For decades, UCLA’s Mildred E. Mathias Botanical Garden has been known as a hidden gem, but, Chancellor Gene Block said at a celebration of the garden Monday, “Thanks to the generosity of Morton La Kretz, it’s now just a gem — no longer hidden.”

UCLA’s key garden advocates, including La Kretz, Life Sciences Dean Victoria Sork, and Life Sciences professor and Garden Director Philip Rundel, spoke before a large audience gathered to celebrate a new entrance to the seven-acre botanical garden — the first step in a series of renovations to increase the garden’s visibility, upgrade its infrastructure, improve its accessibility for the disabled and make it a focal point for visitors to UCLA.

“Today is the first day in a new chapter of the Mildred E. Mathias Botanical Garden,” said La Kretz, a UCLA alumnus, philanthropist and environmental champion, who has given a $5 million gift to UCLA's Mildred E. Mathias Botanical Garden, the largest in the garden’s history, in addition to a $1 million gift he made in January 2013 to develop the garden’s new entrance.

“Today’s dedication is only the start,” said La Kretz, who spoke of the importance of conservation, plant diversity and protecting the environment for future generations.

Sork said that La Kretz’s generosity, leadership and commitment to conservation will also make possible a new La Kretz Garden Pavilion that will house a welcome center with space for classrooms, activities and public events, and will make the garden thrive as it serves the campus and community.

Rundel, a UCLA distinguished professor of ecology and evolutionary biology who holds a joint appointment at UCLA's Institute of the Environment and Sustainability, has called the garden “an oasis of tranquility for students, faculty, staff and the public.” The garden serves an important role for the university, both for conservation and as an outdoor laboratory for courses in botany, ecology, evolution and biogeography.

Both he and Sork envision many new possibilities for the garden with private support, including cultural and artistic events, exhibits, a large medicinal herb garden, a wheelchair-accessible tree-canopied walkway and perhaps a place to hold weddings and receptions.

La Kretz told the gathering he has clear memories of taking water samples from the stream in the Mildred E. Mathias Garden and taking a group trip to Costa Rica escorted by Ms. Mathias, who was an assistant professor of botany and a director of the garden until her retirement in 1974.

Construction of the La Kretz Garden Pavilion is scheduled to begin in November 2015 and conclude by the end of 2016.

The architecture and landscape design for the La Kretz Entrance were conceived and implemented by the award-winning firms Lehrer Architects and Mia Lehrer + Associates, in partnership with UCLA’s Life Sciences in the UCLA College.

Created in 1929, the garden is home to thousands of species of plants, including many that cannot be found anywhere else in California. Among its offerings are notable collections of tropical and subtropical trees, Australian plants, conifers and Hawaiian species, as well as salamanders, turtles, lizards and koi.

Located west of Hilgard Avenue and east of Tiverton Avenue, just south of Parking Structure 2 (map), the botanical garden is open daily from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. in the winter, and until 5 p.m. at other times of the year. It is closed on university holidays. Admission is free.

For information about supporting the Mildred E. Mathias Botanical Garden, contact Siana-Lea Gildard at 310-206-0666 or