It's good to know our garden roots, because what's been done in the past can inspire present endeavors. And, though it is said that we Californians have little history and no appreciation for it, we have a rich history of horticulture and garden design and this would seem to be the summer to discover it.
Not one, but two, new books on the history of California gardens have been published.
And at the Decorative Arts Study Center in San Juan Capistrano they've created a vintage California cottage garden just for the summer, filled with plants that would have been grown here in the late 1800s.
At the Los Angeles State and County Arboretum, a Victorian rose garden has been restored, and a new garden with roses grouped historically just opened.
And, at the historic Lummis house, there is an exhibit of old garden tools, seed catalogues, books and photographs that traces the history of gardening from the Missions to the first modern gardens.
Both of the new books also trace this trail. They begin with the open patios and courtyards of the early Missions and haciendas, progress through the various imitative styles from English to Italian, and end with Thomas Church, Garret Eckbo and other pioneers of the modern California style.
"The California Garden, and the Landscape Architects who Shaped it" by Jere Stuart French (Landscape Architecture Foundation, 4401 Connecticut Ave., N.W., Washington, D.C. 20008; $45) pays particular attention to the designers, putting faces to the names, from Paul Thiene (who did Greystone, the Doheny estate) and Charles Gibbs Adams (who did the Harold Lloyd estate), to Church and Eckbo.
"California Gardens: Creating a New Eden," a handsome book by David C. Streatfield (Abbeville Press: $55) takes a garden-by-garden approach, beginning with four Spanish-era gardens, 10 Victorian gardens, 11 Arts and Crafts gardens, and so on, finishing with five contemporary examples, including the stunning and innovative Valentine garden in Santa Barbara by Isabelle Greene.
The romantic California cottage and garden, designed by James J. Yoch and Timothy G. Scott for the Decorative Arts Study Center (31431 Camino Capistrano, San Juan Capistrano, (714) 496-2132) uses plants that were grown in California at the turn of the century. Many are still with us and are again becoming popular--Cecile Brunner and Lady Banks roses, citrus and sycamores, carnations and lavender. Others come as a bit of a surprise--agapanthus, for instance, which was grown here as early as the 1860s and became quite popular in the 1890s, according to Yoch.
At the Los Angeles State and County Arboretum in Arcadia (301 N. Baldwin Ave.) volunteers from the classes of Jan Zalba Smitten have replanted the neglected Victorian-style garden near the Queen Anne cottage. Only about a third of the roses they used were actually grown during that period, but the remainder are old fashioned in appearance, including many contemporary Austin or English roses.
The roses are not planted alone, but in the company of many other flowers, perennials in particular--a typically Victorian mix. For visitors, a fact sheet lists the roses by name.
At Descanso Gardens in La Canada Flintridge (1418 Descanso Drive) the new five-acre International Rosarium is open. Although still quite young, there are several thousand roses here, including 2,200 antique varieties, with some in historical settings.
There is a Mission-era garden, with Rose of Castile and others planted next to Seville orange trees and Spanish herbs and adobe walls; a Victorian garden with plantings authentic to that age including the lovely white climbing Sombrueil and the many hybrid perpetuals; and even a Lammert's Garden with some of his most famous hybrids from the 1950s, including Queen Elizabeth, Charlotte Armstrong and Chrysler Imperial.
The exhibit at the historic Lummis House (200 E. Avenue 43 off the Pasadena Freeway; open through July 31 on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays, noon to 4 p.m.) illustrates the various eras in California gardens with tools, books, original blueprints, photographs, seed and nursery catalogues and other objects.
There is a collection of sprinklers from all eras (an important part of gardening in California) and even a selection of early pest control products including the Calpro Ant System made by Metlox, an art pottery manufacturer in Los Angeles in 1925. Just about everything was made in, or is from, California, including the "Easy Hedge Shears, Drop Forged by Arcturus Mfg., Los Angeles" at the turn of the century.
The completely contemporary drought resistant garden surrounding the boulder-walled Lummis home brings the exhibit right up to date, neatly illustrating where gardening is now in the Golden State.
If you want to learn about this method of growing vegetables with less expense and less detail, look for a new book By Carol Cox called "Lazy-Bed Gardening, the Quick and Dirty Guide" \o7 (Ten Speed Press: $8.95).\f7 In a very readable nutshell of 110 pages (and nice big grade-school type), it tells and illustrates how to make the deep, double-dug beds this method depends on. It helps you plan and choose what to grow in these elegant beds, with some information on fertilizing (including green manuring), companion crops and pest and disease control. It's a thoroughly satisfying workbook.