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Balboa Park and Other Gardens Perfect for Summer Outings

Balboa Park is home to a variety of exotic gardens.
Balboa Park is home to a variety of exotic gardens.
Courtesy Photo

The official start of summer is fast approaching, but that doesn't mean it will be only a time for the beach, taking advantage of sales at the mall or lounging at some pool.

With the weather getting warmer and sunnier (we hope), the conditions will be ideal to take a few steps back to enjoy the wonders of Mother Nature in a relaxing atmosphere. And what better way to do that than by visiting one of San Diego County's public gardens.

"We encourage the public to recognize that gardens are not just beautiful places and great source of inspiration," said Dave Johnson of Rain Bird Corporation, a Los Angeles-area manufacturer of irrigation products that helped start National Public Gardens Day, which was held in May. "(They are also) demonstrations of how green spaces can entertain, educate and inspire us all while positively contributing to the surrounding ecosystem."

Speaking of public gardens, we bring you to Balboa Park. Sure, the venerable park's main draw is its world-renowned zoo, but its wide array of gardens are a treat for locals and tourists alike.

Among them are the Veterans Memorial Garden, which was dedicated on November 11, 2005. The garden is divided into three areas: Air, Land and Sea. Veterans of all eras who served in the Army, Navy, Air Force, Coast Guard and Wartime Merchant Marines are honored. A bronze statue of a World War II B-24 Liberator, is a real eye-catcher.

The California Native Plant Garden features more than 100 drought-resistant plants, and a quarter-mile footpath which allows visitors to take an easy stroll while surveying the scenery.

WorldBeat Children's Ethnobotany Garden pays tribute to pioneering African-American scientist, educator, inventor and botanist George Washington Carver, this garden is home to organic herbs, fruits and vegetables and aims to teach kids about the role of plants in society. Gardening classes are offered as well.

The Japanese Friendship Garden was originally a teahouse when it opened during the 1915-16 Panama-California Exposition. It features a Zen house for meditation, koi pond, bonsai exhibit and much more.

Desert Garden hosts more than 1,300 plants from around the world on its 2.5-acre site. The plants' peak blooming period is January through March, though summer visits are very enjoyable as well.

Here are some other San Diego gardens to check out on a summer afternoon:

The Water Conservation Garden, 12122 Cuyamaca College Drive West, El Cajon: Not surprisingly, the theme around here is all about saving water. This 5-acre spread offers landscaping, gardening and art classes, a vegetable garden and mulch and irrigation exhibits. Water conservation-themed artwork is currently displayed. It was named one of the top 10 Western gardens by Sunset Magazine. 9 a.m. - 4 p.m. daily; 9 a.m. - 7 p.m. Wednesday. Admission by suggested donation. 619-660-0614.

Alta Vista Gardens, 1270 Vale Terrace Dr., Vista: Don't expect to come here and see nothing but plants. AVG aims to provide an "interactive, living classroom ... a gathering place for the community."AVG will be offering a wide array of classes (including ones for kids) and other events all summer. 7 a.m. - 5 p.m., Monday-Friday; 10 a.m. - 5 p.m. weekends. $2 admission for non-members; free for members. 760-945-3954.

San Diego Botanic Garden, 230 Quail Gardens Dr., Encinitas: SDBG offers displays of bamboo groves, desert gardens, California native plants , an interactive children's garden and other natural wonders. Family Fun Nights, with events for children and other entertainment, are every Thursday from 6-7 p.m. 9 a.m. - 5 p.m. daily; 9 a.m. - 7 p.m. Thursday. $12 adults; seniors, students $8; active duty military free through September 5. 760-436-3036.

Waterwise Botanicals, 32183 Old Highway 395, Escondido: What had been known as Daylilly Hill changed its name several months ago. This 20-plus acre facility boasts educational display gardens, ponds, pathways, fields of flowers and other attractions. Manager Tom Jesch is on hand to answer questions and impart his knowledge to visitors. What's different about Waterwise is it's a working nursery, so don't be surprised to see tractors, steaming mulch and field workers doing their thing during any given visit. Free. 760-728-2641 . Call in advance to schedule a tour.

Point Loma Native Plant Reserve, Mendocino Boulevard and Greene Street, Ocean Beach: This garden is home to many native plants, some of which can't be found anywhere else but in this region. For those who want to dig in and do some work over the summer, volunteers are welcome on the first Saturday and third Sunday of every month to help maintain the garden and talk nature. Tools and supplies are provided. 619-297-7380.


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  • Venue: Balboa Park