Going Green: the Local Scene

By Brian Park and Andrea Swayne — Read the full article on the Capistrano Dispatch

Goin Native: Gardening enthusiasts show off their green thumbs in San Juan Capistrano

In 2009, after 30 years as a hairdresser, Marianne Taylor decided to make a style change of her own by turning her passion for gardening into her new life’s work.

Goin Native’s Garden Angel volunteers visit Los Rios Park twice a month to help care for more than 50 plant species in the 6.5-acre park. Photo by Brian Park

With help from a business partner, Taylor started Goin Native, a series of gardening classes from a small property near her home in the Los Rios Historic District in San Juan Capistrano.

“The mission statement is to get people aware of sustainability and get them involved in the garden,” Taylor said. “I call myself a teacher and a ‘dirt therapist’ because you learn a lot about yourself when you get your hands in the dirt.”

But along with classes on planting succulents and cooking organic foods straight from the garden, Goin Native also provides a public service in the form of some generous green thumbs.

Twice a month, Taylor leads a group of eight to 15 volunteers, known as the Garden Angels, to Los Rios Park, where they do the lion’s share of the work in looking after more than 50 plant species in the 6.5-acre city park.

Since Goin Native started at the same time the park opened, Taylor and her small army of dedicated volunteers have spearheaded many of the landscape changes to the park, specifically in the area surrounding the Montanez Adobe.

Most of the plants in Los Rios Park are native or drought tolerant species. In addition to California poppies, the park also boasts buddleia, Cleveland sage, purple sage and a variety of succulents.

“The look that we wanted was to plant it in such a way that it was just designed naturally without human hands,” Taylor said.

In recent years, more succulents and drought tolerant plants have been introduced due to severely less rainfall, according to Taylor. Parts of the park feature a timed, drip system to water plants, but an unusually dry winter season has forced Garden Angel volunteers to use garden hoses more often.

“The plants rely on local rains, but unfortunately, we’re in the middle of a drought, so we’ve been giving them a hand up,” Taylor said. “We’ve also added a few more aloe vera plants because they need a little less water than the drought tolerant plants.”

The Garden Angels have also taken it upon themselves to boost the dwindling numbers of Monarch butterflies and bees. In the case of the butterflies, volunteers have planted milkweed, which is the primary food source for Monarch larvae, or caterpillars.

“We really want the Monarch butterflies to be a specialty here. They’re a migratory species, so we want them to find a pathway here and call San Juan Capistrano their home, just like the swallows,” Taylor said.

Taylor said the Garden Angels intend to add another day in Los Rios Park to their monthly schedule by bringing the city’s youth groups into the fold. However, with plans to look after the entire park and the beltway leading into the neighborhood from Del Obispo Street, the group can always use more help.