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Manhattan Beach, CA
(West of Polliwog Park)
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History of the Garden

History of the Garden  Creation of the Manhattan Beach Botanical Garden began in 1992 by a group of concerned local citizens. To understand why, one first needs a short history lesson of the Southern California landscape. It begins millions of years ago, along with the geological history of Los Angeles. Let's briefly go back in time, way back, to an era so long ago that humans hadn't yet even walked the earth.

Although the Palos Verdes peninsula was situated about where it is now, it was separated from the mainland by water. It was 8th in a chain we call the Channel Islands. Neither it nor the other Channel Islands had ever been a part of the California landmass, but like Hawaii, had been created by volcanic activity. All the area we call Los Angeles had not yet been formed, and was part of the ocean floor.

Over the eons, tectonic activity and weather patterns bombarded the landscape.  The mountains you see surrounding Los Angeles were hit annually with snow, rain, wind, and even lightning, which caused natural fires.  As the ocean floor was thrust upwards, erosion brought soil from those mountains westward to the ocean. Eventually thlige seabed rose high enough to crest above the waves and become dry land.


The new landmass of built up silt formed a gradual plane. It led from the newly formed foothills, through coastal prairie filled with grasslands and sage scrub. The grasslands were separated by rivers and intertwining tributaries that drained southwest, terminating at the ocean. Los Angeles County looked very different than it does today, especially here along the coast.

History of the GardenThe soil that had been transported the farthest from the mountains became so worn and broken down that it was reduced to sand. This sand settled along the coast. Strong winds blew it back in an easterly direction each year, creating sand dunes such as this one that can still be seen at Sand Dune Park.

You can see how extensive the dunes were in this photo. They spanned all the way from Playa del Rey to Redondo Beach. Over thousands of years as the dunes rose from the impact of easterly wind, they formed barriers which prevented inland water from reaching the ocean. Depressions called vernal pools formed. This picture depicts how the South Bay was once covered with these vernal pools. Polliwog Park was once one such vernal pool.

History of the Garden

Vernal means spring, and these pools became lush springtime food and water sources for migrating and resident wildlife. As the seasons changed, the water in them evaporated or drained into the ground. They, along with the rivers and tributaries covering Los Angeles, lost much of their water or dried up completely in summer and fall. During these dry seasons, much of the landscape looked parched and dry.

History of the Manhattan Beach Botanical Garden

Plants however, evolved to survive the long dry periods. Some went dormant or deciduous like this Sycamore tree. Others, like this blue ceanothus, developed long central root systems called tap roots that could reach deep water.

History of the Manhattan Beach Botanical Garden

Still others, like these wildflowers, developed a strategy of quick germination and growth so that only their seeds would need to survive the dry spell. And some species stored water in their leaves like this succulent. Evolution's diversity was bountiful and effective.


History of the Manhattan Beach Botanical Garden

You can see that weather played a huge part in creating the geography and ecology of Los Angeles. As you may know, the term used today to describe our weather is Mediterranean. We are not a desert!

A Mediterranean climate zone has these basic characteristics: Rainy winters averaging 15 inches annually; dry summers and falls; and relatively moderate temperatures all year, rarely freezing and rarely getting hotter than 80 degrees.

In purple, the map above shows the only five Mediterranean climate zones on Earth. They are located along coastal Chile, the Mediterranean Basin of Europe, and in portions and southeast Australia, South Africa and California. Amazingly, though these five zones make up only 2.25% of the earth's surface, they are home to 16% of the all the world's plant species! And the numerous varieties of plants attract a huge range of wildlife including mammals, reptiles, birds and insects making our west coast paradise a unique and rare hotspot of biodiversity.

History of the Manhattan Beach Botanical Garden

History of the Manhattan Beach Botanical GardenSadly, that biodiversity is threatened by urbanization. Today, the only vernal pool left in all of Los Angeles County is the Madrona Marsh Preserve in Torrance. From the foothills to the coastal prairie and sand dunes, the environment that once existed has been irreversibly altered to accommodate homes, businesses, roads and parking lots among other things. Even the average park has been man-made.

The truth is, the comfortable, productive and happy lives we live would be impossible if our environment still looked like Madrona Marsh. But some lifestyle choices can be made by each and every one of us that will promote in better ways our native plant and wildlife biodiversity, and in doing so, conserve one of our most precious natural resources, water. These lifestyle choices can begin right in our own backyards, so to speak. Let's examine an average home landscape.

History of the Manhattan Beach Botanical Garden

Like the left-hand photo, most are comprised of non-native shrubs, a lawn and trees (only one palm, the fan palm, is native to southern CA.) This yard looks very nice, but since these plants have not evolved here, they have different water and soil requirements. Most need various fertilizers and insecticides to combat the many diseases they are prone to in this foreign land. They also need large amounts of water. The three huge aqueducts shown on the right reroute water from the north and east of us in order to supply our increasing water needs. But even these supplements are not enough. What can be done?

History of the Manhattan Beach Botanical Garden









One answer is education. And here begins the modern history of the Manhattan Beach Botanical Garden.

















History of the Manhattan Beach Botanical Garden

Way back in 1992, some South Bay residents with professions in business, horticulture and landscape design got together with a local organization called V.O.I.C.E. (Volunteers and Organizations Improving the Community's Environment). Concern over the environment brought them together, and they came up with an idea of how to teach resource conservation to the community in a fun and positive way. You can see some of the pioneers that are still with the organization today in the left hand photo starting second from the left: Kathleen Bullard, Mike Garcia, Ann Barklow, Gretchen Renshaw, and Dave Harris.

History of the Manhattan Beach Botanical Garden

Their idea was to create a demonstration garden of drought tolerant plants and install it in a free public park for all to visit. The garden they envisioned would promote wildlife and resource conservation by using and teaching Earth-friendly gardening techniques. It would attract wildlife while educating people.

History of the Manhattan Beach Botanical Garden

This garden would use organic mulch such as bark, leaves and woodchips. Mulch is the magic ingredient that many yards are missing these days. It helps the soil retain water by blocking evaporation. It deters weeds by blocking sunlight. It guards against disease and prevents erosion. It also attracts beneficial insects, creates natural fertilizer as it breaks down, and helps the soil maintain an even temperature during periods of extreme cold or heat by acting as insulation.

History of the Manhattan Beach Botanical GardenThe garden planners met with the Manhattan Beach Unified School District and the City of Manhattan Beach in hopes of using a parcel of land in Polliwog Park. Since the school district owned the land and the city maintained it, many details had to be worked out. The 2/3 acre property that was agreed upon was a former garden of the Neptunian Women's Club that was in need of a make-over.

With major donations by Chevron, local clubs like the Manhattan Beach Rotary Club, and many many supporters, the means to pay for the project materialized. It took 2 years of planning before the first official work day.

Finally however, in 1994, it was time for the water-guzzling bushes, non-permeable cement paths, and loads of debris to be removed so creation of the new garden could commence.

History of the Manhattan Beach Botanical Garden

History of the Manhattan Beach Botanical Garden
Large machinery was used to regrade the land. A group of 30-40 people worked diligently to clear the weedy, overgrown area, removing countless bags of garbage and unwanted material. Some trees like the Aleppo pines, a native White Alder and a California Bay Laurel were left in place.

History of the Manhattan Beach Botanical Garden

Next, the garden's design was roughed out, including placement of irrigation pipes. The pipes draw reclaimed water from the nearby El Segundo Reclamation Plant which helps save drinking water for people and is good for the plants.

Paths which would be made of water permeable decomposed granite were also laid out. Soil samples were sent to a lab for testing and gypsum was added after the results indicated depleted levels of essential minerals.

History of the Manhattan Beach Botanical Garden

The team kept wildlife and people in mind throughout the garden's design. One element was a dry creek bed where lizards and insects could hide under rocks. Surrounding it were planted flowering shrubs and Sycamore trees where birds could find shelter and food. The area was dubbed the Bird and Butterfly Habitat. These creatures would be easily visible to visitors as they walked along the path.

History of the Manhattan Beach Botanical Garden

The following year saw the installation of the Meditation Garden where various types of California natives were planted including ceanothus, salvia and a CA native Live Oak tree. For his Eagle Project, a Scout recently gave this area a makeover including the addition of a deck.

History of the Manhattan Beach Botanical Garden

The Matilija Poppy Hillside was planted next with donated cuttings. Matilija Poppies are one of our most spectacular California natives. In May and June this deciduous plant displays giant white flowers that are believed to be the largest of any California native - 6 in diameter. Their pedals look like crumpled crepe paper and their orange centers make them look like giant fried eggs. Those few cuttings have since grown to cover an entire hillside at the garden.

History of the Manhattan Beach Botanical Garden

In 1997 the organization became officially known as the Manhattan Beach Botanical Garden and established its own nonprofit status. No longer under the auspices of V.O.I.C.E., it became recognized by the IRS as a 501 © (3) corporation. With this designation, all donations are tax deductable.

History of the Manhattan Beach Botanical Garden

Years of fund-raising culminated in the completion of the walkways in 1999. Also, two more themed areas were planted. The first was the Children's Garden of Discovery, which features plants that appeal to a child's senses. It includes herbs like Rosemary and Blue Basil, plants with soft textures like a pretty succulent called Hens and Chicks, and many with animals names like this Lion's tail shown on the left. The other area was the Wildflower Meadow which showcases a variety of native wildflower species, including our state flower, the California poppy.

History of the Manhattan Beach Botanical Garden

In 2001, thanks to sponsorship from Chevron, an amphitheater was constructed. It was later covered with a shade structure to provide a comfortable space for classroom sized groups of up to 30 to meet, but is also suitable for smaller gatherings such as family picnics.

History of the Manhattan Beach Botanical Garden

A few months later in April, on a sunny spring afternoon with Earth Day celebrations in progress around the United States, the Manhattan Beach Botanical Garden officially opened to the public. It had taken nine years of planning, fundraising and building and was greeted enthusiastically by the community.

History of the Manhattan Beach Botanical Garden

Since that Grand Opening so many years ago, the garden and organization have steadily improved. Most recently the ugly original chain link fence was replaced by one of split-rail cedar. A volunteer designed and built it. An educational brochure was created by another volunteer, and a water permeable erosion-control brick path is being laid by others.

History of the Manhattan Beach Botanical Garden

Because the four basic needs of wildlife have been met; food, water, shelter, and a place to raise young, MBBG has earned a certified Wildlife Habitat designation from the National Wildlife Federation. Insects like these Monarch and Swallowtail butterflies are common. So are birds, lizards and a variety of interesting insects. Some are year-round residents and others are just passing through during their annual spring or fall migration. Check our website for a listing of critters that can be seen on a regular basis.

History of the Manhattan Beach Botanical Garden

The Manhattan Beach Botanical Garden is always seeking new sponsors, members and volunteers. Besides working in the garden, there are a variety of behind-the-scene tasks that need performing such as putting the newsletter together, helping with membership and tours, or even serving on our board.

And we're ever seeking to expand our little army of regular Friday morning volunteers, seen here at the annual volunteer appreciation lunch. We have lots of fun together and take pride in maintaining such a precious asset for our community. Through education, we promote Earth-friendly gardening for the conservation of water, wildlife and the well-being of our community.

History of the Manhattan Beach Botanical Garden

 
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