By Ariana Ricarte
Originally published in the Daily Bruin
The entrance to the Mildred E. Mathias Botanical Garden, once hidden behind a wire fence and flourishing plants, is now hard to miss.
Students walking to and from class can pass the smooth stone pathways and bold, engraved lettering that serve as the new entrance to the garden.
On Monday, UCLA officials will hold a public grand opening for the new entrance of the botanical garden located on Tiverton Avenue and Charles E. Young Drive near the Botany Building.
A new stone sign denoting the “La Kretz Entrance” has recently replaced the old wooden sign of the garden’s name. In addition, there is now a long ramp with metal handrails, medicinal garden and expanded plaza area.
Philip Rundel, an ecology and evolutionary biology professor and the garden’s director, said improvements to the garden’s infrastructure help increase its visibility and educational potential.
“We want to encourage many people to visit the garden, but it’s so far south campus that North Campus students might now know about it,” Rundel said.
The garden has three small entrances, but there was never a solidified main entrance before this renovation, Rundel said. Aside from the added sign of the garden’s name, additional improvements include a ramp that is Americans with Disabilities Act-approved and wheelchair accessible.
UCLA has also installed 1,500 square feet of flower beds filled with 80 different species of medicinal plants as part of the ongoing renovations. The flower beds lie parallel to the long ramp and have herbs like sage, mint and oregano.
Morton La Kretz, a UCLA alumnus and philanthropist, donated $1 million in January 2013 for the construction of the entrance. He also donated $5 million in May to the garden to build a welcome center near the Botany Building called La Kretz Garden Pavilion. The welcome center, which will be equipped with a classroom, is tentatively scheduled to open in 2016.
La Kretz said he remembers taking a field-study trip to Costa Rica led by botany professor Mildred E. Mathias, for whom the botanical garden was named.
He said that memories of the trip – combined with the garden’s need for increased visibility, accessibility and maintenance – made it a logical choice for his donation.
Rundel said he hopes these improvements will make the garden more accessible to the surrounding community as well as increase educational opportunities for students on campus.
Victoria Sork, the dean of life sciences, said the garden can serve as a way to share the UCLA campus with the neighboring areas in Westwood.
“For a campus like UCLA that’s so landlocked, it’s so nice to have a place where people can go to reflect,” Sork said. “The atmosphere the garden creates is a top priority.”
UCLA hopes to continue renovating the garden in the future if it has the financial means. Possible upgrades include improving the garden’s current outdoor classroom amphitheater, called “The Nest,” and enhancing the Hilgard Avenue entrance, Rundel said.