Trees Are Nature’s Pharmacopeia

| December 4, 2021 | 0 Comments

Last fall the Mission Hills Garden Club enjoyed a visit to a magnificent garden and a buffet supper at the home of arborist Gary Walker, known as “the Tree Whisperer.”  Walker, a man of many talents, has been “involved with nature all my life.” Son of a French mother and a United States citizen father, Walker has lived in Paris, Casablanca, Barcelona, Miami, Boston, Chicago, and San Diego.  Exposure to the arts and nature from his early days until now led to his becoming a talented artist, designer, musician, composer, and poet.  He graduated Magna Cum Laude from University of Massachusetts, and studied at Harvard, Northeastern University and Emerson College, all schools in the Boston vicinity.  Walker studied under Dr. Alex Shigo who is considered the father of modern arboriculture.  Shigo brought the study of tree biology to the public as well as to fellow arborists.  

Walker’s background contributed to his becoming an outstanding arborist in his own right.  He has had more than thirty years’ experience in garden design and working with trees.  Walker has won awards for many of his gardens, and he has been featured in numerous magazines.  He has traveled all over the world and has researched many of the world’s best gardens.

Walker lives in Hidden Meadows on over twenty acres.  He fell in love with the property in 2018, but the owner wasn’t ready to sell.  A year later, Walker convinced the owner that he would cherish and care for the property as well as or better than the previous owner had done.  The sale was consummated. 

Walker loved the Moroccan feel of the property’s house as well as the plethora of beautiful trees on the land he was buying.  He painted his new home the deep pinkish coral tone one sees all over Marrakech.  His home and his gardens are filled with artifacts, masks, Buddhas, sculptures, gates, and other items he has collected in his travels over his lifetime.  Best of all, he made friends with a neighbor who has almost succeeded in having 277 of his 350 acres which surround Walker’s deeded to the county to be maintained in its natural state in perpetuity.  

From Walker’s land one sees spectacular views of the neighboring mountains.  Walker refers to his surroundings as “a giant canvas where I can paint with plants.”  He told me when he plants, he is very conscious of the colors he is adding, choosing a palette that will either complement or augment whatever is already there.  The property abounds with oaks, eucalyptus, jacaranda, and California pepper trees which Walker has interspersed with countless flowering specimen trees and fruit trees.  He has also planted bulbs, rose bushes, and anything that will add to his living canvas.

Walker hired crews to prune and lace trees that had been neglected.  He wanted to resuscitate an orange grove, but that proved impossible.  He removed all the dead orange trees but one whose trunk and branches he painted the brilliant yellow of his home’s courtyard; birds can use it as a perch encircled by twigs which Walker painted lavender.

Walker has painted murals on walls, both interior and exterior.  Walking on the property with Walker and his Bichpoo dog, a combination of Bichon-frisé and poodle, you feel you are in a magical space created by the plants both above and around you, by the colors—both nature’s and those painted—by the beautifully toned windchimes, and the art pieces.   Walker has landscaped about two of the twenty acres he owns.  Throughout the landscaped grounds Walker has placed furniture for sitting and contemplating the surroundings. 

Everything Walker does reflects his adoration of nature.  On his website,, you can see and hear samples of his creativity.  He is particularly focused on trees.  He points out in a recorded podcast that if we planted more trees and cared for those we already have, these trees could help us solve our environmental crisis.  Trees are natural filters, he points out.  They take in carbons and give off oxygen.  They mitigate sound and moderate temperature.  They provide food, shelter, and habitat for humans and many of the other animals. 

Trees are “nature’s pharmacopeia,” with complex compounds which have been used to mitigate pain and cure diseases for centuries.  In addition to providing us with beauty, trees are “timekeepers,” Walker calls them.  They change their garb as a woman changes her outfits to suit the season.  (I stole the simile from Walker.)  Trees appeal to every sense: sight, sound, smell, touch, and taste.  Their beauty is inspirational, and Walker says there are people in the Amazon who can communicate with trees.  We are learning that trees communicate with each other, helping and protecting future generations.  They are also long-lived.  The world’s oldest tree is located somewhere in the Pine Valley area of eastern California.  This Great Basin bristlecone is known as the Methuselah Tree, believed to be perhaps 4800 years old.

Visiting Walker’s garden was a truly moving experience.  We also were treated to fabulous food made by garden club members.

There is no meeting in December, but the club will meet from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m., Thursday, January 27 at Mission Hills Church of Christ, located at 4070 Jackdaw Street.  Consult the club’s webpage for more information at  

Gary Walker is shown with his dog, Lily.
Gary Walker is shown with his dog, Lily.

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Category: Education, feature, Gardening, Historical, Local News, Nonprofit, Sustainability

About the Author ()

Barbara Strona is a native Californian who grew up in the Mid-West and Los Angeles. She and her architect husband, Carl, came to San Diego in 1968 and have lived in Mission Hills since early 1971. Barbara received a Bachelor of Arts from Scripps College with a major in English, and a minor in Art. She attended UCLA graduate school and received a General Secondary Credential. She taught English in Los Angeles, Pennsylvania, and at Point Loma High School. She has been a Realtor specializing in residential sales since 1984. Her passions include her job, reading, writing, foreign languages and foreign countries, animals (feathered or furry), theatre, and her family: husband, two adult children and two grandsons.