Opinion Columns & Blogs

Babylon? We have great gardens here

As our recent weather has abundantly shown, we live in a Mediterranean climate, a unique situation that’s found in only five areas around the world. As such, we can grow certain plants that can’t be grown just anywhere.

I make note of this in light of a jewel that’s incrementally sprouting on 150 acres across Highway 1 from Cuesta College — the San Luis Obispo Botanical Gardens.

Haven’t been there? Here’s an opportunity to check out what is designed to be a world-class garden experience: The Sherry Austin Band will be giving a concert this Sunday at 4 p.m. as part of a series of concert fundraisers the garden plans this year.

The San Jose Mercury News has this to say about Austin: “Austin’s voice is like catching a wave. It’s smooth, comfortable. But every now and then it slaps you awake and demands every bit of your attention.

It’s the homey comfort of Dale Evans blended with the crisp edginess of a cool California blonde.” Well, all right then.

Tickets for garden members are $24; $28 for non-Garden members. They can be found online at www.slobg.org or by calling 541-1400, ext. 301.

Why should I carry this water for the garden? Because it’s truly an amazing place and deserves to be explored not only by county residents but also by some of the 4 million travelers who drive by the garden each year. As it stands, some 35,000 people visited the garden last year.

Yet (treading dangerously close to the edge of hyperbole), I think the garden has a toehold on becoming an attraction every bit as alluring as Hearst Castle and the Monterey Bay Aquarium — and so does Jan DiLeo. Jan is one of the garden’s shakers and movers, a dynamo who if cut would bleed recreation and education. Here’s her take on the garden’s timeline:

In 1989, a group of about 15 people had the idea of creating a botanical garden, although they didn’t have a location in mind.

By 1991, a nonprofit was formed, and two years later, a long-term lease was worked out with county parks for 150 acres in El Chorro Regional Park.

In 1997, a Preview Garden — with a donated design by landscape architect David Foote — was opened to the public. The following year, an award-winning master plan for the entire 150 acres was completed. In the mid-2000s, the garden hired an education coordinator, business manager and executive director.

In 2007, the 3,900-square-foot Oak Glen Pavilion was completed. Built with hay bale construction, which minimizes heating and cooling needs, the building is also equipped with solar panels and a rainwater collection system that holds 10,000 gallons.

All of this has been accomplished without going into debt, and a big reason for that is that more than 1,000 people volunteer their time to cover day-to-day operations. Buttressing their efforts are 240 regular volunteers who work at least 10 hours each month. In addition, the California Conservation Corps, Grizzly Academy and high school and college students donate their time and work.

If you haven’t checked out the garden (or even if you have — it is a living environment that changes and grows), Sunday’s Sherry Austin Band concert may be just the time.