Descanso Gardens keeps it natural

Descanso Gardens officials were urged this week by local residents to keep its proposed “Oak Woodland” project as natural and educational as possible.

If all goes according to plan, Descanso will open this new garden — its first expansion in more than two decades — in the summer of 2014. To encourage community participation in the project, a workshop was held Tuesday in Van de Kamp Hall that drew about 50 people.

The participants were given a presentation on the history of the gardens and the plans for the Oak Woodland, and then split into groups to brainstorm.

Brian Sullivan, the gardens' director of horticulture, displayed a map and emphasized that it was a rough conceptual plan that will evolve, not a finalized planting plan.

New elements proposed include a closed-off bird habitat within the larger oak woodland, and watersheds west of Descanso's lake.

When the small groups reconvened to present their suggestions, two major themes emerged: a desire to keep the new woodland as natural as possible, and a desire for a strong educational element.

Several groups suggested that Descanso could incorporate a variety of approaches, from leaving fallen trees in place, as happens in nature, to installing a tiered system of trails to offer a variety of experiences. They also asked planners to consider installing rotating displays of wildflowers.

Jessica Centeno, an arborist from San Pedro, said that she's a frequent visitor to the gardens, and that as an arborist, she was happy to see Descanso working on opening an area that emphasizes naturally occurring trees.

“It's definitely the right mind set. They're taking what was originally there and incorporating it in a sense that will educate visitors,” she said.

Roger Klemm, an employee at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, said that for a native plants activist, the new oak woodland was a long-overdue development.

“It's wonderful to celebrate the local natives; it's a long time coming,” he said. “In some ways, the horticulture establishment has been anti-native … [public gardens] should do more of this.”

Sullivan said that he was happy to see such diversity of opinion from the group, and that Descanso would incorporate the suggestions as it moved toward the expected planting date next fall.

“It affirmed what I was thinking, and at the same time I learned some new things,” he said.

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