10Qs with Julian Duval, head of Botanic Garden


Julian Duval is a native of the Chicago area, growing up under the influence of understanding parents and the area’s great zoos and botanical gardens. Upon graduation from high school, he became an animal keeper in the reptile house at Brookfield Zoo.

Duval was employed for seven years at Brookfield Zoo and worked in several areas of animal care, eventually becoming a marine mammal trainer. He then left Chicago to attend New Mexico State University where he graduated with a degree in wildlife management.

An opportunity arose through the Smithsonian/Peace Corps to work on the development of the new National Zoo in the Dominican Republic where he spent three years as curator. He then took a position with Auto Safari Chapin in Guatemala where he directed the opening of this zoo. The wonderful people and the rich, unique floras and faunas of these countries left a lasting impression.

Duval returned to the U.S. and became General Curator at the Indianapolis Zoo, a unique opportunity to help assist with the creation of its new zoo and botanical gardens. During the 15 years spent in Indianapolis, he became Vice President of Zoological and Botanical Collections for this $64 million project.

In January 1995, Duval moved to Encinitas to become the first Executive Director of the renamed San Diego Botanic Garden (formerly Quail Botanical Gardens). Since then, Duval, staff, docents, and volunteers have worked hard to improve the gardens and establish a financial base ensuring the future of this jewel in the crown of San Diego.

What brought you to Encinitas?

My wife, Leslie, two rescue cats, a box turtle and a personal collection of about 800 plants moved from Indianapolis to Encinitas for me to become the director of what was called Quail Botanical Gardens in 1995.

If you could snap your fingers and have it done, what might you add, subtract or improve in Encinitas?

I really do not think there is much about Encinitas I would want to change. I think we have seen improvement in how the city’s political leadership is working together. While I believe an environmental ethic is in the DNA of Encinitas, we all need to work toward more long-term sustainable practices.

Who or what inspires you?

The wonder and beauty of nature is what most comforts and inspires me. My hope for the future of human kind is most inspired by seeing young people enjoy spending time in the San Diego Botanic Garden despite all the electronic and virtual entertainment available to everyone. Mother Nature still rules.

If you hosted a dinner party for eight, who (living or deceased) would you invite?

E.O. Wilson, Paul Ehlich, Aldo Leopold, Margaret Mead, Rosa Parks, Teddy Roosevelt, Robert Kennedy, my mother Isabel and my wife Leslie.

What are your favorite movies?

One stand out is “The Gods Must be Crazy”. Early Disney nature films like The Jungle” and “The Desert” were huge influences on me as child. The sound track to “O Brother, Where Art Thou” helped to expand the types of music I enjoy. Just before moving to California my wife and I saw “Pulp Fiction.” It left an impression and walking out of the theater I remember we looked at one another and said, “And we are moving to California?”

What’s the most challenging aspect of what you do, and what’s the most rewarding?

What I probably find most challenging is having enough time in a day to get all the things I would like to get done. I sleep well but it seems such a waste. Every job I have ever had has always been my dream job and seeing the growth and success of the San Diego Botanic Garden tops my list of most satisfying.

What do you do for fun?

No surprise, I spend a lot of time ether gardening or visiting natural areas for fun. It’s my form of meditation and it recharges my battery.

What is it that you most dislike?

I do not have many dislikes. But one might be seeing certain people acting in abusive ways toward our shared environment. Seeing someone toss a lit cigarette from a vehicle gets my ire.

What do you hope to accomplish next?

We have two major projects in the works for the San Diego Botanic Garden. With the help of County capital support initiated by Supervisor Dave Roberts, we will finally be able to establish a horticulture staff support facility allowing staff to vacate our historic Larabee House and the Lawn House. These two major features in the Garden will then be turned into experiences the visitors will enjoy.

We have also been very successful raising over 80 percent toward a $5.3 million goal to build the Dickinson Family Education Conservatory next to the very popular Hamilton Children’s Garden. This will be a unique environment designed to be an educational meeting place that will also include a unique environment for truly tropical plants. There will also be a teaching kitchen aimed particularly to help children establish healthy eating habits.

These projects will take the next couple of years to complete. We also want to add an Eastern Mediterranean garden project in collaboration with the Jerusalem Botanical Garden, our sister public garden. We only have very basic concepts for this garden addition at this time but I would like to see it have a theme of peace, while representing the flora and culture of this troubled area of the world.

Lots to keep us busy.

What is your motto or philosophy of life?

I don’t really have verbiage to express my motto or philosophy of life but I have always been able to feel it. I have always been very fortunate to be involved professionally with sharing, inspiring and encouraging stewardship of the things I love which are all the amazing life forms we humans are part of on earth.