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Interest Blooms in the Heritage Garden

March 01, 2015 - 3 minute read

Volunteers working in the Heritage Garden

Vacant land by the lower parking lot on campus is being transformed into the Heritage Garden, and proving a rallying point for students, faculty, staff, community members and a local Native American tribe.

“[Professors] Ken Ebel, Jack Schultz and I talked for several years about what to do with this piece of land that was an abandoned dump site for soil and concrete from the rest of campus,” says English professor Thea Gavin, who is spearheading the project. Last year Gavin received a faculty research grant “to see if we could get the garden going” and is now developing it as part of her teaching load.

Volunteers working in the Heritage Garden

Volunteers working in the Heritage Garden

The first task has been to reclaim areas choked by invasive species—black mustard, artichoke thistle, castor bean, pampas grass and stinging nettle. In their place, volunteer gardeners from the campus and community are creating beds for planting vegetables, orchards for fruit trees, and areas for native plants. They are even adding “lizard castles,” bee hotels and bird perches, and installing rocks and logs to invite beneficial creatures to take up residence.

“The garden makes me feel connected,” says Michael Schulteis, professor of science education, who has a passion for fruit trees and intends to create orchards of edible beauty in a section of the garden. “It’s like having your own little playground, and a place where people can sit, relax and enjoy. There is a phenomenal 180-degree view of Orange County. We invite people to have their own plot to plant stuff. Students can jump in as much as they want to.”

The Heritage Garden is presently about the size of four basketball courts and has drawn a wide range of interest. Jack Schultz, professor of anthropology, has encouraged partnership between CUI and the local Juaneño Band of Mission Indians, Acjachemen Nation, says Gavin.

It’s a great way to develop relationships and a sense of shared purpose.

“On workdays we have students, faculty, staff, their children, community members and members of the local Native American tribe working together and having fun,” she says. “It’s a great way to develop relationships and a sense of shared purpose.”

Gavin serves on the local board of the California Native Plant Society. Fellow society member Charles Wright now frequents the Heritage Garden.

Fresh tomatoes from the Heritage Garden

Fresh tomatoes from the Heritage Garden

It's a group of people that are very different but come together with a common goal,” says Wright. “People who are master gardeners, native plant people, indigenous plant people and people who have never put their hands in dirt. Put all these people together and it’s pretty amazing.

Wright has planted boysenberries, black- berries, blueberries and raspberries there, and is writing poems and taking photographs inspired by the garden.

Sofia Speakman, the naturalist for CUI’s new student gardening club, says the club hopes to one day donate fresh produce from the garden to local food banks.

Speakman, an avid photographer, recently encountered a beautiful snake amongst lichen-encrusted rocks.

“It had a dark mottled face and neck, a rosy-red midsection, and a golden-tan tail,” Speakman says. “It slithered close and I was able to take photos. After some research, I identified it as a red racer, a subspecies of coachwhip.”

The poetry club held an Edgar Allen Poe reading in the garden on Halloween night, and “Biology professors are already teaching classes there,” Gavin says. “I saw students with notebooks, keying out a flower in the field dissection.” Schulteis plans to show his education students how to use gardens in their own classrooms by demonstrating the main parts of a plant and sharing the excitement of seeing things grow.

Gavin says people are welcome to work there anytime and “adopt sections of the garden.” Work days are scheduled twice a month and draw as many as sixty people. For more information and photographs visit the Facebook page for Concordia University Heritage Garden or visit their tumblr blog at

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