Chris Mayhew, 36, stood on a vast green lawn in the South Coast Botanic Garden on Saturday, March 21, watching as his 9-year-old son and 7-year-old daughter tossed a flying disc back and forth.
It seemed like just another springtime day; clouds flecked the blue sky and birds trilled nearby.
But for Mayhew — and the many other families permeating the 35-hectare garden on the Palos Verdes Peninsula — it was far from just another day.
“I’m really grateful they’re still open,” the North Redondo Beach resident said. “Very, very grateful.”
While the list of facilities that have closed to prevent the further spread of the novel coronavirus seems to grow by the day, a few outdoor havens, including the South Coast Botanic Garden and the Los Angeles County Arboretum, have remained open.
“We’ve had people say, ‘There’s so much we can’t do right now,’” Richard Schulhof, director of the Los Angeles County Arboretum, said, “and still being able to come here and see the beauty of the garden and enjoy the natural world — it’s been hugely important and a source of respite and renewal that they otherwise don’t have.”
Danielle Brown, the South Coast Botanic Garden’s chief development officer, said she’s been in touch with county officials to ensure they are in compliance with every new order that comes down — including Gov. Gavin Newsom’s directive on Thursday, March 19, that residents should stay home except under special circumstances.
“As long as we are open space,” she said, “and we have closed our buildings to the public, we can remain a resource for visitors who are needing to get a little bit of respite, a little bit of exercise, a little bit of vitamin D.”
There are hints throughout the garden that business as usual has changed; visitors must buy tickets online and flash them to the front desk from at least six feet away. Rangers throughout the garden encourage family groups to keep a safe distance from each other.
While schools are closed, his son has a full curriculum of online learning; his daughter has about an hour-and-a-half of digital instruction each day. Fitting all of that in, while he and his wife have both tried to work from home, has been stressful.
But, for the most part, the garden’s operations continue just as they always have.
For families like Mayhew’s, it’s one thing to rely on even as everything else in the world is changing.
“We’ve been indoors all week, homeschooling and working,” he said. “We have two working parents and two kids out of school.”
“Everybody’s just been cooped up,” he said.
Nathan Reeves, 37, and Sheree Reeves, 35, felt the same way.
Their kids are younger; a 3-year-old and an almost-2-year-old clambered around as the Lomita couple sat on a bench, framed by the garden’s blossoming cherry trees.
“It just provides a place for the kids and family to still get together and have some sense of normalcy,” Nathan Reeves said. “They can be able to play around a little bit more and jump around.”
Schulhof and Brown both agreed that now, perhaps more than ever, their gardens are playing a vital role for local families.
“Nature’s not canceled,” Brown said. “So wellness can’t be canceled.”
As the opportunities for normalcy continue to shrink, families took advantage Saturday of what might have been just another springtime day.
Mayhew’s daughter tossed the flying disc in the direction of her brother — and far overshot her target. It landed in a nearby tree.
“All right, guys,” he told his kids. “Go get it.”