Stadium Landscaper

When a baseball stadium’s struggling gardens needed a change, Chaz Perea knocked it out of the park.

Thomas J. Story for Sunset magazine/© S. Media International Corp.

GARDEN GURU: Chaz Perea checks on agave plants around Dodger Stadium.

In 2009, Chaz Perea became the landscape manager of Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles, California. He quickly felt overwhelmed: The gardens, hillsides, and planters around the famous baseball stadium were filled with plants that typically grow in areas with plenty of rain. The vegetation wasn’t well suited to the dry conditions of Southern California. Keeping the plants alive required a lot of water—too much for a region that often experiences drought, a long period with little or no rain.

Perea’s small team gradually converted the grounds to a more sustainable landscape that would be better for the environment. But Perea wanted to take the stadium’s landscaping to the next level. He wanted the site to be officially recognized as a botanic garden—a living collection of plants displayed for education and scientific study. Meeting the requirements took years, but eventually the team created the country’s first accredited botanic garden at a sports arena.

Besides overseeing the garden, Perea teaches horticulture—the science of growing edible and ornamental plants—at Mt. San Antonio College in California. He spoke with Science World about transforming the landscape of Dodger Stadium and why working with plants can be so rewarding.

Christina House/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images (Garden, LANDSCAPING); (All Other Images)

BOTANIC BALLPARK: Perea’s landscape expertise has helped plants at Dodger Stadium thrive.

How did you get the idea to turn the stadium’s landscaping into a botanic garden?

While I was struggling to figure out what to do with the landscape, I started teaching a class on plants native to the Southwest. I visited local botanic gardens to study these plants. And it dawned on me—Dodger Stadium is an iconic place that millions of people visit each year. What if we could create a botanic garden here? I knew I should do it when I visited the Palace at Versailles in France, a royal castle famous for its extensive gardens. I looked around and thought, “There’s nothing here that my team can’t do.”

How do you conserve water at the stadium?

Drip irrigation is at the heart of our water management. Hoses with tiny holes in them release small amounts of water at a time. You weave the tubes between the plants. This can cut water usage by about 75 percent, because the water goes right where it’s needed—to the soil around plants’ roots. Little water is lost into the air through evaporation, the process by which a liquid changes to gas.

We also choose plants from desert regions, which don’t need to be watered as often. We’ve planted at least 80 species of plants native to California and about 100 other species, mostly succulents. These plants have thick leaves that store water.

Christina House/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images (Garden, LANDSCAPING); (All Other Images)

DESERT GREENERY: Perea tends to cactuses, succulents, and other plants that thrive in dry conditions.

Why is it important to include native plants?

Native plants support native wildlife. We’ve seen coyotes eating berries, monarch butterflies feeding on flower nectar, and so many birds singing around the gardens.

What are some of your favorite plants at the stadium?

I’m a big fan of agaves—spiky-leafed plants that thrive in hot, dry climates. Each agave sends up one giant stalk that’s full of starch, like a potato. These plants were a food source for Native peoples in Mexico. At the stadium, we have an agave island with 22 different species.

Around the top deck of the stadium, we’ve planted about 30 species of sage. The leaves of these fragrant, fast-growing shrubs are often used in cooking. Our sage plants are all closely related and produce flowers at around the same time. So the different species might someday crossbreed, creating a unique hybrid. If you combine two plant varieties and grow something new, you get to name it! How cool would that be?

What do you find most rewarding about landscaping and horticulture?

It’s a living experiment, and it’s a constant learning experience. Plants will instill a humbleness in you, as well as an appreciation for beauty. There are so many different job routes in the landscape industry, and it’s fun! If you like plants and being outdoors, it’s definitely something for you.

Skills Sheets (2)
Skills Sheets (2)
Lesson Plan (1)