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Mexican Garden
Sculptures covered with an array of succulents appear to be enjoying a party in the Mexican Garden, one of 29 themed gardens at the San Diego Botanic Garden in Encinitas. Photo by Jerry Ondash
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Hit the Road: Spring has arrived at Encinitas botanical garden

Spring in Southern California is here, and pandemic or no, the plants and trees will bloom.

Though it’s only the end of January and people elsewhere are shoveling snow, the flora here is already bursting forth in the vernal finery of every hue. Lucky for us, there’s an ample collection of blooming species right in North County’s front yard.

Look no further than the San Diego Botanic Garden in Encinitas for one-stop shopping when it comes to nature’s springtime revue.

The garden offers 37 acres with 29 themed gardens, 4 miles of trails and 5,000 plant species. Best of all, unlike many outdoor attractions in our area, it’s open.


plant chandeliers
Massive “plant chandeliers” created from tropical flora hang from the 30-foot ceiling of the Dickinson Family Education Conservatory. The 8,000-square-foot glass structure at the San Diego BotanicGarden in Encinitas opened in February 2020. Photo by Jerry Ondash

“Spring is the most wonderful time to visit,” says Ari Novy, the garden’s president and CEO. “The winter rains bring our native flora to life, and with them, the birds, bees and countless insects.”

Spring represents a “renewal of life,” and walking the garden “becomes life-affirming,” Novy adds. “Your senses engage with nature, your blood pressure drops, and stress melts away.”

And isn’t this exactly what we need during the seemingly endless journey through this Covid-19 pandemic?

To make garden visits possible, reservations are necessary, as are rules of engagement: Wear masks, follow the arrows of the one-way route, and be considerate of other visitors.

“We want people to feel safe and secure when they visit,” Novy says, noting that the Children’s Garden, with its climbing structures and kid-themed plant displays, has re-opened.

Because of pandemic regulations, visitors must enter the garden at the north end – a good thing because the first view of this miniature paradise is of the new Dickinson Family Education Conservatory, an 8,000-square-foot greenhouse constructed of 613 panes of glass.

While most of the main garden focuses on drought-tolerant plants – both native and international – the conservatory gives us exotic plants and flowers from the tropics, and it does so in unique ways. Suspended from the 30-foot-high ceiling are several “plant chandeliers,” massive hanging baskets stuffed with Darwin’s orchids (Angraecum sesquipedale); rare Anthurium pseudospectabile; huge heart-shaped leaves of Philodendron gloriosum; and Pseudorhipsalis amazonica, a branching cactus that, in the spring, brings forth tubular, purple-tipped magenta flowers.

Visitors can find this magnificent cycad along one of the paths in the main garden area at the San Diego Botanic Garden in Encinitas. Cycads grow slowly, live as long as 1,000 years, and some species in Australia and Africa are nearly extinct. Photo by Jerry Ondash

Also, at one end of the conservatory, is a “living wall,” packed tightly with a collection of tropical carnivorous plants. One is the pitcher plant, so named because of the pitcher-shaped pod. The plant lures its prey to the pod with a scent, then drowns the prey in the liquid inside the pod. Novy pulls one off the eye-level vine, opens it and lets us see the mass of black insect bodies stuck to the inside.

These tropical plants from Africa are part of the plant-rescue program based at the garden, Novy says.

“When the Border Patrol finds illegally transported plants, they call us. When we first got these (pitcher plants), they didn’t grow or produce pitchers. But when we planted them in the wall, they grew fast and produced all these pods.”

The one-way path to the rest of the garden begins at the conservatory and winds through the rolling topography of coastal Encinitas. There are flowering plants at every turn – elegant white blossoms of Angel’s Trumpet; the violet petals of the heartleaf geranium; the saffron blooms of the giant coreopsis; and the rich pumpkin-colored blooms of the aloe capitata.

“(A visit here) is all about truly being in nature with all of your senses,” Novy says.

At the end of January, the garden’s evening Botanic Wonderland holiday light show will be modified for Valentine’s Day. Separate admission is necessary.

For more photos, go to