New garden at La Jolla Hermosa Park has mysterious origins, thanks to unknown donor

A cluster of succulents was planted recently at La Jolla Hermosa Park in Bird Rock.
(Ashley Mackin-Solomon)

Whether the new succulents can stay is still to be determined, a city of San Diego spokesman says.


La Jolla Hermosa Park in Bird Rock has a new succulent garden, but its origins — and future — are a mystery.

In late May, residents told the La Jolla Light that someone in the neighborhood had hired Mission Hills Nursery to plant the succulents in a small patch of dirt in the otherwise rocky park.

Tiger Palafox, who heads maintenance and landscape operations for Mission Hills Nursery, said a customer whose name he declined to provide “asked for assistance for that area” because the resident had “tried to go the city route and asked them to do it and the city didn’t.”

The nursery doesn’t typically work at La Jolla Hermosa Park because it is city of San Diego property, but the donor “told us what to do and we did it,” Palafox said. “We just facilitated the labor.”

According to Palafox, he suggested the donor wait to hear from the city about doing the work because “we knew they might come in and take the plantings out, but the resident said that was a risk they were willing to take.”

Bird Rock residents have tried to seek out the secret garden donor.

Barbara Dunbar of the Bird Rock Maintenance Assessment District said she suspected that a resident who had broached the idea of re-landscaping the park may have been behind the garden, but that was disproved.

“So far, no confirmation as to who did the plantings,” Dunbar later told the Light.

Don Schmidt, co-chairman of the Bird Rock Community Council’s Coastal Overlooks Committee, told the council during its June 6 meeting that “we didn’t have anything to do with it. I don’t know who it was, but they must have spent quite a bit of money to put that landscaping in.”

A dirt patch in La Jolla Hermosa Park is now filled with a succulent garden.
(Ashley Mackin-Solomon)

Representatives of the city of San Diego confirmed that city crews did not create the garden and said there are concerns as to whether it will last.

“Planting occurring without department input, direction or oversight is not typically successful,” Parks & Recreation spokesman Benny Cartwright told the Light. “When planting landscapes within park sites, staff also have to account for integrated pest management practices to ensure the right plant is planted for each location.”

He said additional steps would need to be taken to review the plant palate and whether the garden is in line with erosion control measures planned for the park.

“The department typically defers to the advice of the city horticulturist,” Cartwright said. “He will visit the site soon to determine the next steps, but if the planting is not right for the area, it may need to be removed. We will know more ... following the horticulturist’s visit to the site.”

La Jolla Hermosa Park, also known as Rock Park or Chelsea Park, is a blufftop quarter-acre on Chelsea Avenue that overlooks the ocean with benches and a small table.

In December, after years of partial closures because of flooding and erosion concerns, city crews made repairs to the storm drain so it flows properly and the park can be entirely reopened to users. Work included clearing and trimming encroaching vegetation and removing sediment and a significant amount of debris in and along the channel and near the southwest corner of the park.

Once the work was completed, Dunbar said she expected landscaping to be added to the lower portion of the park for erosion control. However, the new plantings are in the upper area of the park.

An evaluation of San Diego city park amenities in October 2021 included La Jolla Hermosa Park and determined there was room for improvement.

The report looked at playgrounds, parking lots, playing fields and courts, furnishings, landscaping, pedestrian paving and other features.

Each park was given a Park Condition Index, or PCI, determined by a mathematical equation that factored in the costs of needed repairs and replacements. The lower the PCI, the better.

The 14 parks rated in La Jolla had an average PCI of 9, considered “good.” La Jolla Hermosa Park had a score of 24.

Much of La Jolla Hermosa Park is covered in rocks or gravel.
(Ann Dynes)

Last summer, the La Jolla Community Planning Association, La Jolla Shores Association, Bird Rock Community Council and La Jolla Parks & Beaches board came together to produce a list of capital improvement projects they wanted the city to implement in the coming year.

Revitalizing La Jolla Hermosa Park was No. 4 on the seven-item list, which was submitted to the city for consideration based on priorities and funding availability.

The anonymous garden donation comes as various community members across La Jolla have been making repairs or improvements to public spaces, some in partnership with San Diego.

Earlier this year, Windansea resident Joseph McGoldrick earned notoriety for repainting the railings of the beach-access staircase at the end of Nautilus Street without the city’s consent. He sanded and scraped the deteriorating paint from the stairway railings and a landing known as the “penalty box” at the top of the stairs, then recoated the handrails using commercial paint.

Soon after, McGoldrick became a recognized city volunteer so he can carry out other projects. He called the experience “really wonderful.”

Similarly, volunteers from La Jolla Parks & Beaches repainted fencing near Scripps Park after it was repaired by city crews. The group has been working to get a right-of-entry permit to replace or repair wooden fences along Scripps Park and the coastline, and President Bob Evans said he expects to secure the permit in the fall.

“The Parks & Recreation Department welcomes community engagement through proper volunteer opportunities,” Cartwright said.

For more information about becoming a city volunteer, visit ◆


12:52 p.m. June 13, 2023: This article was updated with comments from Tiger Palafox of Mission Hills Nursery.