Ventura Botanical Gardens of inspiration
Landscape architect Mia Lehrer spearheads one-of-kind project
By Michael Sullivan 08/30/2012
There has been much buzz about the establishment of the Ventura Botanical Gardens. Located at Grant Park on 107 acres on the hillside above City Hall, it will be a destination for county and Southern California residents with the hope that the project may gain national attention.
What sets the vision for this project apart from any other botanical garden in the United States — making it a truly unique endeavor — is the creation of the Mediterranean biome, which includes flora from five different regions of the planet: Australia, Chile, Cape Town, the Mediterranean and Southern California. Technically speaking, the Mediterranean biome is the western edge of a land mass, facing a cold ocean, though Cape Town’s designation remains somewhat of a mystery. The vision is for the botanical gardens to thrive naturally in an eco-friendly sustainable way and to serve as a model, even an inspiration, for what Southern California residents can do with their own gardens, using diverse plants that survive in warm, arid climates around the world.
It’s been a long time (and a lot of money — $400,000 so far) coming to grow the Ventura Botanical Gardens from just an idea into a reality. A team of volunteer community members has been working diligently for six years, some even longer, on the project. Mid summer, they made significant headway when they broke ground on the Demonstration Trail, a one-mile trail through Grant Park, which should be completed by Oct. 6. The next step is to build the gardens, one region at a time. That is where Mia Lehrer, international landscape architect and president of Los Angeles-based Mia Lehrer + Associates, steps in, literally mapping out the vision and creating, in tandem with dedicated volunteers, the destination.
Lehrer, originally from El Salvador, came to Somis last week to speak with community members about the vision for the Ventura Botanical Gardens; it was an informational meeting, a fundraiser and a call out for locals to travel to Chile in October 2013 and explore the region with the hopes of finding plants suitable for the first garden of the project. Lehrer spoke with the VCReporter this week about everything botanical.
How would the botanical gardens in Ventura be different than any other botanical garden?
Botanical gardens throughout the different centuries — the first ones in Europe — people would travel the world and bring back trophies, such as cocoa plants or palm trees, or bring back orchids, so they would be these trophy gardens. We want to actually build the Ventura Botanical Gardens in such a way that is relevant for things going on today, like water conservation and a respect for the land. And in looking at that site, and California in general, a botanical gardens that thrives in an arid climate.
The reason plants do so well in our climate is because [for many people] we are pretty irresponsible about water. But in fact, if we were in a new era, we need to be more focused on what does well without a lot of water. When we start thinking about botanical gardens, how does it speak to the community, to the region? How does it speak to our times? What about these times are different? We don’t necessarily want to bring orchids and put it into a latch house that we have to take care of. We want things to be more natural and we want kids to take message home.
It seems a big part is to inspire others.
That’s what’s beautiful, is looking at all these other biomes and these areas that share the right climate, and realize other plants aren’t necessarily from here but thrive here.
How hard do you think it is to change a community from lawns to more natural gardens?
There are native grasses that have the same sort of opportunities that our lawns provide. Meadow grasses and low-growing grasses, pristine lush green lawns use so much water. We are already finding that many people are not caring for conventional lawns, maintentance, water, mowing. Everything from trees to shrubs, we decided to do these different gardens that really highlight the vegetation from those set of countries.
How long will it take to fully develop the various biomes with thousands of species of plants?
Most of these larger infrastructure projects take around 10 years. Somebody who is extremely generous that comes up with the funds and things happen faster, but it is just a matter of whether we can inspire people. It’s really wonderful for the community to be building something together.
For more information on the Ventura Botanical Gardens and the conceptual design, or to make a donation or purchase footage along the Demonstration Trail ($50 per foot), go to www.venturabotanicalgardens.com/. To participate in the trip to Chile in October 2013, contact Kristin Taylor at firstname.lastname@example.org.