PICTURED: Some of the mission-style architecture and plants found at Gardens of the World in Thousand Oaks. From the Gardens of the World website

by David Goldstein

The 150th annual National Arbor Day is April 29, 2022. This holiday is nationally celebrated on the last Friday in April, but some states observe Arbor Day on different dates based on optimal tree planting times or state-specific historical events. One of the most aberrant is California, which designates March 7 as Arbor Day.

During the week of National Arbor Day, the nonprofit National Arbor Day Foundation and Kimberly-Clark, a tissue manufacturer, have together committed to plant two trees for each Instagram, Twitter, or Facebook post with the hashtag #ArborDay. The organizations will plant up to 150,000 trees.

A fundraising letter mailed to me by the foundation says Arbor Day is not just about planting trees; it is also about planting ideas. These ideas include valuing trees for providing clean air to breathe, clean water to drink, and beauty to cherish. According to the Foundation, a key idea at the core of Arbor Day since its beginning in 1872 is personal responsibility for care of nature, including a duty to “respect it, replenish it, and protect it.” 

To value trees and plants in these ways, people must first learn about nature, and several gardens in Ventura County offer educational opportunities designed to help with this goal. Visiting the Ventura Botanical Gardens, Conejo Valley Botanic Garden, Taft Gardens in Ojai, or Gardens of the World in Thousand Oaks during the week of National Arbor Day is a great way to increase this knowledge and appreciation. 

The Ventura Botanical Gardens, stretching downhill from Grant Park to Ventura City Hall, began in 2005 and lost many mature plantings in the 2017 Thomas Fire, so its specimens are young. What the site lacks in stately established plantings and shade, however, it more than makes up for with its impressive views. The panoramic view from nearly the entire site includes crashing waves on a wide coastline and extends to Anacapa and Santa Cruz islands. The website of the Ventura Botanical Gardens commits the organization to “integrate opportunities for education . . . provide habitat for a… diversity of plants and animals . . . create habitat corridors [and] . . . promote environmentally sustainable development.” This final goal provides a wide-ranging mandate. 

Derrick Wilson, President of the Ventura Botanical Gardens’ Board of Directors, pointed out the educational value of the organization’s new Native Volcanic Substrate Collection, replicating terrain in western Ventura County and including endangered plants found only in our county. Garden staff will collect plant specimens and seeds, keeping records of plants’ reactions to climate and soil conditions, providing insight on “how to utilize plants to conserve water in extreme drought.”

The Volcanic Collection adds to the garden’s current display of native flora from the five Mediterranean climates of the world. Visitors can plan for conservation in their own gardens by learning from these examples of species tolerant of low water availability. 

Taft Gardens, near Lake Casitas, also features plants of Mediterranean climates, including an African section, a cactus garden and an area of native plants. Run by the Conservation Endowment Fund, Taft Gardens’ mission, according to its website, includes educating the public about “environmental heritage,” preserving endangered resources, and “exploring the relationship of humans to their environment.” Alexandra Nicklin, visitor coordinator and general manager, reports that Taft Gardens is seeking donations of signs to help with these goals by educating visitors on self-guided tours. 

Signs are a strong point of the Conejo Valley Botanic Garden, at 400 West Gainsborough Road in Thousand Oaks. Signs along a nature trail, volunteer docents giving school tours, and tour/work combinations for adult education communicate a variety of environmental messages. Visitors see compost in various stages in a nursery that propagates native and Mediterranean climate plants, and these have been sold along with food plants and herbs during events in a Kids’ Adventure Garden area. 

Gardens of the World, across Thousand Oaks Boulevard from the Bank of America Performing Arts Center, focuses on a different type of education. The founders, the Hogan family, owned a travel agency and devoted the garden to cultural, rather than botanical, education. Specializing in a fourth-grade curriculum, they use mission-style architecture, a series of outdoor murals with historical renderings of California’s mission system, and plants of the California missions to provide instruction for a regular procession of elementary school field trips. Plants of the missions include rosemary, aloe, guava, oranges, lemons and olives.

Home gardens also offer opportunities to appreciate trees and other plantings, and an upcoming garden tour benefits an important organization. The 24th annual Camarillo Garden Tour, benefiting the Livingston Memorial Visiting Nurse Association and Hospice, will be May 1, from noon to 4 pm. For a $25 donation, visitors can tour five residential gardens. 






Ventura County Public Works Environmental Resource Analyst David Goldstein can be reached at 805-658-4312 or david.goldstein@ventura.org