Trees For Health Garden Prospers with the Help of Volunteers

| September 6, 2017 | 0 Comments

by Violet Green

A blooming African Tulip tree is on the upper path of the Trees For Health garden.

Even if you’ve lived in San Diego your entire life, you might not know about one of its hidden gems – the Trees For Health garden in Balboa Park. I was lucky enough to hear about this botanical medicine treasure when I attended a San Diego Herb Guild meeting in 2014.

It all started in 1993 when three members of the San Diego Herb Club (Barbara Carey, Charlotte Tenney, and Fern Wilson) set out to identify and map the medicinal trees located throughout Balboa Park. Two years later, the Balboa Park horticulturist provided a dedicated spot for a medicinal plant collection at the corner of Balboa Drive and Quince Drive. In the early days, the founders planted 15 new, medicinal trees and became responsible for watering, weeding, and tending the plants and the land. They would pull wagons to bring buckets full of water to the fledgling trees and spent many back-breaking hours digging holes for new plantings in the hard soil. In 1998, Balboa Park expanded the Trees For Health (TFH) garden to 3.5 acres. Our garden expanded again in 2015 to comprise 4.5 acres including a newly-planted oak circle.

For years a small group of dedicated volunteers have maintained this organic corner of the park weekly. Doing so ensures that no pesticides are sprayed in the Trees For Health garden. Maintenance includes hand weeding, watering, and careful monitoring of tree health. Since water pipes were expanded to reach the garden, we’re also responsible for the installation, troubleshooting, and replacement of irrigation components. In 2016 our small crew of 16 regular volunteers donated 2,000 hours of their time.

The mission of the Trees For Health garden association is to “promote public education cultivation, and enjoyment of healing plants through direct experience, research, and sharing of expertise.” During the summer, we host an Introduction to Medicinal Plants course for students attending the Naturopathic Program at Bastyr University’s San Diego campus. We host monthly tours, usually on the last Friday of the month, and also book private tours with advance notice. However, the garden is always open for a stroll along the paths and self-guided tours are available using signs throughout the garden. We are not a harvesting garden, so please leave any fruits or flowers for others to enjoy.

The Trees For Health garden is fortunate to receive donations from various private sources to allow improvements and for us to continue our educational work. For instance, we recorded videos of local herbalists discussing various plants that are posted on YouTube. Our garden paths were resurfaced and stools were added in 2014, and we launched a website in early 2016 ( Please visit our website for more information, to book a private tour for your group, to contact us, to schedule a large group for volunteering, or to find our location map.

Volunteers come every Friday morning between 7:30 and 10 a.m. New volunteers are welcome each week and can plan to help out for an hour or two – no need to stay for the entire time. Wear appropriate clothes for gardening (closed toe shoes, gloves, etc.) and bring sun protective clothing (hat) and drinking water. When you arrive, please check-in with the garden manager – look for someone in a yellow vest and they can direct you.

My favorite way to get to the garden is to head north out of downtown San Diego on the 163 freeway, and then take the Quince Drive exit that crosses over the freeway. You wind your way up an almost private ramp into the West Mesa of Balboa Park. At the stop sign, the Trees For Health garden is immediately on your right. You’ll have to proceed forward or turn left, since there’s no right turn onto Balboa Drive, one-way only.

I hope to meet you in the garden soon!

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