A Native-Plant Garden Helps Transform a Neighborhood

On Hilltromper, a conversation with Felicia Van Stolk of the Santa Cruz Museum of Natural History about her Garden Learning Center.

PUBLISHED APR 6, 2024 5:10 P.M.
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Felicia Van Stolk in her museum's front-yard garden.

Felicia Van Stolk in her museum's front-yard garden.   Courtesy Santa Cruz Museum of Natural History

Situated on a bluff just above Seabright Beach in the charming neighborhood that is the beach’s namesake, the Santa Cruz Museum of Natural History is blessed with a sweet location. Surrounded by the city’s Tyrrell Park, through which flows Pilkington Creek, the museum has transformed all of this prime property into a native-plant garden and a kind of outdoor natural history museum—the Garden Learning Center. 

The creation of this garden was one of the first projects Felicia Van Stolk took on when she came to work as the museum’s education director in 2016—she now serves as executive director. On Hilltromper Santa Cruz, she tells a fascinating story of how this garden fits in with several other projects that are transforming the Seabright neighborhood into a wildlife hotspot.

“Our little Garden Learning Center is part of a lovely habitat corridor that has been developing in the Seabright neighborhood. The living shoreline installed by Groundswell Ecology and Oikonos on the bluffs of Seabright Beach connects to us and to Pilkington Creek, which flows through Tyrrell Park and has also been restored as a native-landscaped riparian zone. It's all kind of a connected story throughout the Seabright neighborhood.

And we have seen an explosion of wildlife, especially in the creek and the park, in the last two years—I think we have the iNaturalist data to back this up. More and more rare birds are being spotted right outside the museum. The alert goes out on eBird and all of a sudden the park is swarming with birders—looking for one bird! [laughs]. And that wouldn't have been happening 15 years ago when the creek was full of invasive plants and the park was just all lawn.”

Read The Wildflowers of Seabright & the Garden Learning Center on Hilltromper.

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