Secret Garden Showcases Mother Nature

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It may not be the Garden of Eden, but SWC’s horticultural center is a garden of earthly delights. Like Eden, few people find it and no one ever wants to leave.

A four-acre glimpse of Heaven, the South Bay Botanical Garden is the college’s most beautiful place contiguous with its ugliest. Quietly ensconced between the mechanical graveyard behind the auto shop and a sea of black asphalt at the college’s back 40, the gardens are a botanist’s dream and an escapist’s sanctuary.

“I believe the garden is a terrific addition to the campus,” said Meredith Sinclair, professor of School of Career/Technical Education & Learning Assistance. “A lot of it has been created, maintained and produced by students themselves.”

Established in January 2008, the garden now includes fruit trees, water features, rose gardens and a tropical house. A vegetable section teaches community members how to plant and care for their own food. Lettuce, radishes, blueberries, apples and dragon fruit thrive in the rich soil under the tender care of horticultural science students. Located 8 miles from the Pacific Ocean and 5 miles north of the Mexican border, the garden is ideally located to support plant life that can withstand hot summers and frosty winters.

“We try to grow mostly drought-tolerant plants to accommodate the environment,” said Sinclair.  “We like to teach students and the community the importance of water conservation,”

A walkway begins the journey into the garden, skillfully created by students to set out focus on the garden. There is an English courtyard to help students learn many different aspects of gardening and landscaping. Previously a greenhouse, the tropical house is home to more than 50 different varieties of tropical plants and a waterfall. Students and faculty grow plants and sell them to visitors.

“The funds we raise from selling plants goes back into the budget for the garden,” said Sinclair.

Students garner hands-on experience through the program and learn all about areas of the horticultural industry, said Sinclair.

Professional floral designer Melda Lewis came back to college to learn more.

“I’ve worked quite a bit out there,” she said. “I can’t say enough about how great the program is.”

Sustainability is the focus of new courses covering all aspects of landscaping technology including Landscaping and Nursery Technology (LNT) 101 available in the fall.

“The South Bay Botanic Garden at SWC is really a working student laboratory,” said Bill Homyak, professor of landscaping technology. “All the plants and landscape features have actually been designed and installed by horticulture students while performing in the lab sections of their various horticulture classes.”

Homyak said the classes in landscape construction, turf management, plant identification, soils, sprinkler design, sprinkler system maintenance, landscape maintenance and various nursery classes really make use of the garden.

“Students remain the main caretakers for the garden and a full-time site manager oversees everything and maintains the garden as well,” said Sinclair.

Few know about SWC’s verdant revere.

“I think every teacher and every student should go back there,” said LNT student Michelle Kriz. “It’s amazing seeing it change from season to season.”

Annual events and workshops are hosted by the garden to raise community awareness and involvement of their surrounding environment. Volunteers are accepted to care for the garden and people are welcome to assist with community events. It is open to the community Tuesday through Saturday from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. and offers visitors a relaxing and educational reprieve from the hustle and bustle of daily life.

“We’d love more community involvement,” says Sinclair.

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