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Essay #6 Recognition Along The Way

The story of Tree of Life Nursery is really a story of people and passion. And plants. California native plants and the land we occupy for growing, plus our team of friends and colleagues, including our loyal customers. 2021 marks the official 40-year anniversary of the partnership between the owners Jeff Bohn and Mike Evans. Mike founded the original company under the name Tree of Life Nursery and Landscape in 1977. Through a mutual friend and native plant expert, Mr. Art Tyree, (who learned from Mr. Theodore Payne himself) Jeff and Mike met in 1979 and discovered they had a lot in common; beach culture, surfing, the outdoor life, functional landscapes, sustainable gardens, landscape design, nursery experience, and a love for California native plants. Their story of building a nursery, a business, and a lifestyle will be told in a series of monthly essays to be published through 2021.

Essay #6, August 2021 – Recognition Along the Way by Mike Evans

We’re out on a hike together, enjoying all the uphills and the downhills alike. Feeling fine, the air fresh and cool, the breeze just right, and a few clouds above to make the sky interesting. We forge ahead, glancing back occasionally to assure ourselves of our path. Along the way, we stop now and then (perhaps more often than others might) to take in the view, check out a plant, animal, or bird, whisper a comment (who needs loud voices here?), take our bearings, or simply to catch our breath and adjust our packs. Maybe just to listen to the silence.

Some of these pauses turn into prizes; little jewels we might have missed had we been in a hurry. That amazing distant view opening up at the turn in our trail, a pair of hawks soaring high overhead, the sound of yonder stream gurgling over stones in the deep canyon below, a new scent, hmmm, what is it? Ahhh, a big bay tree as we transition into a new vegetation type. As our trail crosses over a ridge, a break for water and nutrition is definitely in order. The gusty wind adds another degree of refreshment, so we rest for a while in the shade of a gnarled old oak.

After checking our maps, we shoulder our packs and along the way meet a couple hikers coming the other direction. Stopping to compare notes, we discuss the trail in both directions, and bid each other all the best. Farther along, we happen upon a few trail markers and cairns at the tricky turns where we might have easily gone off the right path. Some look to be ancient. We add a couple rocks to one making it more useful and conspicuous to the next walker.

Aside from the grand feeling of setting up tonight’s camp at day’s end, we have been rewarded along the way, especially in those special moments when we paused to take it all in.

Celebrating our 40-year journey (and still counting), we at Tree of Life are looking back at a few rewards others have bestowed on us. Certainly we have consistently encountered our own little jewels along the way, by far too many to even start to tell. But the times when others have given us a prize or perhaps we have earned some special recognition, now provide precious memories and give us inspiration to keep walking.

If we had a trophy room at Tree of Life, and you were to go in, here’s what you would find:

1986. “Xeriscape Recognition Award.” Exemplary effort in the area of Plant Materials for water conservation in the urban landscape. Presented to Mike Evans by the Municipal Water District of Orange County.

1991. Pi Alpha Xi Horticulture Honor Society, Cal Poly SLO Chapter. Membership presented to Elana (Ambler) Benge.

1994. International Plant Propagators Society, Western Region. Mike Evans served as President and organized the annual conference in Costa Mesa.

1995, 1996, 1998. International Plant Propagators Society, Western Region. Mike Evans served as International Delegate at meetings in England, Australia, Japan, Argentina, Guatemala, and Canada.

2000. “Curtis J. Alley Award.” For promoting the principles of the Society. Presented to J.Michael Evans by the International Plant Propagators Society, Western Region.

2000. California Society for Ecological Restoration, SERCAL. Mike Evans served as President and organized the annual conference in San Diego.

2004. “Environmental Award.” Sustainable landscape display. Presented to Tree of Life Nursery at the Del Mar Fair, San Diego County.

2005. “Mother Oak Award.” Contributions and involvement in land preservation and natural resource management. Presented to Mike Evans and Tree of Life Nursery by the Richard and Donna O’Neill Land Conservancy, now called the Reserve at Rancho Mission Viejo.

2005. International Plant Propagators Society. Mike Evans served as International President and organized a 10-day southern California horticultural tour for the International Board. In attendance were delegates from Australia, New Zealand, Great Britain/Ireland, Japan, Argentina, South Africa, plus three regions in North America: Eastern, Southern, and Western.

2007. “California Glory Award.” Principle of native plants in California horticulture. Presented to Tree of Life Nursery by the Rancho Santa Ana Botanic Garden, (now California Botanic Garden).

2009-2010. California Native Plant Society, Orange County Chapter. Laura Camp served as President.

2009-2015. California Native Plant Society, (State level). Laura Camp served on the Board of Directors.

2011. “Native Perennial Award.” Promoting and supplying native plants. Presented to Mike Evans, his family and all at Tree of Life Nursery by California Native Plant Society, Orange County Chapter.

2013. “International Award of Honor.” Exceptional and distinguished service to the Society. Presented to J. Michael Evans by International Plant Propagators Society.

2014. “Award of Recognition.” Horticultural planning and design at Reata Park. Presented to Mike Evans by the San Juan Capistrano Open Space Foundation.

2014-2015. California Native Plant society, (State level). Laura Camp served as President during the biennial conference in San Jose.

2015. “Native Perennial Award.” Promoting and supplying native plants and contributions to the Society. Presented to Laura Camp by California Native Plant Society, Orange County Chapter.

2017. “Horticulture Award.” Contributions statewide in the promotion and supply of native plants. Presented to Mike Evans and Jeff Bohn by California Native Plant Society.

2019. “Horticulturist of the Year.” Outstanding contribution to horticulture. Presented to Mike Evans by the Southern California Horticultural Society.

2020. “Charlie O’Neill Grant.” Educational grant for field research and studies in native plants. Presented to Kevin Alison by California Native Plant Society, Orange County Chapter.

2020. “Masters in Conservation and Restoration Science (MCRS).” Masters degree. Earned by Kevin Alison at University of California, Irvine.

2021. “Rollande Vellandi Sampson Scholarship.” Dedicated focus and love of horticulture. Presented to Katie Newman by the Orange Coast College Horticulture Department.

2021. Membership. Plant California Alliance, formerly California Association of Nurseries and Garden Centers, formerly California Association of Nurserymen. Tree of Life has been a continuous member since 1976. Mike Evans, California Certified Nurseryman #463, approx. 1974.

1981- present. Letters of appreciation, scrapbooks, and cards. Presented by various kindergartens, school groups, youth environmental clubs, university students, international visitors, etc. to Tree of Life Nursery. These thank you notes mean a lot to us.

Now returning to our trail and glancing back on our hike so far, it looks like we’ve made some progress. We’re really determined to choose the right path ahead. Actually, the whole thing looks like one big reward – past, present, and future. It’s a good hike. At Tree of Life, we celebrate achievements great and small on a regular basis, and appreciate the recognition from others, but our most satisfying moments come when we help our customers connect to nature in this fascinating field called native plant horticulture.