Public gardens are pockets of stillness. While the rest of the city toils and sweats, these green spaces provide a glorious escape. I remember one unbelievably hot day in NY’s East Village when I stumbled into the shaded surrounds of the 9th Street Community Garden Park. I was entranced. The dreamy landscape conjured up the same feeling I had while reading Enid Blyton’s The Magic Faraway Tree; I was in my own Wonderland.
Southern California’s lush gardens have a similar effect on me. I drag whoever is willing to accompany me to the manicured gardens of Getty Villa, Malibu. I’ve even ventured two hours away by train to Ganna Walska’s Lotusland in Santa Barbara. Interested in how they came to be, I researched and wrote about Southern California’s gardens for this month’s issue of Qantas Australian Way magazine. Here’s an excerpt from the introduction:
“During the golden age of American gardens (1890-1940), Southern California looked to the rest of the world for horticultural inspiration, especially the latitude-sharing Mediterranean. Landowners were lured to the booming region and its magnificent climate, their bold displays of wealth immortalised in magnificent manses and cultivated gardens as expressions of their personalities. Oil magnate John Paul Getty’s passion for classical design is reflected in Getty Villa; socialite Ganna Walska’s Santa Barbara-based wonderland exudes extravagance; while George Fox Steedman’s painstaking attention to detail is evident in the architecturally pleasing garden at Casa Del Herrero.
Egos aside, a turn-of-the-century interest in plant collecting bestowed upon Southern California an array of natural wonders. Gilded Age railroad and real estate mogul Henry Edwards Huntington transformed hundreds of his green acres into a microcosm of the global botanical landscape and sought not only to preserve native and unusual species, but to maintain the grounds in perpetuity for the enjoyment of generations to come.”
Gardens are treasure chests of history and botany, and Southern California is one of the top sources of inspiration for “the enthusiastic green thumb, serious botanist and pure philocalist.” If you have time to visit some in California, these are my top 10 recommendations:
http://travelinsider.qantas.com.au/usa/california/things-to-do/southern-california-blooming-public-gardens (read this from bottom up — the introduction is written after the top 10 list)
Go forth; dream on!