I grew up in Shreveport, Louisiana, a community (thankfully) with more nature centers than Starbucks. These Northwest Louisiana nature centers typically host a wildlife refuge where animals are cared for and housed, eventually to be released back into the wild. One was once even located within the Louisiana State Museum complex in downtown Shreveport, complete with turtles and its own resident alligator! But most nature centers around the country are generally located outside of town, along the perimeters or right next to a trailhead.
Nature centers are increasingly hosting a wide variety of events and attractions like laser light shows, concerts, interpretative education programs, or environmental art events to draw in attendance. Typically inexpensive and kid-friendly, these centers are wonderful venues for birthday parties and many a school outings, offering the experience of a curated small animal zoo and botanical garden, all in one!
AHBE Landscape Architects recently completed the landscape design for the Stoneview Nature Center in Culver City, California. This type of nature center is distinct and appropriate for today’s city dweller hungry for a contemporary urban outdoor day retreat.
Funded by the County of Los Angeles, Stoneview Nature Center is located above an existing subdivision, next to a busy La Cienega Blvd, a renowned “shortcut to LAX”. The site is sandwiched between the Inglewood Oil Field and the Kenneth E. Hahn State Recreation Area, blending Southern California native plants with suburban landscape plants, but with a twist. EYRC Architects was responsible for designing the park’s contemporary interpretivef nature center, filled with natural light inside, and a large shade structure serving large outdoor group activities.
Each of the plants within the park were chosen to meet certain performance criteria: drought resistance, stormwater bio-filitration efficacy, offer a nectar or pollen source, native to California or Baja California, or edible by people or pets. Another fun-filled design challenge was to match each plant within various color blocks along the various pathways; something is always blooming throughout the four seasons within each section.
Stoneview Nature Center also represents the efforts of the art collaborative Fallen Fruit, whose silverware and kitchen tool chandelier fits beautifully within the urban park and garden setting used to host educational lectures and demonstrations. Fallen Fruit has hosted some really creative programming in the past, including DIY pickling and food ‘zine workshops. I recommend keeping tabs on the Stoneview Nature Center’s Facebook page for the next exciting event.
Just as Los Angeles County is struggling to meet the demands of housing today for its residents, our city’s urban wildlife is suffering from a lack of habitat. The Stoneview Nature Center is making efforts to mitigate habitat loss by offering dense shrubs for small birds to hide from predators, an owl house high overhead by a thicket of trees to invite the nocturnal predators, a secluded bat box, and even a protected quail dome home in the middle of the site.
Quercus agrifolia (Coast Live Oak) also help urban wildlife congregate within the park-like setting. Over time, these large trees offer ample shade during the summer months and sustenance throughout the year for all varieties of animals and insects.
An unusual feature visitors may notice are the numerous methane vents dotting the grounds. The 5-acre site was once an active oil field and the interpretive center was built over an abandoned oil well – Dabney Lloyd #3. Signage with historic photos communicates the site’s storied past.
My husband and I really enjoyed the numerous edible plants within the site, including fruiting citrus trees, avocado trees, and my favorite, a berry patch filled with Vaccinium (Blueberry) and Rubus x ‘APF – 236T’ (Baby Cakes™ Thornless Dwarf Blackberry). For the birds, Vitis californica x vinifera ‘Roger’s Red’ (Roger’s Red California Grape) travels over a back fence, its winter foliage flamboyantly vibrant red.
Surrounded by so many edibles, my husband and I imagined making pizza with herbs collected from the garden, such as Rosmarinus officinalis ‘Prostratus’ (Prostrate Rosemary). Maybe there’s a wood oven somewhere within the park? We’ll have to come back and see if it is inside the building.
One parting bit of advice for your next visit to the Stoneview Nature Center: instead of driving and fighting traffic, I encourage you to take the Metro Expo Line. Get off at Jefferson/La Cienega station; a shuttle stop known as The Link offers a free ride to the park, operating roughly between 8am to 5pm. Visiting the Stoneview Nature Center is absolutely free, offering an especially gratifying and educational opportunity to enjoy nature throughout the seasons.