VISTA: Alta Vista Gardens blooming in Brengle Terrace Park
Alta Vista Gardens, which is managed by a nonprofit group with the same name, sits inside a 13-acre gated area in the city-owned park.
Plans for a botanical garden in Vista go back more than 35 years, and a nonprofit formed in 1999 to oversee the project.
When the group started, it had fewer than 10 members. Now there are more than 120 dues-paying members and 11 people on its board of directors.
Bryan Morse, the president and CEO of the group, walks through the gardens with bare feet. He can name most of the plants spread throughout the various themed areas because he planted most of them.
"Everything's a work in progress," he said last week.
The garden has a $2 entrance fee, collected at a nondescript pole near the gate. Morse said the garden collects about $25 each month from the fee.
"It should be $25 a day," he said.
He said the nonprofit hasn't enforced the fee because when it was implemented a year ago, there wasn't much to see.
Now, things are different.
In the past two years, the garden has grown to include children's area and jungle-themed section. A desert-themed garden is under way and a courtyard features an herb garden and patio.
Dozens of walking trails have been added.
"On a clear day, you can see Catalina Island and San Clemente Island," Morse said while standing in the labyrinth garden last week, where rosemary, lavender and sweet pea bushes will one day grow tall enough to create a maze.
Milkweed is planted around the gardens in an attempt to attract monarch butterflies. Morse said fruit plants are also abundant, which bring in wildlife, including coyotes, roadrunners, quail, snakes and a variety of birds.
A small pond is home to about four baby turtles, Morse said.
Chairs and tables are spread throughout the various gardens.
"I believe there should be furniture in the gardens, so people can come and sit and enjoy," Morse said.
Everything in the gardens is done in an attempt to further the group's mission, Morse said.
Morse has served on the Alta Vista Gardens' board since 2003, when the group changed its name from Vista Botanical Gardens after plans changed and almost all of its board members resigned.
Then-President Mardy Darian, a widely respected botanist, had originally pitched the idea of an elaborate tropical forest at the garden site.
He resigned after disagreements with Vista City Council members.
"We wanted a new identity and a new mission," Morse said.
Alta Vista Gardens rents the land in Brengle Terrace from the city for $1 per year, Morse said.
"They're getting all this (work) done for free," he said. "They didn't expect us to succeed and move so fast."
Chuck Crist, operations manager for Vista's public works department and a liaison for the gardens, said the city collaborates with the nonprofit on event planning, but the group largely runs the garden on its own.
He said the gardens are a good addition to Vista's park space.
"The gardens are exceptional in the type of plant material (they have)," he said. "It's not generic. It's very much in line with the quality botanical garden you'd want to develop."
Morse said the nonprofit sold a rare cycad plant for about $50,000 to pay for the fence around the garden.
Morse said the nonprofit operates on a $75,000 annual budget. He declined to give a value to the work done in the garden, but said the group has spent hundreds of thousands of dollars and that the value of the plants is significantly more than that.
He said that the nonprofit spends more than $1,000 per month on water, and hopes to buy equipment this year.
"Everything's thought out," he said. "It's all budget, budget, budget. Getting enough money to do anything is really hard. There's much more we wish we could afford to do."
Morse said the type of plants and decorations are driven by donations.
"Once in a while, I get lucky," he said.
Morse said the group has about 120 members, which costs $45 per year for an individual or $60 for two people.
"Not many people know" about the garden, he said. "We haven't done a good enough job" getting the word out.
Mayor Judy Ritter said the group has done an outstanding job.
"What they've done has way surpassed what was done before the new group took over," Ritter said, adding that the nonprofit sponsors events for families throughout the year. "It's turning out really beautifully."
The gardens are open 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday, and 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday and Sunday.
Call staff writer Cigi Ross at 760-901-4067 or follow her on Twitter @nctvista.
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