Snapshot on Sustainability: Native Gardens as Legacy

At some point in our lives or the life of our organizations, we start thinking about legacy – what it is we can pass along to the next generation – and wonder what impact we will have beyond our personal lifetimes. In the case of my family, there are recipes, sayings, objects, and stories that keep the contributions of my ancestors alive. My professional legacy? Well, that remains a work in progress.

USGBC-LA has created an annual Legacy Project, a grant from USGBC-LA members to a project aiming to support under-served communities in our region. The other day I was talking with Descanso Gardens about their California Natives Garden restoration project. If you’ve never been to the Gardens, it’s like taking a trip around the world in an afternoon. I like to go there to breathe beauty into my soul, to be replenished and restored. Yet, I always come away learning something – and I think that’s precisely their plan.

I recently learned that the California Natives Garden is one of their first gardens, designed by Theodore Payne in 1959, to inspire Angelenos to explore the native species in our midst. I’ve been taking classes at work led by The Theodore Payne Foundation – what a small world! When I’m thinking about landscaping for water conservation, what could be better than plants that are uniquely suited to our local climate and soil conditions?

To walk through the 14-acre garden brings to life all the reading and research on solutions to common challenges – fighting erosion of slopes, threat of fire, need of water and pest control. The mere existence of the garden teaches age-old solutions to today’s most pressing landscaping challenges, by example. The hope is that visitors leave with an increased understanding of the natural world and what each of us can do at home to make a difference.

After nearly 60 years, this garden has matured, creating shade that negatively impacts shorter plants; and in some cases, non-native grasses have blown into this area and are not only taking up space but misrepresenting which plants are native. It is time to renovate. Working with FormLA Landscaping, Descanso has curated the garden and created a multi- year planting plan to maintain biodiversity of natives – and they are looking for help. They’ve received grant money to get the project started, but more help is required to fulfill their vision. What’s your legacy? You could be the angel who funds new plants or volunteers to help plant and maintain the garden. Just coming to Descanso helps, but you can do more:

To donate to the Gardens contact: Somer Sherwood-White, Director of Advancement at:, 818-949-4389 or

To join Descanso’s dedicated team of volunteers, contact: Felix Schroeder, Volunteer Coordinator at: 818-949-4200 ext. 219 or

Thank you to Maya Henderson, Jamie Bray and Jennifer Errico for our conversations that lead to this piece.

I’m curious what you think and I hope you will join me in conversations and classes on resilience happening around Los Angeles. Some are available through USGBC-LA. I hope to see you soon, but in the meantime, join the conversation by contacting me directly at or by posting a comment below.

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