Laurence Nicklin’s voice, a witness to his native South Africa, rises and falls like the mounds of earth he has sculpted for 28 years, as he recalls his first journey to America, destination: Ojai.
“I saw a lot of similar topography to South Africa, the way the mountains are, and the flora on the mountains is very similar,” Nicklin said.
A landscape designer and botanist, Nicklin had uprooted himself from Cape Town and crossed an ocean to plant a South African garden on John Taft’s property, near Lake Casitas. The year was 1988, and environmentalism was not yet in vogue.
“I was coming to a country that I’d never been to before and trying to grow plants that were native to my own country, that had maybe never been grown here before,” he said. “I was very interested to see how the plants would adapt.”
The plants though, didn’t need much adapting, and like Nicklin, they took root in Ojai’s Mediterranean climate, which mirrors South Africa’s, according to the landscape designer. During the year Nicklin spent working on the Taft garden, he fell in love with Taft’s daughter, Jenny, and upon the completion of the project, the couple flew to Cape Town to wed.
For 10 years they stayed in Cape Town, a city on the southern tip of Africa, where Nicklin designed residential and commercial gardens through his African Landscaping business. But in 1999, the couple decided to relocate to Ojai, and Nicklin started Plantasia Landscaping, featuring native Southern California plants, along with other drought-tolerant plants from climates similar to South Africa’s.
“Conservation is really important to preserve the flora that is native here,” Nicklin said. “I use a lot of native flora in my designs. Used the right way, it can be really beautiful.”
Nicklin, along with other local landscape designers, will display scores of Ventura County’s native plants at the Ojai Valley Museum’s Earth Day event, April 12 from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Admission to the museum will be free, and several environmentalists will give talks on the history of native plants. Native plants from Plantasia Landscaping, as well as from Euterpe Farms in Meiners Oaks, will be for sale Saturday only. Sunday, April 13, the museum will also be open for free, from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., in an early celebration of Earth Day, which is officially April 22.
The Ojai Valley Green Coalition will also be holding a “treasure sale” throughout the weekend, where a collection of coral and African artifacts donated to the museum will be available for purchase.
“We are interested in attracting a broad demographic to our museum, and we feel that the green issue is so important to our valley now that this is a really good thing for the museum to do,” said Bobbie Boschan, vice president of the museum’s board of trustees.
Jan Timbrook, curator of ethnography at the Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History, will give a free lecture on her most recent book, “Chumash Ethnobotany: Plant Knowledge Among the Chumash People of Southern California,” Saturday at 2 p.m. at the Ojai Valley Museum.
“The Chumash ethic of people being responsible for talking care of the Earth and maintaining harmony and balance in the cosmos is something that is very relevant to people now,” Timbrook said. “From the gardening perspective, I think it’s wonderful that people are more interested in growing native plants. It’s much gentler on the Earth to grow plants that are indigenous to the area where you are living.”
The California Native Plant Society will also have an instructional booth at the Earth Day event, to show people how to care for native plants, depending on what part of the county they live in.
“I think that planting natives in your garden is one of the most environmentally friendly things that you can do because it extends that natural ecological web into the city,” said Patt McDaniel, horticulture chair of the Channel Islands Chapter of the society.
For Nicklin, the Earth Day event will be a chance for him to show visitors that you don’t have to be an Ojai native to appreciate Ojai’s native plants.
“It gives me great pleasure to be able to tell people about native plants,” Nicklin said. “I never mind getting out to go to work — well, sometimes I’d like to sleep a few minutes longer, but you know, I love what I do.”
To learn more visit www.ojaimuseum.org.