We all know that San Luis Obispo has a great climate year round. I notice it especially in the springtime with all the sun and everything blooming, but it’s a great climate to live in all the time.
A visit to the San Luis Obispo Botanical Garden (SLOBG) will show you our climate is actually Mediterranean.
The idea for the Garden began in the late 1980s when a returning Cal Poly horticulture student wondered why the county didn’t have a botanical garden, executive director Mike Bush said. When she asked a professor about it, she was told “Why don’t you start one?” And so she did.
“It started around her kitchen table,” Bush said.
This student put together a group that became the Friends of the San Luis Obispo Botanical Garden, which acquired 150 acres of land in El Chorro Regional Park from the county. The Garden focuses on the five Mediterranean climates in central Chile, areas of Australia and Africa, the Mediterranean basin and in southern coastal California, according to Bush.
Sustainability has always been one of the Garden’s missions, Bush said, and part of that was choosing plants that were sustainable and smart. If you select plants from habitats similar to the local habitat Bush said “you’re probably well off.” And so they took that idea one step further and planted species from other Mediterranean climates such as San Luis Obispo. These climates have hot and dry summers and cool, wet winters, and Bush added “that’s what we have.” A few examples of the cool species at the Garden were bitter aloe plants (pretty weird-looking) and a candelabra plant, which is used in South Africa for keeping in cattle.
And this community garden has more to offer than interesting plants. SLOBG has a lot of events and educational opportunities — it’s celebrating Earth Day on April 22 and Audubon Bird Day on April 28. Every second Saturday of the month it hosts an educational program with a walk through the garden. Stop by the gift shop to pick up supplies for your own garden — and check out the library on Mediterranean plants and gardens.
Right now, the Art Eco show is at the Garden through May 24 and features sculptures made by local artists from “recycled, reclaimed or natural materials.” Bush said the show has turned the Garden into “the Central Coast outdoor sculpture garden for the time period.”
SLOBG only takes up a few of the acres it owns, but there are big plans in place for the rest. These master plans include a large area designated for each Mediterranean climate so it can “better immerse” visitors in each region, Bush said. Sounds pretty cool to me.
These plans aren’t in the immediate future, however. They’ve “always had big ideas” for the garden but have “been slow to reach critical mass of community support and funding to take the next step,” Bush said. These bigger steps will be more feasible once the Garden gets more credibility, he said.
The San Luis Obispo Botanical Garden doesn’t get government funding, so Bush said all of the operating costs are funded by the community. And it offers a lot of ways for people to volunteer their time too. The Garden is getting so many people wanting to join their volunteer team that it’s considering creating a second one, Bush said. People come to the garden regularly at a “fairly high participation level” — Bush said Art Eco has had a strong response and they just had a sold-out concert on Sunday.
As the weather gets better, more people will come out to the garden, according to Bush — but he said it doesn’t get crowded, and there’s always “a place to have some quiet time.” I love spending time just being outside in nature, so I’ve got no complaints here. There’s even an area of the Garden where you can just sit and meditate in, called the Life Celebration Garden.
A lot of people in SLO are “nature-oriented” and do spend time outside so SLOBG is a regular stop for them, Bush said. But it’s also a “less extreme” experience and an attractive opportunity to “get out in nature” and learn about plants. He said he thinks a lot of people in the county, state and nation have what author Richard Louv called “nature deficit disorder.”
“People don’t get out and walk through nature and I’m hoping what we can offer is an opportunity to walk through a created nature,” Bush said.
Getting the full experience of being in nature can’t be achieved through books or websites, Bush said — going in person is the way to do that. And the Garden has “the real thing in bloom.”
“Until they can put wind or a fragrance into an iPhone app, I think we’ve pretty much got the real stuff,” Bush said.
SLOBG really is just a beautiful and educational place that reminds you how lucky we all are to be able to live here in this gorgeous area. Take some time to stop by.