Garden Features

Take this guided tour of the South Bay Botanic Garden. To download a PDF version of this tour Click Here.

Note: You will need a one-day parking pass to park outside of the garden. Click Here to see instructions on how to obtain a parking pass.

As you enter the South Bay Botanic Garden, pass under the entrance arbor, turn left on the gravel road and look for the greenhouse on your left. Slide open the large door and walk into the:

Tropical House  The Tropical Greenhouse at the South Bay Botanic Garden showcases plants that grow in the tropical and subtropical regions of the world.  They like warm temperatures and higher huTropical Collectionmidity and generally cannot survive temperatures that persist under 50 degrees.  Our plants grow around a waterfall and disappearing stream.  In addition, an overhead mist system comes on as needed to provide extra humidity.

Tropical plants can be easily grown outdoors in the San Diego area.  They do need some protection against cold nights and hot, drying Santa Ana winds.  Homes located near the coast have better luck growing many of the tropical plants than do homes located inland.

Click here for a guide to these plants.

Here is a great video of the Tropical House presented and filmed by the Girl Scout Troop 5567.  Great job young ladies!

After leaving the Tropical House, proceed left up the road. Take a quick look on your left at the:

Vegetable Garden - This area shows how the use of raised beds can make vegetable gardening fun and easy. Each bed is filled with garden soil that has been amended frequently with manure, compost, and used potting soil. This is far superior to gardening in the native hard clay soil we have at the South Bay Botanic Garden. The garden is planted by the students in the basic introductory horticulture class entitled "Plant and Horticultural Science". Located just behind the garden is a small hydroponic house that provides an alternative to the growing of vegetables outdoors.

While leaving the Vegetable Garden, you might notice on the green potting shed a sample of:

Vertical Gardening - Vertical gardening is becoming more and more popular, especially in urban settings that have little available land. Vegetables or ornamental plants can be grown in the small cells that make up the hanging planter. Also, these vertical planters can provide shade to sun-facing walls and reduce heat build up, thereby reducing utility bills.

After passing the small green potting shed, a small path shoots off the gravel road to the left and enters the:

Compost Demonstration Area - this area is designed to showcase different composting methods and devices. These devices are perfect for home composting of garden refuse, kitchen wastes, and other appropriate compostable materials. Benches are installed to allow for outdoor composting workshops.

Return back to the road and follow the gravel road as it bends to the right. At this point is planted the South Bay Botanic Garden's

Cacti and Succulent Collection - Over 100 different cacti and succulents are planted here. Pick up a guide in the mailbox and use the numbered tags to help you identify your favorites. Cacti and succulents can be very addicting. Once you take a look at the vast variety of foliage shapes, textures, and colors, you might find yourself "hooked". And, every once and while, these plants can surprise you with some fantastic blooms. What better way to rid yourself of water-thirsty plants and provide your landscape with easy-to-care-for specimens! 

What is the difference between a cactus and a succulent?  Well, according to Wikipedia "The best-known succulents are cacti (family: Cactaceae). Virtually all cacti are succulents, but not all Succulent Collectionsucculents are cacti. There is a significant difference between succulents that evolved in Africa and those that evolved in the Americas, the New World plants called cacti all have spines. No succulent plants arising in the Old World have spines although, through parallel evolution, there are similar species in the Old World that closely resemble species in the new world that do have spines....  The spines of cacti arose from leaf structures."  And, herre is a further definition of succulents:  "Succulent plants, also known as succulents or fat plants, are water-retaining plants adapted to arid climates or soil conditions. Succulent plants store water in their leaves, stems, and also in roots."

While cacti and succulents may not be the end-all to water conserving landscapes, they are certainly a fascinating group of plants valued for fantastic leaf shapes, colors, and interest.  Add to that the surprise of some beautiful blooms, cacti and succulents can provide a great focal point in your garden.  And, be careful, they can be addicting.

Click Here to download the Cacti and Succulent Plant Guide.

After you get past the 100th numbered succulent, turn left under the arbor and just a few feet past this entrance you will see a garden path that takes you to the right and into the

California Native Garden - Renovated in December 2010, this garden groups California Native Plants by the regions and the micro-climates in which they grow. Visit this garden regularly to get a glimpse of just how attractive natives can be depending on the season in which they are observed. Add to that their lower water needs, and you can see why there is a big move to replace imported plants with our own California beauties. 

Often under-appreciated, California native plants can surprise you with their flowers, textures, forms, and fragrances.  In visiting the new California Native Garden at the South Bay Botanic Garden, you will discover that these plants can create a special place in your home landscape.

California native plants have enough variety to provide interest all year round.  Sure, there is no doubt that many of them shine the most in spring and early summer but there are also many different native plant choices that show beauty and can catch your eye in fall and winter.  Added to their beauty is the fact that most natives are water-conserving and sometimes only need light pruning once per year.

The Grand Opening of the New California Native Garden was held on Saturday, April 14th, 2012.  For a plant list, click here.

After meandering around the California Native Garden, find the path that takes you across the flagstone walk and and enter the small gate into

Monocot Meadow - Completed in the spring 2013, this garden showcases the vast variety of plants in the monocot (grass) family. Ornamental grasses in this garden can make excellent ground covers, accent plants, and lawn replacements.

What is a monocot?  Well, in its basic terms, a monocot is any plant that germinates from seed and produces one seedling leaf.  Examples are corn, lilies, tulips, palm trees, and all of the grasses we typically use for home lawns.  Monocots share space with dicots in the major group of plants called angiosperms, also known as the flowering plant group.  Dicots germinate with two seedling leaves and are often called broadleafed plants.Monocot Meadow Grass

Monocot Meadow's main goal is to display the wide range of ornamental grasses, bulbs, and other similar "one-seedling leaf" plants that can be used in the landscape.  Monocots can be used in the landscape for a multitude of reasons:

  • to replace water-loving lawns
  • to provide interesting foliage shapes and textures
  • to introduce unusual colors which provide variety and beauty to the garden
  • to induce movement, as many ornamental grasses sway graciously with the wind

The area in which Monocot Meadow now exists was first a 3,000 square foot traditional lawn that required frequent watering, fertilizers, and mowing.  Construction began in 2009 with the removal of the lawn, the change of the irrigation system from spray heads to micro-sprays, and the building of mounds and paths.  The first planting day occurred on March 19th, 2011.  For a downloadable guide, click here.

Also, keep your eyes out for the planting of our two art features:  a praying mantis and an outdoor double bed.

Exit Monocot Meadow at the opposite end of where you entered (by the flagstone drinking fountain and turn right at the concrete sidewalk. You may want to pause here and observe the unusual...

Bunya-Bunya Tree - Grab a drink of water at the nearby fountain and admire this unusual tree that comes from Queensland, Australia. With sharp-pointed leaf tips and more serious "spines" along the trunk, you definitely won't want to get too close to this tree. Add to it the large cones that come can come crashing down (which can weigh 10 pounds or more!), and you best put on a hard-hat! This stately tree (Araucaria bidwillii) is best reserved for larger lots, open areas, and arboretums!

After admiring this tree, head just a few feet up the sidewalk and take a look at the beginning our the South Bay Botanic Garden collection of

Rare and Exotic Fruiting Plants - Is there any better reward than can come from gardening then that of picking tree-ripened fruits from your own yard.  At the South Bay Botanic Garden, you can observe the growing, pruning, and training of fruit trees, berries, vines, and shrubs that produce edible fruit.  Our emphasis is on growing and training these plants so that they will fit into the smaller-sized San Diego landscapes.

Assisting us in this endeavor is the local San Diego Chapter of the California Rare Fruit Growers.  This group has volunteered their time and donated several plants in helping us build our fruit collection.  Take a walk around the garden and observe the following:

  • Banana collection with approximate 20 varieties
  • Dragon fruit collection
  • Apple and stone fruit trees trained in a space-saving espalier method
  • Blackberries varieties
  • 12 varieties of pomegranates
  • Unusual and not so unusual tropical fruits such as persimmon, cherimoya, fig, and guava

Once you have past the banana collection, continue along the sidewalk until it begins to make a sharp right turn. On your right is a new garden collection featuring: 

Dry Feet Garden or "Plants that need Excellent Drainage" - Just behind the deck is a sloping garden filled with fast-draining decomposed granite soil. Many of our local plants will only do well with rapid drainage and no water "standing" around their roots. This area will showcase these plants that you often find in our higher elevations around San Diego county or in similar areas around the world. It is irrigated by a drip system and you can see the typical components of a drip system located just to the right of this garden.   And, this garden now features a disappearing waterfall and stream - a feature that helps to introduce water into the garden but eliminates the evaporation potential of a still pond.

Many of San Diego's soils are classified as heavy soils, meaning they tend to be on the clay side and this results in a soil that stays too wet and does not allow for good aeration to plant roots.  The soil at the South Bay Botanic Garden is classified as a Diablo clay, and makes the growing of some plants almost impossible.

Hence, the "Dry Feet" Garden.  In this small area are plants that typically grow in sandy or rocky soils, or grow on the sides of slopes.  You will see some ceanothus, grevilleas, proteas, and other plants from the more arid parts of the world.  The area is irrigated with a drip system and the plants are all growing in decomposed granite.

Continue along the concrete sidewalk until it forks. Take the right fork. On your left are a variety of different or "not so common" trees and shrubs you might consider for your garden. Once the concrete sidewalk returns to the gravel road, turn left. After a few paces, you will come upon the

Formal Rose Garden - This garden reflects a more organized, stately appearance. With clipped boxwood hedges, small topiary India Hawthorne trees and formal paths, it is a great example of gardens often found in Europe. Our rose collection is growing inside these border hedges, featuring 16 different rose varieties.  Visit in April for the best rose blooms however roses in the San Diego area can bloom year-round.

After observing this garden, head towards the rear of the Formal and Rose Garden and find the concrete sidewalk and turn right. As you continue along this sidewalk, look for more plants of the Rare and Exotic Fruiting type. These are located along the sidewalk and around and behind the Gazebo. As the walk passes by the Gazebo, step about 10 paces away so you can observe the gazebo and see the

Green Roof - This gazebo's roof is planted with succulents and illustrates a method to transform barren hot roofs into a more sustainable entity.

Why a green roof?  Well, green roofs can do the following:

  • Lessen the heat build-on roofs
  • Lessen heat radiation back into our cities
  • Provide oxygen to our urban air
  • Absorb carbon dioxide, dust, and other pollutants
  • Provide a location for birds and other related organisms
  • Beautify our urban environment
  • They are fun!

Our green roof demonstration garden is built on a sloping octagonal roof that covers a gazebo.  Planted with succulents to lessen the water and maintenance needs, this roof was easy to plant and is fun to watch as it matures.

Continue on the sidewalk and walk to the right of the gazebo and you should hear the sound of water. You are now at our

Water Garden - Water features add beauty, soft and pleasing sounds, and wildlife to your garden. They can be a bold statement or a more subtle focal point. The proper mixture of fish and water plants can make for a somewhat self-maintaining pond that brings in birds, dragonflies, and other wildlife that is often pushed out of urban environments. Relax on the deck and enjoy the garden surroundings!

Yes, ponds do require energy to run the pump and water to replace caused by evaporation and transpiration.  However, ponds in urban environments do provide some valuable "green" benefits:

  • Providing a location to invite wildlife and insects into your garden
  • Pleasant sounding and pleasant looking, they provide an escape from our urban stresses
  • Provide moisture and humidity in an otherwise dry environment
  • Allow for the fun gardening of water plants and raising of fish and turtles
Continue along the concrete sidewalk and take some time to see some different trees planted on your right. These include Atlas Cedars (Cedrus atlantica), a Mulberry tree (Morus alba), a Dawn Redwood (Metasequoia glyptostroboides), a Chir Pine (Pinus roxburghii), a Deodar Cedar (Cedrus deodara), and - right where the sidewalk begins to turn right - a Valley Oak (Quercus lobata). As you make the right turn of the sidewalk, take a look at the: 

Plumeria Garden - This area was recently planted in September, 2016 and will showcase different varieties of Plumerias.  Although we think of Plumerias as being from Hawaii, they are actually more native to the tropical areas of Mexico and South Americas.  If in bloom, be sure to walk up and take a whiff of the fantastic fragrance they provide.  

This garden showcases different varieties of Plumerias.  San Diego has an ideal climate for these unusual, fragrant, and beautiful blooming plants.  And while we most often associate Plumerias with the Hawaiian Islands, these plants are actually native to Central America, Mexico, the Caribbean, and South America all the way down to Brazil.  And, believe it or not, they are in the same family as our common Oleander.

The garden is a joint effort with the Southern California Plumeria Society and one of their more enthusiastic members Jeff Sharp.  Our thanks go out to Jeff and the Plumeria Society.

And, if you are next to one of the Plumerias, you can also see the:

Putting Green - This green is used for the purpose of training our students majoring in the Golf and Sports Turf Management field. The grass is a new trial for the San Diego area, using a turf called Sea Spray Paspalum. This grass is more salt-tolerant and more drought tolerant than traditional bentgrass and annual bluegrass putting greens now being used in San Diego. If it succeeds in being used on golf courses, then less water will be needed and it will even tolerate reclaimed water from treatment plants.

Once past the putting green, turn right on the gravel road. On your right coming up are the:

Ground Cover Demonstration Plots -  Do you need a plant that can quickly cover that large slope at your home?  Or, have you removed your water-grabbing lawn and want to replace it with a plant that will cover the area with less care?  Or, how about a dainty spreading plant that will fill in between some stepping stones?  If this is the case, the visit our collection of 23 different ground covers at the South Bay Botanic Garden.

Ground covers provide both beauty and functionality to the landscape.  They prevent erosion, need less care than lawns, and help to modify the temperatures in your home environment.  In addition, they can provide beauty in both foliage and blooms. 

Visit the ground cover plots and pick up a free guide in the nearby mailbox that provides their names, features, and growing needs.

After you have observed the Ground Cover Plots, continue up the gravel road until you reach a small brick planter on your left. Inside that planter is a very impressive:

Floss Silk Tree - Another fantastic tree of the many growing in the South Bay Botanic Garden. This tree (Chorisia speciosa) comes from Brazil, Paraguay, and Argentina. The tree has many great features: spiny trunks and branches, loads of pink "hibiscus-like" blooms in September, and unusual 'avocado-shaped' fruits in winter that split open and provide white, silky fibers used to stuff pillows in its native regions.

Continue left on the sidewalk located next to the brick planter and pass the wood deck on your right. Turn left where the deck ends and head towards the central patio area. On your left is the

Undersea Garden - What do you do with an old water-leaking and water-wasting fountain?  Why not have some fun and turn it into a replica of an undersea coral reef.  Well, that's what was done by volunteers of the South Bay Botanic Garden in December, 2012.  This garden uses mostly succulents and lava rock and some ceramic fish to create a "water-garden" that almost never needs water!  A fun and whimsical garden just about anyone could create.

Continue down the sidewalk to the main central patio and observe a Ginkgo Tree (Ginkgo biloba) in the square brick planter, and the huge overstory tree called a Southern Live Oak (Quercus virginiana). Pass under this oak back to the gravel road and turn left down the road. After passing by the large storage building on your right, look for an entrance to a lawn that passes under a vine-covered arbor. Head into the

The Gathering Spot - Dedicated to Dr. Bill Nelson (former owner of Pacific Tree Farms) for his donation of numerous trees to this garden and to many other San Diego landscapes, the Gathering Spot is a beautifully landscaped area designed for smaller college and public events.  With multi-tiered lawns, sitting walls, a covered deck, BBQ, and sustainable features such as permeable pavers, this location is a wonderful setting for outdoor public activities.  

This garden area evolved over a 30-year period from 1981.  However it became too small and inadequate to handle many college events.  A redesign initiated in 2013 by students in the Landscape Architecture program resulted in multiple concepts and plans. Once the final design was selected (created by Landscape Architecture student Onie Hadloc), construction began in the summer of 2014.  By using donations, student lab learning experiences, volunteer work, and squeezing out funds from college supply budgets, the project completed in the Fall 2015.

Those wishing to use the Gathering Spot for an event must make advanced reservations by contacting the Facilities Office at Southwestern College.  Enjoy!

 Acknowledgements and Thanks!:

Dedicated to:

  • Dr. Bill Nelson – Owner of Pacific Tree Farms and long time advisory member of the Landscape and Nursery Technology program.

Designed by:

  • Landscape Architecture degree student – Onie Hadloc
  • Landscape Architecture program instructor – Michelle Landis

Donated and Discounted Landscape Materials provided by:

  • Belgard Pavers – Seth Seaton  - Sidewalk pavers
  • RCP Block and Brick – Retaining wall blocks
  • South Bay Botanic Garden - delivery of pavers

Constructed by students of the following Landscape and Nursery Technology classes:

  • Landscape Construction 2013, 2014, 2015 – Instructor: Micheal Watts
  • Plant and Horticultural Science – Instructor:  Leah Rottke
  • Turf Management – Instructor: Bill Homyak

Plants propagated and grown by LNT Nursery student worker:

  • Michelle Kriz

Project overseen and also countless labor hours provided by:

  • Eddie Munguia – Horticulture Field Site Lab Assistant

Volunteer hours provided by:

  • South Bay Botanic Garden volunteers
  • LNT Students
  • Past LNT Instructors Bill Homyak and Meredith Sinclair

You might also notice a traditional orchard which grows stone fruits, apples, pears, and figs. This area is also used to train students in the proper techniques in fruit tree pruning.

Congratulations, you have finished the loop of the South Bay Botanic Garden. Head up the gravel path to return to the entrance arbor or (if the double-chainlink gates are open) you can turn right and exit through them. 

Thanks for visiting the South Bay Botanic Garden @ Southwestern College.