The Plant Man: Exploring the Laguna Niguel Botanical Preserve

By Steve Kawaratani

“In every walk with nature, one receives far more than he seeks.”

–John Muir

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Photos by Catharine Cooper

Steve Kawaratani

California natives play a significant role in the habitat where the Pacific Ocean meets the coastal foothills in Southern California. While the coastal sage scrub community is the foundation of the natural environment, the introduction of plants from other regions has profoundly influenced our home gardens, contributing to Laguna’s diverse landscape character.

During our birthday weekend, we decided to explore parks and preserves just outside the holiday congestion of Laguna; this included the natural beauty and tranquility of the Laguna Niguel Botanical Preserve. Nestled a mere 20 minutes distant from our village, this horticultural gem beckons nature enthusiasts and plant lovers alike, offering a serene escape from our all too busy lives.

The mission statement of the Niguel Botanical Preserve is to “display garden-worthy plants appropriate to the Southern California region, collected from five areas of the world with similar Mediterranean climates.”

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Matilija Poppy, or aptly named Sunnyside-Up Eggs, are native to California and northern Mexico

The Preserve covers just over 18 acres, showcasing an impressive collection of native plants and introduced species that thrive in coastal locales. As you walk up and through the preserve, you’ll discover a diverse array of flora that reflects their unique coastal environment, from vibrant wildflowers to succulents and cacti. Other regions represented are the South African, Mediterranean and Chilean Gardens.

Wandering through the California Garden, at a sunny edge of a canopy of native and hybridized oak trees, we found Coulter’s Matilija Poppy (Romneya coulteri). It is one of the largest and showiest California poppies, with bright white petals surrounded by yellow stamens. Its cheery flowers are attractive to important pollinators like bees and butterflies. This one needs a lot of space and can be invasive.

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The Western Columbine is a beautiful California native plant that adapts well to home gardens

The Western Columbine (Aquilegia Formosa) is also known as the Crimson Columbine because of its attractive red- and yellow-colored flowers. The blooms are appealing to hummingbirds, and their seedheads provide sustenance for finches, sparrows and other bird species. It is a good garden plant, only requiring regular water, partial shade and well-composted soil.

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Grevillea “Peaches and Cream” is an Australian original; it is truly a year-round flowering plant

We strolled to the Australian Garden, with its forest of first growth eucalyptus and bottle trees. We paused to admire Grevillea “Peaches and Cream,” a relatively new grevillea cultivar. The flowers open yellow initially, but later add shades of pink and orange. Its 4- to 5-ft. height and width lends itself as a focal point in a small garden, and its flowers attract birds.

Whether you’ re a seasoned gardener looking for inspiration or simply seeking a peaceful retreat in nature, the Laguna Niguel Botanical Preserve offers a truly enchanting experience. Take your time exploring the nooks and crannies of this hidden oasis and allow yourself to be immersed in the beauty and serenity it possesses. See you next time.

Steve Kawaratani, a regular columnist with Stu News Laguna, has been a local guy for seven decades and likes to garden and drive the Baja Peninsula with Catharine and Loki. He can be reached at or 949.494.5141.

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