By Diane Y. Welch
Solana Beach resident Don Miller, a retired development engineer in the geophysics department for Scripps Institute of Oceanography, is now a Master Gardener.
He is a busy man during the spring season, as his mornings are spent at Carlsbad’s Flower Fields. While famed for its rows of ranunculus flowers that create a massive blaze of color, there are also adjunct gardens for the public to wander through and enjoy.
Miller tends to several of these gardens, one of which is the Enclosed Garden, first designed by Leucadia-based artist Patricia Patterson. He took over responsibility for that garden a decade ago, he said.
Featuring foxglove, morning glory, delphiniums, nasturtiums and lavender, the six square planters in the garden brim over with color, texture and fragrance. The garden encompasses reflecting pools, blooming trellises, and aviary sanctuaries. And now Miller is ensuring its continued beauty.
Starting as a volunteer with the Flower Fields in 1997, Miller was originally hired by Joni Miringhoff as a tour guide. But his skill and passion for the plants made him the perfect fit for Master Gardener.
A love for plants had its roots, surprisingly, in Miller’s former engineering work. After service in the infantry during the Korean War, Miller, a Michigan native, attended technical school in Detroit. “Television was really coming on, and so was radio electronics. So I became an electronics engineer,” he said.
In 1956, San Diego-based Convair was hiring electronic technicians to work on the Atlas Missile. Miller was hired and worked on the project for four years. “Then I saw an advertisement in the paper for an electronics technician at Scripps Institution of Oceanography and was hired in November 1960. I then stayed there for 36 years,” he said.
Miller worked on a unique mission: Project IDA –International Deployment of Accelerometers. The project was also named for Ida, the wife of Cecil H. Green, founder of Texas Instruments, which through its foundation donated all of the seismic instruments for the project.
Traversing the world installing and monitoring seismometers, which were strategically placed to record seismic activity, prompted Miller to later record his own experiences in a memoir.
“My first trip was with a team to Australia, then three of us went to China, then two of us went to Russia. After that I was by myself,” he said.
There were 22 world-wide seismic stations, some of them in very remote regions. Miller went to Scotland, the Seychelle Islands, Easter Island, the North Pole, Peru, Brazil, Guam and other countries.
“I found myself in several tropical places that were just dense with flowers and interesting plants. And that’s how I got started.” People in places like Guam would claim that their plants were native, but Miller discovered that they actually came from South America. “The Spanish traders ran between Peru and Formosa, carrying goods back and forth, so Guam became a hot bed of tropical plants from this commerce,” Miller explained.
Cuttings were concealed in his camera case and smuggled back into the country for closer examination. “The more I found out about native plants, the more I started to get interested in the native plants here in San Diego,” Miller said.
On retirement in 1996, he became an active and leading member of the California Native Plant Society. Miller also worked at what was formerly Quail Gardens, now San Diego Botanic Garden. He has also become the de facto poet laureate of Solana Beach, thanks to his appearances before the City Council with amusing verses on topical subjects such as the Cedros Crossing EIR. His last piece was an ode to the natural beauty of Solana Beach.
In looking back, it was a dual joy for Miller to be so close to native flora and to express his engineering expertise in seismography. And while the two may seem incongruous, he sees it differently. “The monitoring of the movement of the earth is as close to nature as you can get.”
to read two of Don Miller’s poems that pay homage to the Flower Fields and the garden that he tends.