The Garden’s Growth Continues

For the past two years, it has been my pleasure and privilege to serve as Chairman of the Board for San Diego Botanic Garden (SDBG). During that time, I have seen wonderful new growth and exciting opportunities realized. During our recent Annual Meeting, I shared 2012’s dynamic highlights.
We kicked off March with our popular Herb Festival, Spring Plant Sale and Tomatomania!®. Special guest Roz Creasy, a highly-regarded garden and food writer, photographer, and landscape designer, spoke to a full house on Edible Landscaping. In March, our Board also approved use of the remaining funds from the Hamilton Children’s Garden first phase to begin the actual design and fundraising for a new education and event pavilion. The building will offer a greatly enhanced space for educational events, classes, weddings, meetings and conferences.

2012 was a year of international recognition for the Garden. On April 30, we hosted 18 professionals from around the world who were on tour with the U.S. State Department and who are involved with conservation in their respective countries. In May, the San Diego Botanic Garden was selected as one of the 10 Most Spectacular Gardens in the World as reported by Laura DiMugno in “The Huffington Post.” We also took part in a panel discussion on international collaborations in June at the American Public Garden Association’s national conference in Columbus, Ohio. Oren Ben Yossef, Executive Director of the Jerusalem Botanical Gardens (our sister public garden), Jim Farley, CEO of the Leichtag Foundation and SDBG’s President and CEO Julian Duval gave a presentation on the collaboration between our gardens. We also introduced the video produced on our collaboration titled “Plants Grow People.”
On July 21, we celebrated the grand re-opening of our Native Plants and Native People Trail. I wish to extend special thanks to the Donald and Elizabeth Dickinson Foundation, the Rain Bird Corporation, and Edward and Ellen Wong for their contributions in support of this project. This complete renovation provided a substantial upgrade to this highly-important area of the Garden where we provide sanctuary for native populations of endangered plants and their use by our local Native Americans, the Kumeyaay. In fact, our work in the preservation of these native species was a key factor in the Garden’s acceptance into the Center for Plant Conservation (CPC).

In September, we held our 13th annual Gala in the Garden in the Hamilton Children’s Garden for the first time. During the evening, Janet Kister of Sunlet Nursery was honored as the recipient of the Paul Ecke Jr. Award of Excellence. In addition to being a most deserving honoree, Janet’s efforts insured that the 2012 Gala had the highest level of sponsorships of any previous Gala, and helped to net $133,335.
October was a month of great accomplishment for the Garden. We completed our new, attractive and more efficiently functional Welcome Center. This handicapped-accessible, green building accommodates up to three staff or volunteers and enables us to serve more than one visitor at a time through drive-up and walk-up windows. This much-needed upgrade to the Garden ensures that we can serve the hundreds of visitors we see daily in a safer and more effective manner. Thank you to the County of San Diego, the Masserini Charitable Trust, the Charles and Ruth Billingsley Foundation, and the donors to the 2011 Gala’s Fund-a-Need, all of whom made this remarkable addition possible.
After our Gala, the Fall Plant Sale is our single biggest fundraiser for the Garden and this year marked the 30th anniversary of the event. Held on October 19, the sale was tremendously successful, grossing just under $48,000 with, by all accounts, the best selection of plants ever thanks to many hours of hard work by our docents and volunteers.

In October, San Diego Botanic Garden also became a full Participating Institution in the Center for Plant Conservation (CPC). The CPC is a national organization dedicated solely to preventing extinction of America’s imperiled, native flora. Made up of a network of 38 leading botanical institutions located throughout the country, the CPC maintains the National Collection of Endangered Plants to further their mission of conserving and restoring the rare native plants of the United States.

During November, 18 volunteers and donors enjoyed a Garden-led trip to Singapore and Vietnam. The inspiration for this trip was to see the newly opened “Gardens by the Bay” botanic garden in Singapore.
December was another busy month for the Garden. On December 1, we officially opened our completely renovated gift shop and plant sales area. This project got its start almost a year ago when SDBG board member Carol Dickinson told us she would underwrite the renovation. This renovation tripled the indoor sales area and greatly improved the accessibility of the plant sales area. Not only is the new space an attractive addition to the visitor experience, we have already seen a 41% increase in sales income.
We concluded 2012 with one of our biggest annual events, Garden of Lights, which opened on December 8 and ran for 21 nights. A holiday tradition for many San Diegans, “Garden of Lights” requires close to 500 volunteers, and features 125,000 lights. Thanks to everyone’s hard work and dedication, 12,000 people enjoyed this year’s festive event. We ended the year on a high note with 5,700 members, including 462 Larabee and Benefactor members, up from 436 in 2011.

Our 2013 Annual Meeting proved to be a seminal moment for the Garden as Jim Farley, CEO of the Leichtag Foundation outlined an exciting challenge and a unique opportunity for future expansion. The Foundation, which purchased the Ecke Ranch, said that it would consider donating 12 acres of the land to SDBG if the Garden addressed three areas: 1) the dual ownership of SDBG’s land by the City and the County, 2) the Garden’s status as a voting member organization, and 3) the ability to raise sufficient funds to care for and preserve the donated property. This potential Garden expansion would provide an important and lasting legacy for generations to come. Julian will discuss more about the Leichtag Foundation challenge in an upcoming issue of Quail Tracks.

We already have great news for 2013. Thanks to the wonderful response from donors to the 2012 Gala Fund-A-Need effort, we are planning upgrades to several key areas in our popular Seeds of Wonder Garden. We are also thrilled to announce that we will honor former County Supervisor Pam Slater-Price with the Paul Ecke Jr. Award of Excellence at the Gala in the Garden on Saturday, September 7, 2013. Personally and professionally, Pam Slater-Price has been a long-time champion and advocate for the Garden and for preserving open spaces. Additionally, Carol Dickinson will serve as Honorary Chair and Kethy Segal will chair the planning committee.

Speaking of wonderful advocates, I would also like to thank all of the staff and volunteers for making 2012 a banner year for the Garden. Finally, I would officially like to welcome the new Chairman of the Board, Tom Applegate, who brings a wealth of experience and enthusiasm for the Garden to his position. Happily, I will remain on the Board and continue to actively support San Diego Botanic Garden as it continues to grow and flourish.

Jim Ruecker
Chairman of the Board
2011 and 2012