SD Botanic Garden salvages trees for planned pavilion


Julian Duval was prepared to ship in catalpa trees from Indiana for part of a new pavilion at the San Diego Botanic Garden. But luckily for him, catalpas were recently salvaged not too far from the garden’s backyard.

County workers and others last week carefully transported six large and two small catalpas from Campo, a community in the eastern portion of San Diego County, to the garden’s grounds. The garden wants to use the wood to serve as the base of “plant chandeliers” that would hang in a planned 9,300-square-foot pavilion at the garden.

Duval, the executive director of the Botanic Garden, put out a call last year among botanists across a few states for available catalpa trees, finally settling on Indiana as a potential source.

Recently, though, Jon Powell, one of the garden’s designers, spotted the dead, drought-stricken catalpas in a public right of way while biking. It turned out they were slated for the wood chipper.

“Catalpa is rare as hen’s teeth out here in Southern California,” Duval said. “Here I am, looking at trees in Indiana, and then I find these here in San Diego. I can’t tell you how happy I am about this.”

Duval noted that because the catalpas were already dead and didn’t belong to anyone, obtaining them was that much smoother. Once they’re debarked, they’re ideal for the special chandeliers, since they’re sturdy and slow to decay, he explained.

The chandeliers will be engineered so that they can be lowered or raised — an adjustable canopy of plant life — depending on the use of the pavilion’s interior space, according to plans.

And Duval noted that his late grandmother had a catalpa, so his connection with them goes way back.

“It’s a bit of coming full circle,” he said.

As of last month, the Botanic Garden had raised $1.7 million for the $4 million pavilion, which would feature classrooms, a kitchen and an amphitheater.

For a grant challenge, if the garden can secure $3 million by December 2015, the Donald C. & Elizabeth Dickinson Foundation would contribute the remaining $1 million. If all goes as planned, work is tentatively slated to begin on the pavilion in 2016.