From the moment the Thomas Fire came over the ridge above Downtown Ventura, we have been overwhelmed by messages of love and support from a community eager to learn what the impacts are on the botanical gardens and how they can help. While the situation is changing daily and we are still trying to understand our needs, here’s a brief what’s up on the botanical gardens.
There is bad news and there is good news. Because they were directly impacted, the Ventura Botanical Gardens are one of the few areas still under mandatory evacuation. Please do not attempt to visit the gardens at this time. One of the best ways to help is to allow authorities to assess the damage and give room for them to work. Safety is our top priority. When the gardens are safe to visit, we will let you know.
Unfortunately, much of the 109 acres that is the focus of the Ventura Botanical Gardens master plan has burned. In particular, the old brush on the hillsides which had built up a lot of dead branches and what firefighters have been referring to as old fuel since the last fire on the site was almost 50 years ago.
Fortunately, the trail, stone walls, planting areas, water tanks, and most of what we have planted have survived with little or no damage. And amazingly, the wooden bridge being built in the Fynbos garden area remains untouched by fire.
We estimate that we likely lost two of our eight educational signs and a few specimen labels. There will be some minor repairs needed on the trail in a few places that will require licensed contractors. As a result, once the evacuation is lifted, the gardens will remain closed until our insurance inspector can visit.
Since 2012, with the help of volunteers, the Conservation Corp, and the City of Ventura, we have steadily been adding structural support and stone retaining walls to the planting areas and garden trail over a 30-acre area. We are happy to share that this skeleton of infrastructure is intact and our first priority is to continue protecting this asset that the community has built. In the coming weeks, Ventura Botanical Gardens will work to seed hillsides adjacent to developed garden areas to mitigate possible erosion from winter rains. We are busy getting quotes for hydroseeding which will be the most important component and biggest expense of the recovery effort.
Thankfully the 10,000-gallon water tanks installed over two years ago also seem to have survived undamaged. We have a great opportunity to plant and restore larger areas of the garden if we can manage to accelerate the expansion of our irrigation system.
We know that it will take months to evaluate our collection of about 700 plant specimens from the Mediterranean climate regions of the world. We are hopeful that since many are fire-adapted, they may sprout back with watering or rain. After all, fire is a natural process in California and in other Mediterranean climate regions of the world. While it looks devastating, periodic fire rejuvenates the landscape. Almost always there are spectacular spring wildflowers in the years following a fire and we sure could use a silver lining. Time will tell.
Above all, we are thankful that so far everyone in the Ventura Botanical Gardens family is safe. Our hearts remain with our neighbors and everybody impacted by the fires in Southern California.
Ventura Botanical Gardens