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Food trucks and fanfare took over Rancho Santa Ana Botanic Garden (RSABG) last weekend as Claremont’s native garden and nursery opened the fall planting season in a big way.

Hundreds welcomed the start of the Native Nursery’s seasonal opening last weekend with an Oktoberfest-like celebration, browsing thousands of native plant selections with a Dale Bros. brew and currywurst in hand.

“It’s nice to have some beer and food and just enjoy,” said Corey Boss, a RSABG member who, along with his wife Shannan, was appreciative of the additions to their typical plant sale selection.

 It’s not the usual revelry Claremonters associate with the botanic garden’s annual plant sale, a relatively serene 2-day event. But with the garden’s newly-upgraded, full-scale nursery—a product of new director of horticulture Scott LaFleur’s 7 months at the job—staff and volunteers weren’t looking to make a sleepy entrance into the planting season.  The planting season kicked off with a one-day event filled with music, food and merriment.

 “We really wanted to make it a season opener, do it up in a big way,” said Mr. LaFleur, who began at his new post last April. Mr. LaFleur and the horticulture team are hard at work continuing to make improvements to the nursery, open through June.

 “We want our nursery to be a one-stop shop,” he said.

 While the plant sale began at the garden some 30 years ago, the sale received its first big change with the opening of the Grow Native nursery in 2009. With the new nursery in place, RSABG was able to improve upon its stock, holding a few thousand native plants at one time. The plant sale received a second boost in 2010 with the opening of an additional nursery location—set up in Los Angeles in collaboration with the VA Greater Los Angeles Healthcare system—offering up even more selections for purchase. With output from both nurseries, this year’s sale featured over 11,000 different California native plants.

“We wanted to have the knowledge and the resources for those who want to plant native,” Mr. LaFleur said.

Creating a full-service native nursery meant setting up a more permanent space for workers and guests. For years a tented canopy served as the nursery’s sales hub, but no longer. The weekend plant fest debuted a newly-constructed retail building. Donated by the Claremont Colleges 3 years ago, the parts for the building remained unused until 2 weeks before this year’s festival. The greenhouse-like structure will house the nursery’s sales team, offering a variety of native seeds and, in the near future, soil mixtures as well.

 “We didn’t want it to have that fly-by-night look,” Mr. LaFleur said. “We are here to stay.”

The weekend plant fest was additionally enhanced by the presence of a panel of experts, ready to help eager native plant growers with the appropriate information. Providing education tools for gardeners, said Mr. LaFleur, is another element the garden wishes to expand upon.

Avid botanic garden visitors at the weekend gathering appreciated the additions and organizational changes. The Bosses, longtime RSABG members and yearly plant sale participants, enjoyed the widespread feel of the plant sale, more like a festival than a sales floor. Mr. Boss said the cramped layout of plant sales past felt like a battle. This year’s sale took place along the grounds outside the nursery, featuring rows and rows of plants, tidily organized in alphabetical order.

“You can wander through at your leisure with people here to answer your questions,” he said.

Richard Levitski, a first-time RSABG visitor from Idyllwild, thoroughly enjoyed the sale’s selections, carting away a truckload of different species for planting along the hillside of the Idyllwild Area Historical Society.

Continuing to build upon elements of RSABG’s plant sale and Grow Native Nursery is just one of many goals in the works for Mr. LaFleur, who looks to continue the expansions across the botanic gardenscape. Mr. LaFleur plans to draw in more garden- goers by opening up acres of unused botanic space near the rear of the gardens. He hopes it will encourage more residents to embrace what the California wild and RSABG have to offer.

“[RSABG] is not a stagnant place,” Mr. LaFleur said. “It is a really active place to learn about and understand our native plants and wildlife. We hope people will leave with a better appreciation for gardening.”

—Beth Hartnett

news@claremont-courier.com

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