Tucked away in a quiet residential neighborhood, the two-plus acre Point Loma Native Plant Garden is a neighborhood prize and a hidden gem.
“The neighbors call it their backyard,” said Al Field, a local volunteer who maintains the community garden. “And they’re very possessive about it.”
“This park is for the community,” agreed Jennifer Frey of the San Diego River Park Foundation, a nonprofit dedicated to maintaining the 52-mile stretch of the San Diego River from the eastern mountains to Point Loma and the coast. “It’s taken care of by the community. We like to have the community come out and see how beautiful these native plants are, see how ecologically valuable they are to the San Diego watershed. We want them to take it upon themselves to be stewards taking care of this, and learning about why native plants are so important.”
Noting there were about 400 volunteers a year taking care of the garden every other weekend pre-COVID, Frey added, “It’s their place to recreate and learn about native plants and help to be a cultivator of part of their watershed. This is one of the only sites that we host volunteers that is not directly in the river but is within the San Diego River watershed.”
Field and Frey talked about the origin of the garden.
“It was vacant space from 1972 to 1988 when the Point Loma Garden Club got together with the City’s Parks and Recreation Department and they laid out all the walking paths and had big equipment in here,” said Field. “The river park foundation took over after 2002. They (garden club) just couldn’t handle the maintenance requirements.”
“It was set aside as a preserve in 1976,” said Frey. It’s City-owned and part of Colliers Park, but the beautification, enhancement and community engagement is managed by the River Park Foundation and volunteers do all the pruning, planting and watering. The native habitat is also a way to help protect the watershed because they don’t use as many fertilizers and pesticides, etc.”
Field noted all of the garden’s plants are native to California including the Catalina Islands.
The Point Loma Native Plant Garden is community funded and donation-based with the support of grants,” said Frey. “Because of COVID we’ve had to go with a handful of select core volunteers that have been superstars during the pandemic,” she pointed out.
Another 17-year native-garden volunteer, Joel Kalmonson, expedited a quick tour of the spacious garden complex featuring a lot of comfortable benches. During the tour numerous fragrant native desert plants are revealed, like Santa Cruz Island Ceonothis, canyon gray sagebrush, native milkweed (a Monarch butterfly habitat), and several cactus varieties, as well as prime specimens of the high-profile Torrey pine. The garden, located at the corner of Greene Street and Mendocino Boulevard, also boasts a native plant nursery.
The best time to visit the garden?
“There really is something to be seen all year round, to see the changes,” responded Frey. “And the sage smells good year-round.”
“Spring, March through June, is the best because you get the flowers,” answered Field.
Neighbor Mike Rall, who lives a block away, showed up walking his dog on a sunny Saturday afternoon.
“This is great, Joel and Al take good care of this place,” noted Rall, adding the garden has become a community hub.
“I see the same people here all the time,” Rall said. “There are some folks from La Jolla who came down the other day just to see this place. It’s great just to go for a walk because it’s right here, close by. There’s tons of space. Everybody stays spread out. We can keep distance, And if we want to see one another – we can. They’ve done a great job with the paths and there’s a diversity of them for people with different abilities, even with walkers and wheelchairs.”
Added Rall, “It’s a showcase of how our natural, native plants can be beautiful, and they can be used in a garden setting to make this unique. And we get all sorts of wildlife here from marsh hawks, to barn owls, and a variety of jays and native birds like hummingbirds. This place is amazing.”
“We’re really looking forward to having events here again as soon as it’s safe to do so,” concluded Frey. “Now in the meantime, we’d love to have people come and enjoy it and explore. There are a lot of different opportunities where you can enjoy the river right now.”