Love Outdoor Life

From Protecting Public Land to Cultivating Their Own Space

April 2020. By Isara Ongwiseth: Desiree Portillo-Rabinov and Paul Rabinov have an impact on the environment that can be felt throughout LA, from our transit hubs to the trails that take us into the wild. We asked them about their stewardship of public lands and how it informs their experience of their own garden.


What motivated you to engage in active stewardship of public lands?

Both of us have been inspired by our love of the outdoors, and our understanding of the importance of preserving our natural environment through our own efforts as well as supporting policies and organizations that are focused on that effort.


How did you get involved?

We have both belonged to and participated in various groups whose purpose is environmentally focused, but also understand the importance of access to nature, including the Santa Monica Mountains Advisory Board, Trust for Public Lands, Arroyos and Foothills Conservancy, Glendale Environmental Coalition and Glendale Parks and Open Space Foundation.

During my involvement with Project Amiga as co-founder of this San Gabriel Valley/East Los Angeles nonprofit, we partnered with the San Gabriel Mountains Forever movement. The movement was a collective effort of organizations related to environmental, social service, workforce development, and faith and community-based organization that shared the vision for long-term recreational usage, access, and preservation campaigns of the San Gabriel’s to benefit the health and well-being of the public.

Project Amiga’s role was to facilitate access to the beauty of the outdoors by low-income, underserved communities in order to inspire recreation as well as stewardship and preservation of public lands for future generations to enjoy.
In 2009-2011, we achieved our three main Campaign components. We passed Wilderness legislation in the Los Angeles and portions of San Bernardino National Forests. We passed legislation designating all or large part of the Angeles and the Western Section of the San Bernardino forests as a national recreation area. Lastly, we created a base of engaged stewards who will protect and nurture these lands for generations to come.


Where does the garden support your broader sustainability goals?

We understand it’s important that our actions need to be consistent with our beliefs. Cultivating a garden that is designed and based upon California natives not only affects our water usage but provides an environment more suitable to the entire local ecosystem. When we have our friends come over for visits, they are enamored by the beauty of the native plants that can enhance the yard and attract so many insects, birds and scents. It brings life to our yard with the natural sounds of wildlife.


When is your favorite time in the garden?

We’ve enjoyed countless spectacular sunsets in our front garden, every one of them memorable in its own way. Throughout the day it’s beautiful when I have my morning coffee, lunch, and a late afternoon glass of wine.


Who is your favorite creature that lives in or has visited your garden?

That has to be our pup who loves playing on the chemical-free meadows and hiding in the blooms. Sonny enjoys eating the plants and running through them. The hummingbirds are everywhere, and it feels great that our garden can sustain their diets. And they are gorgeous to watch.


Do you have a favorite gardening tool?

Bare hands are great gardening tools since many native foliage have textures that are wonderful to touch. The Indian Mallow leaves are soft like velvet while the delightful scents of native sage will linger on your hands.

Tell us about the (fun!) artwork in the garden?

We had two extremely talented artists do the artwork. One is a friend of our daughters, Eric Junker, who paints murals all over LA and significant restaurants. Our daughter and her partner have a restaurant/wine bar that has its wall painted by Eric, which inspired us. Michael Amescua designed our outdoor statue, and I have bought his work through Self Help Graphics, where he worked and trained upcoming artists. He has his shop in Pasadena.
Learn more about the hosts of the 2022 Native Plant Garden Tour.