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Alta Vista Botanical Gardens | Vista, California

Alta Vista Botanical Gardens (AVBG) is an interactive living classroom designed to ‘bring together people, nature, and art.’ It is atop the heart of Brengle Terrace Park in Vista. A volunteer board has run the property for about 20 years. They pay $1 a year for it and raise all the money for the 14 acres to pay the monthly $4,000 water bill. Most of everything is on drip systems because they want to conserve water here in Southern California. Since they are always in drought, many of the plants they chose are very drought tolerant. The board tries hard not to waste water.  

Naomi was a phenomenal tour guide. The way she painted the story of the garden while she explained every step of our journey was remarkable. She is here because they needed people who are knowledgeable in landscaping. They have a beautiful, very devoted eight-member board. The President is a civil engineer, the treasurer retired from the irrigation company, and her husband, Bill Stein, is the Chairman of Maintenance. Mrs. Stein does much of the design work and a little bit of everything. She is Vice President of Alta Vista Botanical Gardens. So there’s no job that’s too small or too big for this woman. 

Danielle: So where are we going to start today?  

Naomi: Right now, we are going to finish feeding the turtles. I’ll take you to our pond. We don’t know how the turtles got there, but we now have several families, generations really. We feed them maybe once or twice a week and eat whatever turtles eat the rest of the time. We have a little algae problem in this pond because we’ve had two or three days of 95-degree weather. And so I’m going to get something very natural that will not harm the environment, will not harm the turtles, and will not harm the fish to help keep the algae down.   

Naomi then showed me over to numerous tasty herbs ripe for the picking and ready to sample. AVBG provides docent tours to help people learn about herbs, what they’re good for, how to use them, and how to cook with them. Naomi was a landscaper for 33 years, and Sharon was one of her clients. She was a beautiful lady and a terrific chef who passed away. Her husband and family had AVBG build this garden in her honor.

This is beautiful. You’ve all done a fantastic job, Naomi!  

Look at the nasturtium here. It’s all blooming now, isn’t it so pretty? This is so full of mint here. And this is a beautiful plant lamb’s ear. Feel it. It’s soft and fuzzy. Beautiful, beautiful plant. This is the Sharon Kern Culinary Herb Garden.   

In a pond next to the garden, Naomi pointed towards “a pair of mallard ducks. The female has laid eggs somewhere. I don’t know where but he’s part of this group (pointing towards a mallard). And we’re going to see the turtles, and the male duck eats some of the turtle food too. As I feed them, you’ll see some turtles come up. ‘Come on, guys. Here they are. Come on. There you go. They’re red sliders. Here you go. There’s another one. There you go. Come on. Let’s go, guys. There’s another one poking his head up. There’s a nice little family of them, and there’s little mosquito fish in here too. The turtles eat the greens, and they eat the lawn. I don’t even know if they really love our food, but they seem to survive very well. Come on, ducky, you’re not hungry today (Naomi continues to feed the pond dwellers). Well, there’s a turtle swimming over to him. Aren’t they cute?”   

They are   

Here they go. On a sunny day, a lot of times, they’ll all get up on that big rock and sun themselves. It’s really nice.  

Heritage Rose Garden, this is going to end up being one of the best gardens in all of California with heritage roses. We had a gentleman who was part of our gardens for many years, and he is what they call a Rosarian, he belonged to the rose club, and the roses he grew were amazing. When he passed, he left us some money. Some of the members here were so enthused by what he grew that they went all the way to Sacramento. They went to what is called cemetery sales, where they take cuttings of roses from the 1700s and 1800s, and we had these roses planted here. You’re going to find roses that you won’t see anywhere else.   

It’s only about two or three years old now. But you can see, this is where we have our Heritage Rose Garden, and the archways are covered with beautiful roses, and all the roses are just starting to come out because it’s April. Now we’re starting to see some of these amazing roses that are absolutely beautiful. This one is pretty; it’s old-fashioned. The heat today got them a little bit, but you’ll see some amazing roses in another few weeks. As a matter of fact, the rose there is called the Ivy Bowden rose because he discovered this rose, and It is named after him. This one over here, I guess he found it in Rancho Minerva. It’s called Rancho Minerva Pink. This is it’s probably not around anywhere else.   

This area is where we have all of our weddings. This is an artificial turf lawn. We’ve tried the regular grass, it needs too much water, too much care, too many chemicals, and we don’t want that. This is sustainable. This way, we could have chairs, dancing, and everything else on here without worrying about it. So, we used artificial tuff here, although it’s not one of our favorite things to do, but here, it’s the right thing to do for the right place.   

It was breathtaking. I marveled in awe, taking in the care, detailed attention, and natural beauty surrounding us at that moment! Naomi was chosen to be Vice President because of her landscaping knowledge and eclectic skill set. She really enjoys collaborating with the AVBG board.  

By the way, what you see here on the ground is from that tree which is called an Albizia julibrissin. Years ago, the Aborigines used this foam. It looks like cotton balls hanging from it all over. They used it in baby diapers and padding for bedding and other things. It gets this big green bulb, and then it opens up to one of these huge puffballs that you see everywhere. It’s really something else. 

Naomi sighed as she reached to touch the stone wall cover.

Too bad this isn’t blooming; this has such pretty blooms. It’s called a Turk’s-Cap Lily; their little red caps are starting to come out now. It’s an old-fashioned plant too. Oh, here’s a little one that is just beginning to bud; its leaf is very velvety. It’s gorgeous. In another month, it’ll be all covered with tiny red flowers.  

Let’s walk over to the Children’s Garden. I would really like you to see that it’s a beautiful, beautiful garden that is very special. The beauty of Alta Vista is that it’s very eclectic. There are people that adopt an area, and then they work on it. We try to give them free will, within good design and everything that makes it special.”   

We have a labyrinth, and people can walk in the labyrinth. It’s a beautiful walk, and it’s really interesting with nice sayings along the way. It’s meditative. By the way, most of these beautiful sculptures were donated; we have lots and lots of sculptures here in the gardens. When people start the labyrinth, they ring the bell. They let you know they’re in the labyrinth, and it’s quite a nice view of Vista. The labyrinth is intended to be a serene journey for you to stroll its paths, stopping to read the affirmations and reflecting on them. ‘Please try to stay on the path. Enjoy your journey, and please return again.’ This is beautiful, and it’s all surrounded by Rosemary, which is starting to bloom right now. It has got a beautiful smell. So that’s our labyrinth. It is probably about 20 minutes to walk. It’s really pretty incredible with so much going on.  

This is, by the way, called the Blessing Tree. It was donated in 2000. This is our Palapa, and it’s a beautiful place to stop and have lunch. And you have a beautiful view of the lower pond. If you notice, you can see the lower pond, and there’s no algae because it has lots of Water Lilies. We have little fish, and we have a few turtles in there. There’s one turtle that has lived there for many years. He has a weird shell. He’s actually pretty cute. This mosaic here was designed and created by children from the Vista Boys and Girls Club, ages six to nine, under the guidance of artist Buddy Smith.  

Is there somebody that oversees the art here?

We all kind of look at everything, the board votes on anything that people want to donate, and it is a group decision. Our board is really cohesive. We look at everything during our monthly meetings. We also have an executive session once a month. This beautiful sculpture has a Rose Quartz in the center that you can see. I know the gal who designed and made this sculpture named the Creative Bloom. Lia Strell is quite active and has done quite a few things here at the gardens. In the Herb Garden, she did what looked like a ginkgo leaf. (Most of the art in AVBG is huge, so the artists construct the pieces before putting them all together here.) She usually brings them in, and sometimes they have to be craned, and they’re pretty darn big. It’s quite the operation. We also have a lot of art by Ricardo Breceda. There is a huge dragon sculpture in the children’s garden that AVBG purchased.

Naomi and her husband have really built up the Children’s Garden. Here’s the approach: “We have the Music Garden and a Discovery Trail. There’s a human sundial and lots for kids to do, such as tubes they can run through. It is a very special place, and it’s called the Bugs Birds and Butterfly Children’s Garden. Again, it’s very, everything’s eclectic – a little of this and a little of that.

The Music Garden we put in for my son. It is sort of a model of his synthesizer. The kids can take a picture sitting at what we call the Banjo Bench. Here we have a Pebble Chime, and the kids absolutely love it. They’ll take a handful of pebbles and toss it down both sides to make pretty music. It’s totally musical and is not just a bunch of noise. The kids really love this, and a local artist named Robert Roshan designed and built this for us. We (Naomi and her husband) ended up doing this whole area. This was originally a big slope, and before I retired, my crew put the bench in and did the concrete. Then we ordered a lot of the instruments from a company in Vermont, and this was actually a drum. I think it’s an oil drum or gas drum, so it’s just been recycled. My favorite instrument is the Amadinda. The kids absolutely love it, and it really sounds very pretty. This one is a chiming wall and also sounds really nice. The beauty of these is that they are made from wood and natural materials. They’re not all painted yellow, green, and purple, and everything’s pretty much natural here. We try to keep it like that.

This is our Discovery Trail. There are 19 Quiz boxes that I designed as you go through the trail that usually has a plant by them.   

Quiz Box #1: As we’re looking at this plant here, it says cool and comfy clothing is made from this plant. What could this be? We wonder? Well, cotton plant, all parts of the cotton plant are used, there’s is no waste.   

Quiz Box #2: If you take a pinch of this, it says smell me. You will think that you are eating typical spicy food at a restaurant in India. What could it be? A curry plant!   

This whole area has 19 Quiz boxes. And the children get to learn as they experience them.   

Quiz Box #3: Here, many things can be made or built from this whole plant that grows in many parts of the world. Look at this. I wonder what this could be? Oh, my goodness. Let’s see. And this is bamboo. World’s fastest-growing plant. And pandas’ favorite food?  

By the way, all these quiz boxes were donated by people, and that’s what funded the garden. Over here, these were all the stumps that we saved and put around so the kids could climb on them and run on these little steppingstones. In other words, this plant right there is named after a wise older man. Sage is an essential ingredient in Thanksgiving turkey stuffing.  

You can see this garden is incredible. We have some lovely sculptures. We have that sculpture, the Kite of Paradise sculpture, and we have this one, and there’s one, there’s another one down there. Yep, there’s one over there too. We have sculptures throughout the entire garden, and many people come just to see sculptures.

This is a fantastic Ricardo Breceda dragon sculpture. There’s the tail, and there’s the head. I planted this Asparagus Marais around it, so it looks like seaweed in the water. He’s very well known. He does a lot of work in Borrego down in the desert area. And I heard that there’s a dove in here that made a nest. It is called ‘Serpent,’ and it’s by Ricardo Breceda.  

But what’s really amazing is this human sundial; you stand on it and tell the time. The last President was a landscaper, and he installed this absolutely remarkable human sundial. I don’t know right now; maybe it will work. First, you stand on the month you’re in. Right now, we are in April, and I’m looking at my shadow. There it is. It’s after four. Maybe it’s about Oh 4:30 pm or 4:45 pm, something like that.  

This is one of our newest gardens. Unfortunately, two years ago, on Earth Day, our President’s wife passed away right here. She fell and had a heart attack; this is in her honor. Their son built the little house, he purchased the windmill, and it’s just doing beautifully. The kids love it.   

We have a retired teacher named Nancy Jones who runs the children’s programs. Once a month, she has a class, and this is the vegetable garden, where they learn all about gardening. They learn about how to plant vegetables, they learn about worms and compost, and they learn about insects, butterflies, etc.    

This was from the Fall Fun Festival fundraiser, and these were the winners. They make all of the scarecrows. Look at them still hanging out here from the Fall. The kids love to work with her. She’s very good with children. Over there’s a wobble bridge that the kids run on. There’s a lot, a lot for them to see and do when they come into this garden. And it’s a favorite for a lot of the families that come here. It’s not a very formal place. So many gardens are so structured and formal that the kids don’t feel free, but they can run on the trails here.  

This is our lower pond, and this one is in really good shape. It has no algae here. We also had a group, a local church called North Coast Church, that came, and they built all these steps for us. They built our entry kiosk. They had 200 people here on a weekend volunteering. They also turned our garage into a gift shop. They donate their time and energy, and we’re so grateful.  

The Alta Vista Botanical board would like more people to join them. They are seeking additional contributors that know more about plants. “Right now, we are very fortunate that we have a few really helpful volunteers who helped me with the plants.”