Story and photos by Alexa Oslowski
Click to view a video tour by Angela Kurysh including full interview with Pam Meisner, or view the embedded video below this story.
April 24, 2021 (El Cajon) - The Water Conservation Garden, a beautiful and serene East County treasure located on Cuyamaca College’s campus, is open to the public for educational and recreational enjoyment.
The Garden hosts events for people of all ages. Adults can enjoy outdoor yoga classes, educational workshops and online seminars. Children can spend time with Ms. Smarty-Plants, a character created by the Director of Operations Pam Meisner.
The garden transitioned this program to be virtual, so kids could still enjoy the presentation while schools were providing full-time distance learning. The show consists of educational programs that are different for each grade level. According to the website, kindergarteners have a session called “The Magical Parts of a Plant. First and second graders have a program titled “Surviving and Thriving-Seed Dispersal. Third and fourth graders learn in an event called “Changing Environments-Adaptations,” while fifth and sixth graders learn about water uses in “Save Water: Collect it, Move it, Use it”.
Socially distanced programs resumed at the Garden on April 1; their virtual program was launched in March 2021.
“The best part about being Ms. Smarty-Plants is that I get to see the innocence, the wonder of a child, every day. They come, they don't have prejudices, they don't have preconceived notions, they don't have that kind of attitude. They come here and they're wide-eyed and they're ready to learn,” Meisner said. “
The Smarty-Plants mantra is we can change the world with our own two hands. I think the best part is that I get to empower and inspire them.”
The Garden was previously operating with free admission, but because of the pandemic, they now charge an entrance fee to make up over three months of lost income from being closed from March to June 2020. For more frequent visitors, there are multiple options and groupings for memberships.
“Believe it or not, the family membership shot up. It's incredible. This is a really great place for people to bring their kids, their families and get outside and get them away from that screen a little bit," Meisner said.
Throughout the outdoor area, there are numerous sections filled with plants, insects and informational displays to teach people about sustainable landscaping. There’s a butterfly pavilion, a vegetable garden and even a ”Jurassic Park” area for children to play in. The Garden also ha
s exhibits where visitors can learn about sustainable water gardening, different types of bark and mulch to use in outdoor spaces and fire-resistant landscaping. The garden is dog-friendly, allowing guests to bring their pets along for some exercise.
“We have had so many people say, ‘Oh your garden is, it's a little hidden gem,’” Meisner said. “Well, we don't want it hidden. We want everybody to know about it.”