The Richard Garvey Intermediate School Nature Garden

A Los Angeles school garden shows the resilience of native plants

By Maya Argaman and Emily Underwood
Native meadow and wildflowers line the pathway in the nature garden. Photo: Jesse Chang

When Jesse Chang set out to create the Garvey Intermediate School Nature Garden in 2015, he faced some design challenges. The proposed location was a weedy 62 x 168-foot plot with drainage issues, framed by an outdoor covered hallway, two academic buildings, and an asphalt playground.

Five years later, Chang, a CNPS Garden Ambassador, and the school community have transformed the plot into a beautiful educational garden, complete with a vernal pool that hosts native fairy shrimp, flowering quillwort (Triglochin scilloides), and native sages that attract migrating painted lady butterflies (Vanessa cardui).

Chang used, CNPS’s tool for finding native plants suitable for your location, to select plants that could thrive in the plot. To support the garden through the largely unattended long summer months, he incorporated more perennial evergreen plants and made educational signs explaining the native plants’ survival strategies.

Colorful patch of spring madia (Madia elegans) thriving in the garden. Photo: Jesse Chang

Tips from Jesse:

CSULA Plant Physiology college students who taught junior high science students. Last row (left to right): Amy Vasquez, Simone Benjamin, Felicia Libifani, Dr. Kirsten Fisher, Joseph Zailaa, Jose Cuba. Middle row (left to right): Ugbad Farah, Dr Christine Scoffoni, Kristen Joiner, Ileana Lucero. First row (left to right): Charlotte Monsour, Nicolette Guerrero, Amber Joly Photo: Jesse Chang

•    Don’t go it alone.

Before Chang launched the garden in 2015, he rallied support from his community: “I took the success of another school garden and presented it to the superintendent with some board members’ support. With their approval, we also got active support from facilities, principal, and teachers and students to help with the building and planting of the garden. It was truly a team effort!”

•    Find creative ways to keep kids engaged

“Everyone is excited when you build and finish a garden, but helping to continue to inspire and engage students and teachers when they have so many other things going on is a challenge,” Chang says. To keep students engaged, the school invited local college students from a Cal State LA physiology course to do plant studies with the science classes in the garden.

Favorite way to enjoy the garden:

After the kids leave, I like to linger in the garden when it’s quiet, the sun is setting, and it’s just the plants and the wildlife remaining. Nature therapy at its best.”




  1. We have an established native plant garden at our school in Sunnyvale. The ceanothus is huge and beautiful in bloom. The California fuchsia went to seed and tried to take over! We have a beautiful redbud and several salvia.

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