The San Luis Obispo Botanical Garden is Blooming

The main entrance to SLO Botanical Gardens. (Photo by Ruth Ann Angus)

It’s just a mile or so down the road but is a hidden marvel — The San Luis Obispo Botanical Gardens. There is always something going on at the Gardens with hikes and events and plant sales just some of the happenings.

Chenda Lor, the new Director of the Botanical Gardens wants everyone to know about the place and get involved. Lor came on board in January of this year and is fired up for all the programs they are offering.

“A big change for us this year is having the Live Oak Music Festival right in our own backyard,” she said. The Festival which moved from Ojai to El Chorro Regional Park takes place June 21 to 23 with live music all weekend throughout the park. You can learn more about that at The Gardens are taking advantage of the fact that the main performing stage is located right behind them and have planned some special events.

“We’ll have the Happy Hour Horticulture Tour,” Lor explained, “with docent-led walks around the garden.” Since it is a Happy Hour you are to BYOB and sip your beverage while you absorb the hardy horticulture, herbal history and get helpful hints. For this event you just meet at the Festival’s Art Walk located at the Garden’s Gift Shop on Friday at 5 p.m., Saturday at 3:30 p.m. and Sunday at 2 p.m. A suggested donation of $5 would be appreciated.

Another event during the music festival is Nature Crown Creation. This is a hands-on activity to create decorative head adornments consisting of compostable materials. Great fun for kids of all ages from five to 105! Meet at the Gift Shop Friday at 5-5:30 p.m.., Saturday at 3:30-4:30 p.m. and Sunday at 2-2:30 p.m. Suggested donation $5.00.

The San Luis Obispo Botanical Gardens began in 1989 through the interest and hard work of Eve Vigil who is still a major volunteer. Vigil came to the idea with others while studying at Cal Poly University for her Graduate degree. Her professor thought it would be great to plant xeriscape gardens here, so they developed a master plan and were able to acquire use of 150 acres of El Chorro Regional Park. They developed Friends of the Botanical Gardens as a 501c3 organization of volunteers. The SLO Botanical Gardens is the only garden of its kind in the world exclusively devoted to the ecosystems and plants of the five Mediterranean climate regions.

Lor, who was born in Cambodia but came to the States when she was five, comes to her job with a background in construction. She and her former husband started Better Builders Incorporated in San Luis Obispo and when the depression of 2008 came about sold everything and took their children on an around the world tour. “My life journey has prepared me for this job,” she said. She found the position through her friend Jill White, Director of Transitions Mental Health who told her of the job posting. Lor has plans to create a Mental Health Cafe at the Gardens based on one she saw in Chicago. “This would be a place for youth to come and deal with the problems they face now in modern times,” she said.

About 12 acres of the Gardens are planted and developed with trails. These include the main gardens, the Children’s Garden, the Fire Safe Garden and the building with the gift shop, offices, and event center. There is summer camp at the Gardens and in the fall a major plant sale, although plants are always on sale there. Lor has a huge list of maintenance projects so is always looking for donations. There are only three paid staff people, an education director and development director and all the rest of the work is performed by volunteers. The event center is available for rent and many groups hold functions there among them the Morro Coast Audubon Society. There are opportunities for a work-trade option for use of the center.

An upcoming event is the Mindfulness Meditation for Everyone with meditation guide, Dawn Feuerberg on Tuesday mornings from 11:30 a.m. to 12:15 p.m. Feuerberg will demystify meditation with clear, practical guidance. She has been a meditation guide, a Spanish professor, a travel guide, a nature enthusiast, a surfer, and a yoga practitioner for 28 years. She will guide people through classic mindfulness techniques for 20 minutes to bring balanced relaxation, restoration of energy, to improve one’s well-being and clear the mind. Members $10 and Nonmembers $15.

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