South Coast Botanic Garden: new life on top of a landfill

You've never heard of the South Coast Botanic Garden? I don't think it would have been on my radar either if it hadn't been for the occasional post by Kris Peterson on her blog Late to the Garden Party. In an area full of A-listers like the Huntington and the Los Angeles County Arboretum, the South Coast Botanic Garden (SCBG) is probably only on the B- or C-list. But that's OK. Not everybody strives to be a superstar. Life is more relaxed, and there are far fewer paparazzi to deal with.

The SCBG is just 5 miles from Kris's house, and I gladly accepted her offer to show me around. The sun was already low in the sky when we arrived, and we were rushing through the various areas to see as much as we could before we ran out of light. I definitely want to go back in the late spring or early summer when more flowering plants are in bloom.

One area that looks good year-round is the Desert Garden. Spiky plants don't need flowers to impress. More photos from the Desert Garden in a little bit.

Desert Garden

The history of the South Coast Botanic Garden is quite remarkable.

From the early 1900s to 1956, the area now occupied by the SCBG was a diatomaceous earth mine. No longer productive, the mine was sold to Los Angeles County in 1956 which began to use it as a sanitary landfill. In 1961, a group of private citizens achieved something that must have seemed impossible then (heck, it still does now): They persuaded the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors to turn the landfill into a botanical garden! I have no idea how they did that, but in April over 40,000 donated trees were planted. Since then, the collection has increased to over 200,000 plants.

The success of this remarkable reclamation project has drawn experts from all over the world who are studying the feasibility of similar projects in their own country. I for one think the world would be a better place if we created more gardens instead of shopping malls!

As I mentioned earlier, Kris and I didn't have much time so I wasn't able to explore the SCBG more thoroughly. As you can see on this map, there are 39 different gardens and collections spread out over an area of 87 acres, including a fuchsia garden, a dahlia garden, and a brand-new rose garden. Looking at them all would take at least half a day. But I'm glad I have something left to do on a future trip.

Aloe marlothii at the entrance to the SCBG

Because of the fading light I took far fewer photos than usual so consider this post to be a visual appetizer.


Massive Brugmansia

My favorite spot was the Desert Garden. It's not huge and the collection isn't heavy on rare or unusual plants, but there are some nice specimens.

Ocotillo in flower (Fouquieria splendens)

Sotols (Dasylirion longissimum on the left, Dasylirion wheeleri on the right) and golden barrels (Echinocactus grusonii)

Agave potatorum and Cleistocactus strausii

Agave potatorum and Cleistocactus strausii

Ghostly-looking cactus in the fading light

Larger view of the Desert Garden

Aloes and tree euphorbias

Euphorbia ammak 'Variegata'

Aloe 'David Verity'

In closing, I should mention that the SCBG gift shop does sell plants. The selection wasn't large but the prices were refreshingly reasonable—they definitely want to move those plants. I found a well grown Aloe vanbalenii bursting out of a #1 pot for $8.00. That put a smile on my face.

I was dog-tired when I fell into bed that day, December 27. In the morning I'd gone to Roger's Garden and to the Sherman Library & Gardens. After a quick stop at Village Nurseries in Huntington Beach I headed on to Kris "Late to the Garden Party" Peterson's garden, and the two of us the went to the South Coast Botanic Garden. I'm not sure I ever had lunch that day. But that's how I roll on my solo trips—exploring has priority over food. At least as long as I can grab a coffee every now and then.



  1. Oh that clump of Agave potatorum is just the thing ! It's interesting for me to ponder that I lived only a few miles from this garden in the 60's but knew nothing of it's existence. I think I was more interested in the Beatles at that point.

    1. I agree, those Agave potatorum were da bomb.

      I just love the SCBG's story of transformation. I have no idea how widely known the garden was when you lived there.

  2. You captured a great view of the Euphorbia ammak! In addition to the poor light, the garden wasn't at its best at the time of that visit with parts of the desert garden roped off. I hope you can see it under better circumstances on another visit, maybe when the desert garden expansion is ready for prime-time viewing.

    1. The Desert Garden expansion will be awesome. It looked like they were doing a great job terracing that hillside. We missed the Japanese Garden; I want to explore it the next time.

  3. OMG, that gargantuan brugmansia took my breath away. Amazing to contemplate fuchsias happily growing in the same garden as all of those gorgeous cacti and succulents!

    1. That brugmansis sure was impressive. I couldn't believe how tall it was. I guess that's what you get when there are no setbacks because of cold weather.

  4. Those Agave potatorum...I have no words!

  5. Another thumbs up on the beautiful potatorums.

    My Dad took us there a couple of times when it was a landfill. Can only remember the smell and a gazillion Sea Gulls everywhere. That is Sunset 24 so they can grow gorgeous Fuchsias. A surprise to see Ocotillo doing well in 24!

    1. Sea gulls! If there's ever a bird I associate with garbage, it's sea gulls :-)

      I didn't think the Palos Verdes Peninsula gets hot enough for ocotillo but heck, I was wrong.

  6. Oh my, Agave potatorum is officially on my must-have list now!

  7. And the carpet of Senecio at the entrance is really something as well!

    1. Agreed! If only Senecio serpens grew like that up here. I found it to be anything but vigorous. S. mandraliscae grows much better but it looks less elegant.


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