The Succulent and Cactus Garden at Extension
by Michael Ryan
The beauty of a garden with a variety of succulents and cacti is a delight to view each day while
attending classes at Osher. Steve Clarey and others suggested an article about the garden and how it came into existence. Fortunately, Michael Ryan, the Operations Manager for International Student Services agreed to write an article about the development of this lovely garden.
Michael started working at UC San Diego Extension in July of 2009. While international student
operations were what he was hired to manage, he also had a passion for landscape design and maintained a small business designing gardens on weekends and holidays. Michael immediately saw the need to beautify the grounds in and around Building E at Extension. Aside from the birds of paradise, there was not much more than dirt and weeds at the time. He pictured creating a garden that helped students, staff, and faculty be more at peace as they walked from one class or task to another.
Walking through a garden or sitting in or near it can be calming and help reduce anxiety and stress. The succulent and cactus garden at UC San Diego Extension became a reality when Michael first broke ground in Fall Quarter 2009.
Michael was originally trained in landscape design by his father, Timothy Ryan, while he was growing up in Solana Beach. From the fall of 2009, both Michael and Timothy spent the next several years during the holiday breaks digging out old tree roots and planting succulents and cacti. They donated the plants from their own propagation operation at home. Some plants were also donated by Tina's Succulents. She can be found at the Solana Beach Farmers' Market on Sundays and at other major gardening events at the Del Mar Fairgrounds. As the garden grew, an Osher member, Gerald Erwin, donated several succulents and cacti from his home, too. When the planting around Building E was completed, they were encouraged by Extension management to expand the garden to the central patio area.
Long droughts and hot summers have become a constant challenge in keeping the plants alive and looking vibrant. Though succulents and cacti are drought-resistant plants, some water is necessary to sustain them. Supplying adequate moisture proved difficult because, where the plants were located, the sprinkler system had never worked properly. To rectify this problem Michael could not rely on the staff, since this activity is not a part of their day-to-day responsibility, so he had to implement a watering plan during non-working hours. To keep the plants beautiful, many staff and faculty members have taken turns watering the planted areas during their lunches and breaks. They have reported that just the act of watering the garden has helped support their workday in a positive and stress relieving way. Our student workers had never worked with plants or soil before, and this opportunity gave them a much deeper appreciation for gardening. These undergraduates found that tending the plants helped reduce the anxiety they felt about having to study after work and class.
The garden is now a central meeting place for students, staff, faculty, and Osher members who want a peaceful alternative to a conference room or classroom. Our international visitors often comment about the garden. They are impressed by the ashtrays converted into planters. Many of these stu-dents come from other parts of the world where the cycle of severe drought followed by heavy rains is also a problem. This winter’s rains helped many plants recover from the hot summer, but they also resulted in a high volume of weeds. Facilities staff are working hard to help cull the weeds as spring starts to dry the ground once more. Gerald Erwin, continues to support the garden, and he has re-cently donated some aloe plants that will add to its beauty. Michael and his father are very pleased to know that the succulent and cactus garden give so many people at Extension such happiness.