The first seeds for the Garden were planted in 1989, with the support of San Luis Obispo County Parks Department. Incorporated in 1991, a grassroots group, the Friends of San Luis Obispo Botanical Garden, began searching for an ideal site.
El Chorro Regional Park was chosen because it offered a convenient location between San Luis Obispo and Morro Bay, good soils, no horticultural limitations, and already was zoned as a public space. A 40-year renewable lease agreement was signed with San Luis Obispo County in 1993 for 150 acres. Later the lease was revised as a 90-year lease. With grants of financial assistance from the Stanley Smith Horticultural Trust and the County of San Luis Obispo, a nationally-known landscape design studio was hired to create a master plan for the 150 acres. This plan, completed in 1998, later won the prestigious Analysis and Planning Award from the American Society of Landscape Architects.
Meanwhile, a one-acre Preview Garden, constructed with the assistance of volunteers and Cal Poly students, opened in 1997, providing a place for monthly educational programs, school tours, lectures, demonstrations, and a variety of special activities for children. A full-scale greenhouse/nursery, completed in 1998, produces plants for the Preview Garden, for County parks, and for our plant sales. Also in 1998, the first SLOBG website was launched. It describes the Garden, lists coming events, features pictures and descriptions of plants, and provides a searchable database of a mediterranean plants. The site was redesigned and expanded in 2012.
Ground was broken in 2004 for the Oak Glen Pavilion and the Administrative Office Building, which are models of sustainable design, including straw bale construction, passive solar heating, and on-site waste-water treatment. The buildings were completed in 2007 and are an integral part of our educational mission. The Administrative Office Building houses staff offices, our Research Library, and Eve’s Garden Shop. The Oak Glen Pavilion is used for educational programs such as the Saturday at the Garden presentations, intimate concerts, art shows, and fundraising and volunteer events. It is also available for various community groups and as a rental facility.
In 2007 the Life Celebration Garden was dedicated. A joint project between the Garden and San Luis Obispo Hospice, this garden is a serene, circular space anchored by two sculptures and embraced and protected by oak trees–a place to celebrate, meditate, remember and rest. Return, a rhythmic basalt stone skillfully carved, smoothed, and polished by Ann Bernhardt, anchors the garden and evokes a window to imagination and reflection. Celebration, by Allen Root and his team at Ferromobius, is a sculpture evocative of the movement of water. The circles within the sculpture suggest the ripples that form when a pebble is dropped in calm waters and represents the interrelationship of all living things. The polished metal inner circle medallions offer a place to celebrate our loved ones with an engraving.
In 2009 work was begun on a Children’s Garden to the north of the Oak Glen Pavilion. Filled with beautiful as well as edible and useful plants, this garden was built to work with nature to conserve water and help plants grow properly. With a goal of “education through exploration,” visiting children of all ages discover sustainable practices, the Four Laws of Ecology, where food comes from, healthy eating and how California Indians used the plants in our area. This area is continually growing and future plans include a Children’s Native Plant Play Meadow and a Learning From the Land hiking trail.
Another new garden currently underway is the Firesafe Demonstration Landscape Garden. When complete, this garden, situated on a 1.3 acre hillside located between the existing Oak Glen Pavilion and Preview Garden, will provide a working model of landscape design principles aimed specifically at protecting life and property from the devastating effects of wildfire.
As the Garden moves forward, we endeavor to be a financially-sustaining botanical garden that displays and preserves the diverse plant life of mediterranean climate zones. We emphasize horticulture, education, research, sustainable and fire-safe practices, water conservation, children’s gardens of exploration, culinary demonstrations, life celebration gardens, health and nutrition, storytelling, and the arts.