Very rarely does my day job and my interest in nature cross paths. I'm working on the installation of a garden that took me to the magical place that is Tree of Life. The nursery is known for California natives, specifically Orange County natives.
It is located at one of the most southern points of Orange County, inland, and is at the foot of the Cleveland National Forest is San Juan Capistrano. It is a few miles away from a suburban sprawl but the staff still say they have to go into town like it's a rural area. When you turn in off the winding two lane road you are met with a dirt road.
Walking up to the first building called Casa La Paz, or house of peace, you truly enter a sanctuary. A large tree and canopy provides shade in front of Casa La Paz where there is a display of various plants on wood tables or in the ground. Inside Casa La Paz are books on plants, landscapes, birds, nature and hiking.
The true beauty is found on the shelves and shelves of outdoor plants. Many people believe that to have a drought tolerant and native garden in Southern California it means desert plants. They are far from the truth. Southern California's climate is actually Mediterranean, which means beautiful flowering plants in purples, yellows and pinks, wispy grasses and some succulents. All which I found at Tree of Life.
The pollinator and butterfly garden area was my absolute favorite. Besides the various types of bees flying around, I saw at least 6 varieties of butterflies all of different sizes and colors. There were these quarter sized yellow flowers that looked like they were made of tissue paper. Their petals were crinkled, but were the brightest yellow I've ever seen in nature. The bees loved them.
I fell in love with the yarrow. It looks so much like wild carrots with long leaves and the tiniest white flowers. It is also known as plumajillo which means little feather in Spanish, which is absolutely true. There is a variety called Paprika that is red and yellow, though I find the white feather plant to be more beautiful and true to nature. It can be used to make tea, tinctures and salves for healing cuts. It is also edible and can be eaten as a leafy vegetable. I regret not bringing home a few with me.
Being shown plants that can replace turf and can even sometimes be mowed was amazing. The Melica imperfecta was a beautiful grass that is actually native to Anaheim, and it was gorgeous.
On the way out I got to see Queen Anne's lace for the first time. I always expected it to be white, but it had this reddish brown tint to it. Almost like it was vintage lace. Next to it was a Bay Tree. I plucked a leaf and gave it a rub and the smell reminded me of Italian food. The canopy was huge. There were two Manzanita trees next to it, and the difference between the red and green of the two trees was so stark.
I cannot wait to return to Casa de Paz and its colorful garden. Next time it might be a leisure trip since I heard there is great hiking in the area and a small roadside cafe with a 360 degree view. I am thankful to be working on a project that led me to this magical place.