If you are reading this, it’s likely that you have a garden. Maybe a big garden or a small garden. Either way, it’s your garden. But, you have another garden as well; a garden that we share.
Likely, you tend to your garden; planting, watering, pulling weeds, organizing its plants to reflect nature and so on. Occasionally, you stop for a while and admire your garden and the natural wonders it offers.
In your other garden you don’t tend to it. No planting, watering or weed pulling, and you certainly don’t organize its plants in an errant attempt to mimic nature’s beauty. Your other garden is nature.
In southern California, now is the time to stop tending to your first garden for a short while. This is the time to get re-acquainted with your other garden, your bigger garden. Step outside, slow down and examine natures garden; wild, natural and beautiful. It is a perfect garden!
During the past forty years I have nearly spent as much time in nature’s garden as I have in my own, visiting desert washes, mountain meadows and coastal canyons in search of wildflowers and Southern California’s raw, organic beauty. During the past few years, through my role with the California Native Plant Society, I have organized and led of dozens of native plant and wildflower field trips all over the county. I’ve been literally everywhere in Orange County’s wild spaces, cataloguing flowers and plants.
Here are three of my favorite local places to see spring’s floral beauty. Each is different. Like any three gardens, each has its own personality and unique offerings. Don’t delay, now is the time to visit nature’s garden, your other garden.
Laurel Canyon, Laguna Coast Wilderness Park
This is a great place to start, just a short drive up Laguna Canyon Road. From the parking lot, near the intersection of El Toro Road, it is a relatively easy two or three mile walk through Laurel Canyon. If a little uphill travel is acceptable, another mile can be added by looping back to the parking lot along Willow Canyon Road. In Laurel Canyon nearly 200 wild plants have been identified and the next two or three weeks will be the best time to see its diversity of flowers. Last week, while hiking in the canyon, the wildflowers included two species of Mariposa Lily, five species of Lupine, Paintbrush, California Poppy, California Aster, Bush Monkeyflower, Phacelia, Blue-eyed Grass and many others.
El Morro Canyon, Crystal Cove State Park
Crystal Cove State Park is 2,400 acres of open trails, hillsides, canyon, bluffs and beaches. It is a rare coastal open space in an otherwise urban area. Almost anywhere in the park is beautiful and blooming with wildflowers, but the center of the action is usually El Morro Canyon, which is accessed from trailheads just behind the well-known El Morro School on Hwy. 1, between Newport Coast and Laguna Beach. El Morro Trail travels gently up the canyon. Go as far as you desire and enjoy the flowers along the way. Loops can be done that will return via ridges on either side of the canyon.
East Ridge Trail, Casper’s Wilderness Park
In my opinion, this is the single greatest wildflower walk in Orange County. The diversity of flowers and the great scenery will please any visitor, from the experienced outdoor enthusiast to a first-timer. The variety along the trail is what makes it especially rewarding. You will see many flowers that you have not seen before and will soon be asking “what’s that”. East Ridge Trail goes for miles, but you can go as far or as near as your enthusiasm and legs decide. A nice loop can be made, if a four to five mile walk is within your abilities. Bring your camera. Casper’s Wilderness Park is about five miles east of San Juan Capistrano on Hwy 74.
UC Irvine Ecological Preserve
The UCI Ecological Preserve is a 60 acre site on the southern edge of the sprawling IC Irvine campus. It is located adjacent to University Hills campus housing, the Irvine Research Park, and the San Joaquin Transportation Corridor. This is a terrific place to visit for first-time wildflower watchers and for those who want an easy walk. The Preserve consists of many native flowers like goldfields, lupines, shooting stars and many others. It is also host to several nesting parts of rare California gnatcatchers and coastal cactus wrens. The preserve is free and open from sunrise to sunset every day. Access is from a trailhead at the intersection of California Avenue and a small street called Locke Court.
Many other wonderful areas for wildflower are only a short drive away, including the Santa Rosa Ecological Reserve, Whiting Ranch Wilderness Park, Elsinore Peak, O’Neill Park and many others.
During your wildflower walks you will undoubtedly want to know what the names of the flowers are that you are seeing. I highly recommend the recent book Wildflowers of Orange County and The Santa Ana Mountains, by my friends Bob Allen and Fred Roberts. I was fortunate to be a contributor to the book and I also assisted as a proofreader and editor. The photographs and information are first class in every way and will make your flower viewing much more rewarding.