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Mildred E. Mathias Botanical Garden set to reopen in spring with renovated stream

The stream at the UCLA Mildred E. Mathias Botanical Garden is pictured under construction. The renovated waterway is expected to reopen in May. (Shane Yu/Daily Bruin staff)

By Lyah Fitzpatrick

Feb. 26, 2024 9:32 p.m.

The UCLA Mildred E. Mathias Botanical Garden is renovating its stream to make it more water-efficient and help introduce more diverse flora and fauna.

The renovation, which began in June of last year, involves installing an automatic irrigation system and reinforcing the stream bed. While the area is currently restricted from public access, it is set to reopen this May in conjunction with the garden’s spring Clarkia Festival.

(Shane Yu/Daily Bruin staff)
A construction worker walks along the dry riverbed. Garden staff said the stream’s foundation is being reinforced to prevent water seepage. (Shane Yu/Daily Bruin staff)

The renovation is part of the botanical garden’s waterworks project, which is funded in part by a $1.5 million gift from Charlie and Peggy Norris, according to a UCLA Newsroom press release. It is also part of a five-year strategic plan created in 2017 that seeks to promote the preservation of urban natural spaces and ecosystems across Los Angeles, said Amanda Beisch, the manager of garden outreach and education.

Beisch said the manmade stream was originally built with cement in the 1970s when Angelenos were less focused on conservation. Over time, alternating cold and warm weather caused cracking in the foundation and resulted in water seepage, she added.

Beisch said the stream is now being lined with a “lasagna” of materials to reduce water loss. An intake at the end of the stream will pump water back to the top, ultimately saving about 200 swimming pools worth of water a year, she added.

“If you’re thinking about the most limited valuable resource being water, we need to make sure that we are saving it and not wasting it,” Beisch said.

(Shane Yu/Daily Bruin staff)
Workers build the stream’s foundation. The stream bed will feature a “lasagna” mix of materials better suited to the changing hot and cold weather. (Shane Yu/Daily Bruin staff)

The new automatic irrigation system will use recycled, nutrient-dense stream water to efficiently water specific areas of the garden, said Allison Keeney, the garden’s assistant director. In the past, the garden was watered by hand or by sprinklers, neither of which are labor- or water-efficient, Beisch said.

The botanical garden team will also reintroduce native fish to the stream so that their waste fertilizes the garden’s plants, Beisch said. She added that the garden does not use any pesticides or herbicides.

Beisch also said the renovations are intended to beautify the garden by including elements such as a new island and a koi fish containment area. There will also be new native water plants, Keeney said.

Two ponds at the bottom of the stream will serve as reflective spaces for visitors, Keeney said.

“We want to make this wonderful little oasis in the middle of the city – this place of respite and beauty,” Keeney said.

Beisch added that the majority of people she sees in the garden during weekdays are medical patients and staff using the garden as a place for recovery or a mental break.

“It’s really important to continue to provide people with the respite of coming into the garden and feeling immersed in nature and having that time to recalibrate,” Beisch said.

The botanical garden is also a research and teaching space, said Janice Shintaku, the director of development for UCLA Life Sciences. She said undergraduate and graduate students use the garden as a classroom and laboratory, adding that she hopes more of them will do so following the renovations.

“I am hoping that … students will become aware of this beautiful space on campus and come and enjoy the resources that the garden provides,” Shintaku said.

Keeney said the recent rains have been one obstacle for construction, as contractors have had to continuously drain the stream. However, weather delays have been built into the project timeline, Beisch added.

(Shane Yu/Daily Bruin staff)
A sign hangs on a fence saying that the stream will reopen in the spring. Staff said the stream will officially reopen during the garden’s Clarkia Festival in May. (Shane Yu/Daily Bruin staff)

The gardens are still set to fully reopen as scheduled during the Clarkia Festival on May 18, Keeney said. She added that she is excited for the construction to end and for people to see the new stream.

“When people come into the garden, we want them to get curious and get inspired and become more aware of the plants around them,” Beisch said. “Hopefully, that will prompt them to protect urban habitats.”

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Lyah Fitzpatrick
Fitzpatrick is a News staff writer on the science and health beat and has contributed to the Daily Bruin since 2021. She is a third-year ecology, behavior and evolution student with a minor in art history.
Fitzpatrick is a News staff writer on the science and health beat and has contributed to the Daily Bruin since 2021. She is a third-year ecology, behavior and evolution student with a minor in art history.
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