SAN DIEGO — Whenever life gets to be too stressful, Vince Scheidt finds an escape in nature.

“It’s just an opportunity to get down and just unwind, essentially,” Scheidt said. “So for me, connecting with nature with these beautiful native plants is really critical. It’s really a part of my life.”

Scheidt is now the executive director for the California Native Plant Society, but he’s been coming to Marian Bear Memorial Park since he was a kid. He can remember when the nature reserve was overgrazed and barren. Thanks to restoration efforts, it’s now full of hundreds of acres of thriving native plants and wildlife.

“It’s now part of just this urban wildlands interface zone,” Scheidt said. “You can see the freeway right there and on this side you got all the native vegetation, and it’s just a really wonderful little retreat away from the pressures of life to come down here and be able to de-stress.”

Scheidt says not only do native plants require less water, but they also help prevent erosion and provide food and shelter for wildlife.

While on a hike, Scheidt said the rare California Gnatcatcher, a federally threatened bird, was among the Coastal Sage Scrub.

“This is the habitat for that endangered species, so it’s remarkable to see that this morning because they’re fairly shy usually and we got a front-row seat to a calling male,” Scheidt said.  

Native West Nursery is trying to help grow that kind of biodiversity. They are one of Southern California’s only large-scale nurseries focusing on growing native plants for habitat restoration and native landscaping projects.

Patrick Montgomery says it all starts by harvesting native seeds around the area and letting them dry. Each seed is labeled by region, collection site, species name, and date collected, giving them the best chance to thrive when they’re planted in their new home. 

“We focus on growing plants in the environment that they grow in with the idea that when you take them out of the nursery and plant them, they’re already adapted to that environment, rather than having to go through a shock,” he said.  

Montgomery noted that even though native plants can get a bad rap, they can make any space beautiful. He believes when people try them, they’ll fall in love.

“So once they know about native plants, they start seeing them everywhere and they start getting excited about it,” Montgomery said. “So that’s the idea, is to try to have that passion for what we do.”

It’s been a decades-long love affair that Scheidt knows will last for the rest of his life.

“Just a wonderful little place to come and relax,” Scheidt said. “I’ve got a lot of history here. I remember this from the old days. It’s so much more beautiful now.”

Native plants also help reduce air pollution. 

The California Native Plant Society has some design resources to help you get started.