In the last 10 years, I have driven right by this hidden gem a handful of times, completely unaware that such a divine place existed. But recently, I was given a tour by a delightful couple who were instrumental in growing (pardon the pun) the Alta Vista Botanical Gardens of Vista.
Naomi and Bill Stein are two of 14 Board members who are united by a single passion: to create a botanical garden for the education, enlightenment, and inspiration of our children, and the child within us all. The mission statement includes the anticipated and desired involvement of the community to protect and preserve the endangered habitats within its walls. From what I saw, the Alta Vista Botanical Gardens is certainly achieving its goals. The gardens are a gathering place for education, enjoyment and the appreciation of whimsical artworks.
A collection of themed plots including an Australian garden, a desert garden, a medicinal herb garden, a heritage rose garden, a culinary herb garden and a jungle garden make up the larger Botanical Gardens. A Pan-Asian garden is in the works as well. Each garden is created, landscaped and maintained by donors and volunteers. I found the Children’s Music Garden the most enchanting, owing largely to its clever features…more on that in a moment.
The history of the gardens dates back to May 1999. A specialist in palm trees, Dr. M.E. Darian created his own forest just above Moonlight Theater on Brengle Terrace Park in Vista. The city of Vista showed support by donating a $50,000 gift toward the project. Since that time, the garden has enjoyed the support of civic groups, industry suppliers, members of the Garden and a multitude of volunteers. Currently, two part-time workers aid in the maintenance of the 13-acre garden.
In 1977, after enduring another frigid New Jersey winter, a cold house and perpetually runny-nosed kids the Steins moved their family to California. Naomi and Bill left their jobs in the fashion industry and never looked back. They bravely bought a landscaping company and applied their skills to learning about the unique and abundant California flora and fauna.
In 2008, the Steins lost their son, Jeffrey. The 37-year old had been a generous man and a talented musician before his death. For this reason, in 2010, the Steins dedicated the Children’s Music garden [in his honor] and filled it with several exciting instruments and attractions. Some of the instruments were created by local metal artist, Robert Rochin. They remain outdoors year-round and entice children to create music on drums, xylophones and —my favorite — the piano pebble chime. Recently a drumming circle was held in the garden.
The Children’s garden is also home to a wobble bridge, a butterfly tepee, hurdles, a balance beam, a human sundial, several fun sculptures (including many by the well-known artist, Ricardo Breceda) and Alice’s hidden tea room. A discovery trail winds through the garden, boasting 19 plant quiz boxes, each with a riddle about the plants surrounding it. Children are treated to programs led by Nancy Jones, an area educator. Her focus is to educate and encourage children to protect the environment through a cleanup program entitled “Only Losers Litter.”
The Alta Vista Botanical Gardens are sustained by donations and volunteers almost exclusively. The water bill alone can run as much as $4,000 a month, as you might imagine. To offset some costs, a minimal entry fee of $5 per person is charged. Additionally, the exceptional grounds include areas for receptions and events such as weddings, celebrations of life and private parties. Autumn features Novemberfest, a celebration with music, local breweries, vendors and booths. The highlight in April is “Meading at the Garden,” a major fundraiser which hosts 20 meaderies and local breweries, as well as lots of booths and games. Fourth of July is another big event for the Gardens, which provide top-shelf viewing of Moonlight’s fireworks!
Whatever your pleasure, playful sculptures, eco-friendly landscape ideas, herbs or rare Heritage Roses, the Alta Vista Botanical Gardens tops the list of worthwhile spots to visit in North County. The place has a positive aura and though it’s only minutes from Vista Village Drive, is a world unto itself. Picnicking is encouraged and the interactive gardens welcome “children and the child within us all.”