Many people connect with nature through gardening. When we care for plants, cultivating them with the clean soil, pure water, unpolluted air and climate they need, our rewards are tangible: beautiful blooms, cooling shade and nutritious food. Gardening also is a “gateway” activity leading to composting, and once people become compost-makers, or even just casual mulch users, their environmental eyes are opened.

Local gardens
Two botanic gardens in Ventura County act as “pushers” for the eco-gardening lifestyle, not only providing examples for the public to emulate, but also actively promoting composting, mulching, efficient watering and climate-appropriate plants. The Conejo Valley Botanic Garden and the Ventura Botanical Garden both make education a centerpiece of their missions.

Conejo Valley Botanic Garden uses signs along a nature trail, volunteer docents giving school tours, and tour/work combinations for adult education to communicate a variety of environmental messages. Visitors see compost in various stages in a nursery that propagates native and Mediterranean-climate plants, which are sold along with food plants and herbs during regular events in a Kids’ Adventure Garden area. Educational efforts also promote the butterfly garden, bird habitat and chaparral/native growth areas of this 33-acre site, according to Barbara Song, a member of the board of directors.

Education is also a focus of the Ventura Botanical Garden, and the website states its commitment to “integrate opportunities for education … display threatened plant species …, provide habitat for a … diversity of plants and animals, create habitat corridors … and promote environmentally sustainable development.” Doug Halter, president of the Ventura Botanical Garden’s board of directors, described an impressive educational tool that garden organizers plan to use: an app-based “story trail.” “People using their phones will get narration, guiding them along the trails while informing them on topics ranging from the garden’s efficient irrigation system to the incorporation of bioswales for reuse of runoff,” he said.

You can find out more about applying the lessons of the botanic gardens to your home by attending the Ventura Botanical Garden’s sixth annual Spring Garden Tour on April 26, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Groups will tour six homes’ gardens, which will include demonstrations of water-wise technologies. An after-party, from 4 to 7 p.m. at one of the homes, is included for an admission price of $80, or you can go on just the garden tours for $30.

Tickets are available at, the Pacific View Mall, Palermo, Danny’s Deli, Green Thumb and other locations; or for more information, email

Contrast with Butchart
We are lucky our botanical gardens include education in their missions. Compare these local gardens on one of the most internationally famous gardens; more than a million visitors per year pay an admission price of up to $30 per person to see the Butchart Gardens’ awesome profusion of beauty on Vancouver Island in Canada. But Butchart administrators actually downplay their environmental initiatives.

For example, buried three levels beyond the home page of Butchart Gardens’ website is valuable testimony to the practice of integrated pest management, stating how their gardeners rely primarily on mechanical, not chemical, methods to protect their flowers. Gardeners mainly work “by hand” to eliminate weeds “without the use of herbicides.” Similarly, they employ biological controls, using “natural enemies to control pests and diseases,” including, for example, using ladybugs to eat aphids.

Other environmental initiatives of this world-famous site include food waste composting, mulching and use of organic-based fertilizers.

Richard Los, director of horticulture for the Butchart Gardens, and Laurel Akam, Butchart’s assistant general manager, replied by email to an inquiry about why Butchart Gardens doesn’t follow Ventura County’s impressive approach. “Why not use signs, brochures or perhaps tours of compost sites to promote sustainable environmental practices?” In answer, they stressed the “primary purpose” of this “privately owned display garden … is not educational.” Allowing visitors to see their compost site, for example, is out of the question because their “composting operations (are) an industrial worksite” and therefore “will never be accessible to the public.”

Here in Ventura County, where we may be more down-to-earth, our gardens will continue to lead by example, including educational displays.

Volunteer gardeners needed
Your help is needed for a very different type of gardening at McGrath State Beach at 8:30 a.m. on April 12. Friends of Channel Coast State Parks is organizing volunteers to remove mud and dead vegetation, getting the park ready for the summer season.

Bring a hat, sunscreen, work gloves and gardening tools. Lunch, drinks and snacks will be provided, as well as park passes and a small gift.

For more information, email, or visit

David Goldstein is in the Integrated Waste Management Division of the Ventura County Public Works Agency. The Eye on the Environment column is a public service of the Ventura County Public Works Agency.