A 2-acre botanical garden in the middle of Pierce College is a place of beauty that serves as a living laboratory with a variety of plant and animal life.
But march just a few steps in any direction and the serenity fades into rows of classroom buildings, a softball diamond, a soccer field and a steady stream of traffic in the distance -- reminding you that you're on a college campus.
Pierce College in Woodland Hills has always been more lush and green than the Los Angeles Community College District's other eight campuses. Included on its 426 acres is a 225-acre working farm that produces such crops as corn, tomatoes and pumpkins, and also is home to small herds of cows, sheep, horses and goats.
Six years ago, Pierce added another green element by creating a botanical garden on two acres of what had been the lawn-covered quad in the middle of the campus. The garden's centerpiece is a 2,500-square-foot pond.
The botanical garden, said Dr. James Rikel, chairman of the Pierce life sciences department, is "an outdoor lab primarily designed to show how plants adapt their leaves to the arid environment we live in."
The S. Mark Taper Foundation is the primary source of funding for the garden, officially known as the S. Mark Taper Foundation Life Science Botanic Garden. It also receives money from the LACCD's Sustainable Building Program and the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California.
Once asked when the garden would be complete,
What has evolved so far in the Mediterranean-style garden is a vast array of animal and plant life. There are hummingbirds, ducks and mosquito fish along with the turtles.
There are trees and cactus, flowers and bushes. A stroll through the area reveals coastal redwoods, Catalina cherries and olives, red mountain sage, golden barrel cactus, a butterfly bush, a mother-of-pearl plant, a Tasmanian flax lily, a pink spider flower, San Miguel Island buckwheat, a kangaroo paw and a creeping boobialla. There is an array of Australian and South African-native shrubs. There is even a Wollemi pine, once thought to be extinct.
The garden offers a welcome respite from classes and exams, and a natural outdoor lunch locale.
Soil from the equestrian area was brought in to begin the garden and a water-saving drip irrigation system was installed for the plants.
The garden has more than 600 species of drought-tolerant plants and requires about 70% less water than the lawn that preceded it.
"It's incredible," said Dr. Joy McCaslin, interim president of Pierce College. "This gathering place for students is very special, not only for its beauty, but also because it really is a laboratory for the life science program. It's neat that, along with the beauty, there is an educational aspect to it."
Along with Rikel, two other life science professors, Kate Kubach and Pat Farris, were responsible for the botanical garden. They are saluted in a plaque in the garden that reads: "May all who enter this garden find the beauty and inspiration intended by its creators, three visionary Pierce College professors who dedicated themselves to making this garden a reality."
That reality, said Doreen Clay, public relations specialist for Pierce, has exceeded expectations.
"It's much more magnificent," she said, "than anyone could have thought."