Volunteers at the Park

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I’m standing in the middle of the South Pasadena Nature Park. In the distance are the majestic mountains, dusted with snow. Looking around I see a standing army of dead plants. Soldiers, twelve inches tall, with brown, drooping leaves that look like stiffened arms, surround me. Opening my eyes I realize it is only a dream, a nightmare.

On Saturday, January 23rd, with the help of Occidental College student volunteers, girl scouts, parents and kids, and other locals we weeded, removed litter, and planted 240 one-gallon native plants in the Nature Park. The plants included buckwheat, black sage, white sage, sagebrush, monkeyflower, deerweed, California fuchsia, and yarrow. The weather and conditions for the planting were not ideal, but neither were they dismal. Following a week of steady and sometimes heavy rain, the ground was soaked through. Inevitably there was soil compaction due to our efforts. Still it could have been raining, or bone dry. Instead it was one of those winter days in Southern California when you know why you love living here.

View of the mountains from the Nature Park.

Barbara checks plants at the park entrance.

Jane, Kai and Jim organize plants.

Digging into the ground for the first time I realize that it is actually a miracle that weeds could grow in this stuff. Not really soil in the way we think of it, the park like so many other open areas in urban centers, has been messed with for years. The soil has been pushed around by bulldozers, green waste has been dumped in huge mounds, and rocks have dropped into enormous piles. The students who for the most part did not have experience planting were asked to dig holes into a morass of clay, partially decomposed woodchips, and rocks, place the tender young plants into the holes and carefully fill in around them. All of this in a place where there is no real soil.

Returning to the park on Sunday morning, following my unsettling nightmare, I was relieved to see all of the plants standing at attention, alive and perky. Still I know that this is a difficult site and there will be loses. Hopefully enough will make it and settle in to their new home, spreading themselves and seeding around until the barren soil is vegetated with lovely coastal sage scrub natives.

The park, all three-plus acres of it can be divided into areas. We planted in five distinct locations. The entry way where the rounded river rock walls and Nature Park plaque welcome visitors to the park is one area.

Next there is the large area near the central kiosk and information sign. (Note that this and another sign in the park have been targets for graffiti and recently the city removed the informational sheets, so the rock sign holders are still there without the info.)

Plants are still alive on Sunday in the central kiosk area.

The third area is the mounds east of the kiosk. These mounds don’t look natural, and aren’t. They are the worst jumble of mulch, clay and rocks, with very little growing on them. The forth area is the retention basin and land to the west of it along the path.

New yarrow planted in the retention basin area.

And finally there is the area near the sign and the fence on the eastern end of the park, adjacent to the golf driving range.

Laurel sumac planted by east fence.

Other parts of the park that we did not plant in include the north side slope south of the Arroyo Seco channel service road, and the area around the sycamore circle on the northeast corner of the park. The western tip of the park – next to the stables – is actually Los Angeles property.

Rather than spreading the new plants throughout the park we mostly chose areas where other native plants were doing well and moved out from them. The mound in the center of the park was the only area we planted in that had no native plants to start. We planted sages and deerweed to hopefully help this area become vegetated a bit more quickly. It is the most difficult spot and I am not sure how much success we will have.

Throughout the day friends and neighbors dropped by to see what was going on. Regulars of the Friends of the Nature Park effort arrived with garbage bags, gloves and tools, ready to once again weed and cleanup their park. Three young people stopped by when they saw a group congregating near the park entrance. They volunteer in neighboring Highland Park in a new community garden behind the Highland Park Theatre. We exchanged contact information and hope to develop a long-term relationship. George, a gentleman who has been coming to the park for years, wanted to know what we were up to. He has diligently been checking the irrigation system, replacing broken sprinkler heads, and surrounding them and young plants with rocks for protection. He will check on the new plants when he visits. In addition to the Oxy students, girl scouts and their parents helped place the plants and weed. Several other parents brought young children who enjoyed exploring the park and sprinkling some wildflower seeds around. Our activities even drew the local media. In addition, a couple of Oxy students majoring in Communications came by to interview participants for a video about the first Occidental College Martin Luther King Service Day. Several times during the day Mayor Richard Schneider stopped by to see our progress. Rick allocated some of his discretionary city council funds for the plants. Although he rarely misses a park cleanup, he was unable to attend the Planting Party due to a previous engagement.

Oxy students and girlscouts carry plants into the park.


Parents and kids from the community prepare to weed.

Volunteers place and plant the new plants.


Students watch water running through Arroyo Seco flood control channel.

I thought the day was a great success. I ended feeling tired but satisfied, and especially happy to have made so many new friends for the Nature Park.

Barbara with Oxy student volunteers after planting 240 1-gallon plants.

Jim roping off central planting area.

If you are interested in helping out at the Nature Park, please email (barbara.eisenstein@gmail.com) me. It would be nice if people adopted small sections of the park that they can check on fairly often. If this interests you, email me or come to the next park cleanup on February 13th.

Gloves hanging to dry for the next volunteer program.

8 thoughts on “Volunteers at the Park

  1. Yea! Go natives! Plants, that is! Barbara, you are awesome. Appreciate the way you embrace Southern California for what it is!

  2. Thanks, Janis. We had a great day.

  3. Great job! I am looking forward to dropping by the site and checking out the new plantings. They should be happy with the rain predicted for this week.

  4. How inspiring! I love the first photo of snow on the mountains with palm trees in the foreground. Ahh, California! Please keep us up to date on the new plantings.

  5. susie

    Great job! Looks like perfect timing to get them in before the next round of storms.

  6. Joe, let me know if you drop by. I was there today – replanted a couple. The central area is a mix of mulch and garbage soil. Some of the new plants are just in mulch. Basically they look okay so far…<br /><br />Christine and Susie – I check the weather often! Hopefully we&#39;ll get another rain in a week. I met with city workers today to make sure I can take a hose to the plants. The

  7. lostlandscape (James)

    What a great project! I suppose having to did in near-mud for the enthusiastic new volunteers was still a better situation than having to dig into hardened and compacted soil. They might actually come back for a second time this way…

  8. 簡單

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