Blue Bell Gardens flourish, providing a serene oasis in the Canyon and sensory delights for senior cats


Retired business executive Jeff Zakaryan’s vision of a lush garden (actually 14 different gardens now) surrounding the nonprofit Blue Bell Cat Retirement Sanctuary, located off Laguna Canyon Road, is coming beautifully into fruition. 

Just last Saturday, he and a dozen fellow volunteers dug holes for an astonishing 500 plus plants, which as they mature will offer a serene oasis of plant life in the Canyon, not to mention a delightful infusion of color, scent and insect and bird activity for the cats – and human staff and visitors – to enjoy. 

But Zakaryan, volunteer chairman of the nonprofit’s advisory board, who has been working tirelessly on the Blue Bell Gardens project for years, adamantly refuses to take the main credit, no matter how much I beg him (because I have seen him in action, and know what a challenge it has been, and how important his perseverance has been all along).

As far as he is concerned, it is Susan Hamil, chairwoman of the Blue Bell Foundation for Cats, and her team of staff and volunteers who deserve the accolades for seeing through this stunning accomplishment, which was years and plenty of hard work in the making, with community outreach a key factor in its success.

Click on photo for a larger image

Photo by Jeff Zakaryan

Blue Bell’s Angie watches wide-eyed as her view grows more and more beautiful: soon there will be plenty more butterflies and birds to enchant her

Zakaryan is clearly a happy man. “The project now includes 14 unique gardens and five fountains,” he says. “Still to come: flagstone, rocks, gravel, bird feeder and bath, garden furniture, accents and art. We’re also working on a focal point sculpture from a Laguna artist. We’re planning on a formal dedication in October.”

The City and community, he says, after some initial skepticism about the viability of the project, has come to fully support the Gardens now that it is becoming reality. “We intend the Gardens to become a horticultural resource for the community,” Zakaryan adds.

“Jeff, whose big idea this was in the first place, planted and planted [last Saturday],” Susan Hamil says. “Despite our unusual Santa Ana wind conditions, every one came out in force to plant Blue Bell! The Garden Club turned out, and Chris Lutz, who grew and planted all of the bromeliads by the lower house, organized the planting party with coffee and snacks and a barbeque lunch. And Chris gave one of his prized Bromeliads to every one who planted. 

“Josh Brown supervised the planting and fine-tuned the sprinklers so we would minimize plant loss from the heat. His wife Bimali, one of our most dedicated volunteers, was hard at work too,” Hamil notes.

Click on photo for a larger image

Photo by Jeff Zakaryan

The plants will provide the senior cats in the Blue Bell Sanctuary with a rich environment while providing a horticultural resource for the community

“Our PR volunteer Pamela Knudsen planted and took pictures. And Ruben Flores came by to make certain we were putting in the plants in exactly the right spot he had chosen for each one. I can’t thank Ruben enough and I’m sure I’ve left out some people to thank. What a beautiful start to a new phase for Blue Bell.” 

In time Blue Bell Gardens hopes to offer horticultural education programs for residents and local school children.

Zakaryan adds, “We are passionate about the Blue Bell Cat Retirement Sanctuary, which provides a unique and loving life-long home for beloved cats whose owners can no longer care for them.” 

To learn more about Blue Bell, to donate, or to volunteer for this wonderful asset to our community, visit or contact Jeff Zakaryan directly at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or call 949-290-6356.

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