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South Coast Botanic Garden

South Coast Botanic Garden
Palos Verdes, California

Whenever possible I like to visit a garden more than once to experience another blooming season, or just get a better feel for the place to determine its proper rating. My second visit to the South Coast Botanic Garden left me with the same impression as the first, something resembling a mild case of aesthetic whiplash. Several colorful themed areas and manicured lawns draw attention just inside the entrance but the atmosphere of the garden drastically shifts into an expansive dry “forest” area which I found slightly creepy. All uneasiness aside, I would still encourage a visit because the well-tended areas are quite charming and they seem to be continuously adding more gardens and evolving into (or possibly reclaiming) something even more engaging.

Just past the gift shop several modest-sized gardens establish a welcoming, rustic vibe. The Japanese Garden is tucked into a compact area but still manages to evoke all the ambience one expects of such a feature, like the cycads and clipped pines surrounding a stone lantern, leading the way to a rocky waterfall and koi pond lined with deep red canna. The adjacent shady Fuschia Garden rewards a closer look with a wide selection of flowers in combinations of whites, reds, and the signature fuschia color hanging down from above, some popping from larger bushes below.

The Volunteer Flower Garden was bursting with seasonal variations—late fall in this case. The sun was setting a mass of paperwhite narcissus aglow, surrounded by clouds of smaller white and orange flowers. Nearby clusters of light purple blossoms from the tree dahlias bobbed high overhead, some of their fallen petals adding to the color play in the lower plantings.

One of the most engrossing sections of the garden is the most suited to the California terrain. An eclectic mix of of cactus, euphorbia, and various succulents growing in expressive gestures populates the Desert Garden. And what was a newly-cleared hillside on my first visit had evolved into an aloe garden, which shows promise in its variety. From here the numerous pathways lead further into the sprawling back portion of the garden, where things get a little rougher.

Final Rating: The property on which the South Coast Botanic Garden sits has been historically dug open by extensive mining, packed back in as a landfill, and gradually transformed into a sprawling botanic garden/land reclamation project. While the garden seems to be in a constant state of renovation and expansion, it apparently lost some of its former glory evident in the dried up creek and riverbeds. I am all for a native landscape and championing water conservation, but at times whole sections seemed neglected. It would be nice to see some of the impressive attention to detail and renovations be spread more evenly throughout, to bring out the garden’s full potential. 3 BLOOM RATING

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