San Diego Botanic Garden is lighting up North County this holiday season. Lightscape, an internationally acclaimed garden lighting show, will run in the evenings from 5-10 pm from November 18 to January 1. President and CEO Ari Novy said this multi-sensory experience will feature nine distinct vignettes, designed by local and international artists.


Overcoming Challenges

The show will run rain or shine, which is one of the innate challenges that San Diego Botanic Garden faces, according to Novy. “Our business is a very weather-dependent and seasonal business. We try to look at these challenges in a very sanguine way and then turn them into opportunities.”

Another such opportunity will come in the Summer of 2023 in the form of a carnivorous plant display called “Savage Gardens.” “Kids love the idea of plants that eat bugs,” said Novy. “We are working with artists now to get sculptures made that showcase how the plants operate.”

However, one of the biggest challenges for the San Diego Botanic Garden is the overall environmental degradation around the world. “We’re seeing plants and other organisms disappear at an alarming rate, and our mission is in part to save and protect them. How do we safeguard plant life? Well, we’re going to take a lot of it into our garden and take care of it here,” said Novy.


Science, Research, and Conservation

With a doctorate degree in Plant Biology, one of the reasons Novy became CEO at San Diego Botanic Garden is to build science and research programs and to build upon their conservation program. Over 18 months, Novy and his team have hired three new staff members with doctorate degrees in their Science & Conservation and Education Departments.

“We have a good burgeoning portfolio of research work as well as applied plant sciences that are all about plant conservation,” said Novy. “We have also expanded into the space of medicinal plants by creating and expanding a very regionally significant medicinal plant collection.”


San Diego County – An Innovation Hub

Recognizing San Diego County as a hub for medicinal biotechnology, Novy also put together a consortium of the region’s biotechnology innovators in natural product chemistry for drug discovery.

“We are acting together with the innovation and business community of the region,” said Novy. “This is a community that thinks outside of the box about whom to partner with and how to gain that competitive edge in their work. We’ve definitely taken our cues from the community on that.”

After running the national United States Botanic Garden in Washington D.C., moving to North County and running the San Diego Botanic Garden has been a steep learning curve. Culture and plant life are starkly different in the two regions.

“California is really its own very unique place with its own identity,” said Novy. “San Diego Botanic Garden is in a community in North County that’s a vibrant horticultural and agricultural sales and tech space. Our region has a particularly large amount of expertise in this area, and it’s exciting to be the public-facing botanic garden when that’s the reality that’s around you.”


Nature in North County

As far as plant life, San Diego County boasts over 2,000 native plant species (compare this to the 800 species of trees native to ALL of North America). “San Diego is a really biodiverse place in terms of plants. I think the citizens of San Diego County really value that,” said Novy. “Our lifestyle here is very much about going out into the agricultural landscapes. In my mind, it’s impossible to think about having quality of life in San Diego without taking care of plant life and all other living things.”

North County plant life provides ecosystems for our water to flow across to help clean it, provides sustenance and homes for animals, determines our weather, and more. It also is still a real source of income for many in North County.

“Plants are not this novel thing in North County. They are real opportunities. They are things that people work with every day. This is still a community that is very connected to plants as a source of livelihood, as resourced to be managed, improved, and innovated upon, and I like that,” said Novy.

Beyond its agricultural roots, Novy loves “that North County has a neighborhood feel but is a really sophisticated place. It’s one of the ideal places to live in the U.S. This amazing extended neighborhood is connected to a variety of high-level businesses and other sophisticated areas, so it doesn’t feel sleepy.”


San Diego Botanic Garden’s Contributions

Novy believes San Diego Botanic Garden contributes to its community largely through its research, conservation, social, and educational initiatives.

“It’s important for institutions like ours to exist because societal issues constantly come up. How do we choose which land we’re going to develop into housing versus what we’re going to protect?” said Novy.

“We create spaces and educational opportunities for the public to understand how they feel. Democracy only works when there’s really good knowledge. In many ways, we’re like a library for plants. You want to learn about plants, you come here.”


Read the story covering Aaron Byzak, CEAO of Tri-City Medical Center here for more content.


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About the Author

Caitlyn Canby loves to discover and share people’s stories. She has her bachelor’s degree in Communications, Print Journalism with over 8 years of journalism experience. An Escondido native, she just moved back from Catalina Island to North County with her husband and two children to the town of Fallbrook. Caitlyn enjoys collaborating on projects as Marketing and Events Coordinator at SDNEDC, traveling, and exploring new restaurants, venues, experiences, and cultures.




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