Promoting native flora and friendship literally across the U.S./Mexico border, the Binational Friendship Garden of Native Plants is located inside Friendship Park, each of its three circles spanning the international boundary.
Located inside of Friendship Park approximately 100 yards east of the Monument 258 and the plaza along the U.S.-Mexico border, the garden was started in March 2007 after students from El Colegio de Tijuana gathered with students from Kearny Mesa High School in San Diego to plan the original rectangular plot. The initial planting took place as part of a Border encuentro event during the Salvemos la Playa beach cleaning environmental festival.
In the years since, the garden has overcome many obstacles, as we strive to create a light of hope through connection between people and the earth in the shadow of the wall and a U.S. policy based increasingly on separation and isolation at the border.
2012: Renewal and Expansion
While US Border Patrol was working on preparations for a new primary barrier near the end of 2011, a team of landscape architects, native plant experts, gardeners, and enthusiastic volunteers stored the plants in nurseries on either side of the border. They rallied to take advantage of the new slate and create a fresh design comprised of bi-national circles bisected by the updated primary barrier. The design was implemented by the community in 2012 realizing a bigger and more beautiful garden to someday overcome the now bigger and unsightly border wall.
Each circle was planted with a theme. The first and main circle is the Mirror Garden, originally populated with the same species inside the circle on either side of the wall.
The second circle is the Yellow Flower Garden, where most of the plants produce yellow flowers. The last circle is the Cactus/Wish Garden. It is made up strictly of succulents, cacti and rocks. Come visit this garden and write a wish on a rock! Another symbolic element of the garden design was the White Sage River, which consisted of a white sages (Salvia Apiana) planted in an "S" formation through all three circles back and forth across the border to imitate the Tijuana River and raise awareness about its preservation.
Located on both sides of the border in both Tijuana and San Diego, the Binational Friendship Garden of Native Plants is one effort belonging to the people of both Mexico and the United States.
At the end of 2015, the Binational Friendship Garden team on the Mexican side joined forces with a local food justice group, Cultiva Ya!, to create a food program at the garden called Realimenta Comunidad. Cultiva Ya! presented a two-day workshop on growing food. As part of the workshop, participants built two raised food beds west of the Garden to raise awareness and provide food for nearby homeless and hungry. The program generated enough produce to provide 60 salads each Sunday, augmenting the food prepared by Border Church. With this success, the workshops were repeated and eight additional food beds were built throughout 2016, extending along more than half of the border wall. Realimenta Comunidad brought more attention and volunteers to the garden on the Mexican side and the community continued to grow along with the new vegetables and the original native plants.
Complete Destruction on the U.S. side
Since 2012, garden access restrictions gradually increased at the park; from open hours, to brief 5-minute public and scheduled, vetted volunteer visits, to, in March of 2018, a complete prohibition of access. Through negotiation, volunteers were again allowed access, and by the end of 2018 and for most of 2019 short tours were also re-established, and the garden continued to flourish on both sides of the wall. Although public access not ideal, continued volunteer activity kept hope alive that the beauty of the native flora and the growing community on the Mexican side would lead to enhanced public access in the U.S. side of the wall.
On Jan 8, 2020, with no warning, San Diego Border Patrol bulldozed and demolished the entire U.S. portion of the Binational Friendship Garden, removing all 120 deeply rooted plants, a 500 lb. eco-bench, a heavy-duty information sign, and all pathways leading to and from the garden. Half of the garden, nurtured through thousands of community volunteer hours and years of growth in unison with the Mexican half, was destroyed in the span of a few hours. Parking guards captured images of the bulldozers from the Mexican side and posted on social media, and the event was picked up by local, national, and international media. Outrage and sadness from the community ensued. Subsequently the Border Patrol apologized and allowed the community on the U.S. side to host a highly supervised partial replanting to recreate the circles just 2 weeks later with baby transplants.
If there is a silver lining to the destruction; it’s the incredibly intensified community support. Word spread wider than ever, and many new followers and enthusiasts stepped forward to support garden efforts.
Throughout January, February and most of March, the number of volunteers tripled, although most work was done on the Mexican side with restrictions still in place on the U.S. side despite some exceptions to allow for the replanting. Soon after, the COVID-19 pandemic struck and the garden was all but abandoned for the months of April and May. In June 2020, the access arrangement again changed, and the large groups previously enabled was limited to small teams of 3-5 people.
We convinced San Diego Border Patrol to allow a small group in on the U.S. side two occasions throughout June and July to work together on both sides, through the wall, on those days. About 40% of the newly planted natives on the US side survived. Small teams on the Mexico side visit every Wednesday and Sunday, and the garden is coming back to life.
Natives grow slowly, so there will be a notable discrepancy between the two sides for at least another year. The fate of the garden is unknown, as there are currently plans to replace the primary barrier that runs through it with a more fortified wall which would demolish the plants again on the US side and some on the Mexican side. We’re hopeful that the garden can somehow be saved from this destruction. As it once again becomes more and more beautiful and contributes ever more to the native habitat of our unique binational ecosystem, we hope that the garden and its surrounding communities will overcome the threats of division with friendship and collaboration and that this iconic part of Friendship Park will serve as leverage for the BUILD THAT PARK campaign to create a truly binational space that will change the narrative of separation and division to friendship, trust, and collaboration to create security and restore our environment reminding us of the original stewards of the land, the Kumiay Indians who did not look at the land as belonging to us but rather us belong to the land.