Tony Tubbs’ Las Flores School Garden

CNPS Garden Ambassador:  Tony Tubbs

Photo: Tony Tubbs
CNPS Orange County Chapter
Garden Location: Left side and back of Tesoro High School campus
Garden Size: 12,000 sqft to 2 acres
Year Planted:  2014

Virtual Garden Tour:


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Everyone needs to hear the message of the importance of planting natives – from the ease of care, to the saving of water, to the fact that it is better for our surrounding environment.  The alternative is simply the wrong choice. – Tony Tubbs

Tony, a Southern California native and science teacher at Tesoro High School, feels fortunate to live and work in an area surrounded by the Santa Ana Mountain foothills, covered by California’s coastal sage scrub and chaparral plant communities.  Year after year, he has taken his Natural History of California and biology students outside to study and appreciate the native environment that has endured for thousands of years.  As the years passed by, he decided that not only should his students benefit from the opportunity to learn about our native plants and animals, but the surrounding community should as well.

Three years ago, Tony started the school’s first California native plant garden with the goal of not only appreciating California’s natural history, but also passing along the important message that everyone can have a positive impact on our environment if they plant native plants.  One of the major themes in biology at Tesoro High School is human impact (in both a positive and negative sense) upon our ecosystems.  Students gain firsthand knowledge of this as soon as they step outside the classroom door and into the outdoor education center.  They leave class at the end of the year with a deeper understanding of the positive impact they can have upon the conservation and restoration of our native habitats.

Tony and his students named the first garden their CA Native Plant Garden.  Since then, they have added three more gardens: The Pollinator Garden, The CA Indian Garden, and The Desert Garden.  These gardens have been constructed with the help of biology students, Ecology Club members, Boy and Girl Scouts, sports team members, elementary and middle school students, parents and community members.  Tony explains, “Our goal is to share these gardens with as many people as possible and spread the word regarding the conservation and restoration of California’s native plants.”

Tony’s favorite California native plants

About the gardens

Garden Locations:  We have a more than one garden!  The California Native Plant Garden is on the left side (south) of the campus, at the end of Tesoro Creek Rd.  The Nature Trail, which includes a California Indian and Pollinator Garden, is at the back of the school.

Garden Sizes:  The CA Native Plant Garden is approximately 12,000-15,000 square feet.  The Nature Trail, along with its gardens and amphitheater seating area, is roughly 2 acres.

Year Planted:  2014

Design and Installation:  I designed the gardens, and approximately 50 Tesoro High School students helped plant the first round of plants.  Biology students, Ecology Club members, Boy and Girl Scouts, sports team members, elementary and middle school students, parents, and community members have all helped construct these gardens.

Style Inspiration:  Our goal is to provide a living laboratory where students and community members can explore a wide variety of California natives up close as they meander through our trail system. We also want to stress the importance of the conservation and restoration of our precious local and state-wide plant communities and the wildlife that depends upon it.

Go-to Native Plant Nurseries:  Tree of Life Nursery

Irrigation:  None!  We hand-water every two weeks to get them through the first 6 – 8 months if they are not planted at an opportune time, or if it is a dry fall/winter (as it has been the last few years).  Most can thrive in the native climate unless they have other water needs (for example, plants that are found elsewhere in CA or at different elevations, biomes, etc.).

Maintenance:  Mostly myself, and weekly if I have the chance (sometimes every other week).  I try to get biology students, ecology club members and, at times, scouts involved with maintenance days.  There is always something to do – from watering newly planted plants, to spreading mulch, to weeding.

Wildlife Spotted:  Countless butterflies (including monarchs), birds (including a California gnatcatcher, roadrunners, hawks, vultures), insects, arachnids (including scorpions and tarantulas), plus coyotes, mule deer, bobcats, striped skunks and spotted skunks have been spotted by our wildlife cameras.

Favorite Element:  My favorite element is the open space available to explore the wide variety of plants and animals that co-exist in our Interpretive Gardens (Native Plant Garden, Pollinator Garden and CA Indian Garden) and Nature Trail area. This provides the visitor with a tremendous opportunity to interact with the unique and extraordinary flora and fauna of California.

What Students Think:  

“Our Nature Garden gives us an escape from all of the tedious bookwork that happens throughout the school day. It is nice to be able to walk around and see all of the different native plant species.”

  • Yasmine Abuelhija

“The Tesoro Nature Trail is a great place for us to observe and apply what we learn in class to a real world situation.”

  • McKenzie McCallop

“The Tesoro High School Native Plant Gardens are so beautiful. I really appreciate all of the native plants that surround the school. We have given them a chance to thrive.”

  • Kayla Krishna

What Teachers Think: 

“For Spanish level 3 I use it during our Nature unit and we pretend to go camping, we set up a tent with some props and the students do a skit in small groups. They enjoy being out in the open and like the fact that they can use the nature trail as inspiration to use the Spanish vocabulary. After the unit is over, students talk about how much they enjoyed that part of the unit.”

  • Pedro Pulido

 “The Native Plant Garden & Nature Trail have been a welcome respite to my busy days. I often spend eight hours or more indoors with no natural light. It’s so nice to take a short break or escape out there, to a place that’s both cared for and helps me with some needed self-care. Thanks so much for bringing it to fruition, it’s lovely.”

  • Cheryl Despalmes

 “We couldn’t be more grateful for the transformative effects of the garden that has been growing around Tesoro High School! With the help of students, Mr. Tubbs our Biology instructor has spent countless hours converting the untamed areas behind and to the side of our school. All the while not only educating our students about the topography and native plants indigenous to this area; but planting, labeling and attracting all the birds and animal wildlife that are all too thrilled to come and feed on these grounds. It has turned into a spectacular wealth of knowledge and he has even caught a spectacular array of film footage and photos of the local Coyote, Deer, Bobcat and countless spectacular birds and insects that are found here. We are so lucky to have this space, among his continued adaption in the past few years; he has designed trails, trellises and benches to add to our enjoyment. Thank you Mr. Tubbs, you are an inspiration!”

  • Ramona Lindroth

“My classes love the gardens!  We enjoy taking a nature break.  I especially like it in the spring after the rain.  Thank you for making them available for us to enjoy!”

  • Diane Rasic

Biggest Challenge:  One of the biggest challenges to establishing the gardens has been competing with the elements: the critters (gophers, squirrels, and rabbits), a relative lack of rainfall, and the soil make-up (a combination of back-fill from the school being built and invasive plants).

Advice:  Be patient as you establish your garden. Great things take time to develop. Find others who share your passion…students, parents, community members and native plant enthusiasts. We are all in this this together and for all the right reasons.

California native plants in the Tesoro High School gardens

California Native Plant Garden – Landscape Design

California Native Plant Garden – Plant List

California Indian Garden – Plant List and Plant Uses

Pollinator Garden – Plant List

CNPS Horticulture Team


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