A Day at South Coast Botanic Garden

So many botanical gardens, so little time. I find one of the best ways to spend an afternoon is in the gardens. Crazy enough, I’d never made it to South Coast Botanic Garden. South Coast is located in the South Bay’s Palos Verdes and is worth the drive from Ventura County. They invited me to check out their newest exhibit, Washed Ashore: Art to Save the Sea, over Easter weekend. It turned out to be a much-needed family day and such a beautiful time. 

South Coast Botanic Garden is a living testimonial that beauty can blossom anywhere. It’s one of the world’s first botanical gardens to sit over a sanitary landfill. Their history begins in the early 1900s. The land was once covered by the Pacific Ocean which had a large number of diatoms, a single cell algae. They left sediment known as diatomaceous earth as they settled and died at the bottom of the ocean. The sediment has myriad industrial uses, such as for filtration or strengthening components in building materials. By 1944, mining diatomaceous was a common trade and being done. It was sold then to the Great Lakes Carbon Company and mining began in earnest.

South Coast Botanic Garden’s Early Beginnings

In 1956, with the mine shut down, Los Angeles County bought what would become South Coast Botanic Garden. Despite the county’s goal to beautify the grounds, waste needs were growing rapidly in the city. Thus, they initially utilized the site as a sanitary landfill. 

With a grassroots campaign led by private citizens, it was agreed to convert the 87 acres into the South Coast Botanic Garden. In 1961, the first planting took place with over 40,000 donated trees, shrubs, and other plants. Fast forward, and the collection now has over 200,000 plants.

As we drove through the South Bay on major streets like Crenshaw and the Pacific Coast Highway, it felt calming to arrive. We zig-zagged over a few residential streets and arrived in Palos Verdes. A large parking lot greeted us but the entrance was very unassuming. How big can this place be? I thought. Almost 90 acres. That’s how big. 

Exploring the 87 Acres

Check-in was a breeze and with Mabel in tow, we loved that the restrooms were right there. Once inside, their intimate Japanese Garden was on the right, and to the left was the Marilyn and John Long Children and Family Garden. The latter is currently under expansion and will soon have over three additional acres. Mabel loved the wooden cottage, complete with a mailbox. As we walked over an adorable petite-sized bridge, a turtle was hanging out in the small pond. 

My favorite sections had to be Banyan Grove and the Dorothy and John Bohannon Rose Garden. Stumbling upon the array of banyan trees took me back to our honeymoon in Maui. It was special to play among them with our daughter. 

The Rose Garden was exquisite. Spring is truly blooming there and the grounds brought to mind the Getty Villa. Sure enough, landscape architect, Deborah Richie-Bray, designed both gardens. Next time I wish I could be in Paris, I think I’ll visit here to hold me over. 

Washed Ashore: Art to Save the Sea

Throughout our afternoon, the highlight was exploring each of the 16 sculptures from Washed Ashore: Art to Save the Sea. This new gallery throughout the gardens is both mesmerizing and heartbreaking. The non-profit of the same name is based out of Oregon. Their mission is to combat plastic pollution through art and education. These installments expertly get the dual job done. Each display is literally made out of trash and debris that washed ashore along the Oregon Coast. I had never seen so many water bottles and abandoned shoes in my life. Some objects were just downright strange to think of on the shore. A Rocking horse? A toilet seat?

Each sculpture is a character from the sea. They have placards explaining more about them as well as a small scavenger hunt for finding some unique things on them. The garden has taken the partnership to heart and made significant changes towards a better, cleaner tomorrow. This includes the addition of four new recycling bins, selling water in reusable aluminum bottles, and offering compostable plates and utensils at their cafe. 

My first visit to South Coast Botanic Garden introduced me to a new and gorgeous world in the South Bay. Washed Ashore will be on display through September, and coming in May is SOAR: Tropical Butterflies. Plan a visit here and maybe I’ll see you there. xo