnered with Sun Valley-based Pacific Outdoor Living, whose owner, Terry Morrill, donated materials, labor and plants to the effort.

The idea was to mimic a San Gabriel Mountain landscape, explained Pacific Outdoor Living landscape designer Melanie Buffa. Plants such as sage, lavender and marigolds were selected for their ability to entice pollinators and other wildlife from surrounding foothill areas.

“You want to attract all the pollinators first. That helps the plants grow,” Buffa said. “Then you eventually start growing your food chain, and the wildlife comes.”

Near a footpath leading to the Boddy Lodge, which once unceremoniously directed rainwater runoff into a drainpipe during rainy seasons, a new seasonal stream and wetland garden will serve as a play station for kids to see insects, tadpoles and other creatures firsthand.

A wooden viewing platform constructed around a centuries-old heritage oak lets visitors get close to the tree and provides a better view of the garden’s lake.

“It’s a great way to talk about water at Descanso,” education director Emi Yoshimura said of the stream bed and nearby waterfall. “Not only do you have the lake there, but it’s filled with water that comes from the hills.”

Young said when Descanso officials unveiled the oak woodland three years ago, their hope was more natural spaces would better connect the garden to the surrounding wilderness and provide refuge for local fauna. Nearly two years later, the difference is noticeable.

Gray squirrels, not seen at Descanso for a decade, have been spotted while bobcats and coyotes now regularly come to the lakeside to quench their thirst.

Descanso Executive Director Juliann Rooke said revitalizing the space fit nicely into a larger effort being undertaken in the coming year that will explore the concept of the garden as habitat.

“It’s going to be a big part of what we’re going to do in 2018,” she said. “It’s interesting to think we’re the visitors here — [the animals] live here.”

On a recent visit, sets of tracks dented the decomposed granite trails leading up to the observation station. One set belonged to a deer, Young pointed out, another to a coyote.

The plan, she said, seems to already be working.

Twitter: @SaraCardine