Mediterranean Garden Society
The Southern California Branch of the MGS
Our Branch Co-Chairs are Shelley Harter and Virginia Paca; current and prospective MGS members are welcome to contact them by email.
Carol Bornstein, George Brumder, Mike Evans, Jim Folsom, David Fross, Isabelle Greene, Gary Jones, Bart O'Brien, Pamela Palmer, Bob Perry, Nancy Goslee Power, Chris Rosmini, Lili Singer, Jan Smithen, Nicholas Staddon, Nan Sterman, John Tikotsky, Pamela Berstler, Kitty Connolly, Marilee Kuhlmann
The Southern California Branch hosted the Annual General Meeting of the MGS in October 2017 and held the international General Assembly at the Huntington Library. The photograph at the top of this page shows the Frances and Sidney Brody California Garden. (Photo: The Huntington Library, Art Collections and Botanical Gardens/Martha Benedict)
We are in the planning process for this year's events. Once the dates are finalized, information will be posted here.
Tour of University of California, Riverside Botanic Garden
On a beautiful Saturday morning in November, the MGS Southern California Branch members got together for an annual meeting and a visit to the outstanding botanical garden at the University of California in Riverside, California. This was really our follow up to a visit in late winter earlier in the year when everything was just awakening in this garden of chaparral. Now it was just beginning a slow winter hibernation and our branch was there to see it. Chaparral, in California, is our natural Mediterranean landscape. At the University of California, an effort is being made to capture and nurture the diversity of the California’s chaparral. The challenge is to preserve it for the future. The MGS Southern California is very aware of our unique Mediterranean foliage and the need to preserve it.
Ready for a good hike, and a lot of climbing, we made our way to the campus. Upon arriving at the gatehouse, we were welcomed by the faculty and staff of the university garden where we had coffee and pastries. The garden curator, Janine Almanzor, arranged for an extensive tour of the chaparral collection with the knowledgeable and infectiously enthusiastic docent, George Spiliotis. The Director, Jodie Holt was our special speaker at our annual meeting held after the garden tour.
George had us climbing the trails along the steep arroyos, where we viewed the planted flora of the chaparral. California Buckeye (Aesculus californica), Manzanita (Arctostaphylos manzanita), and Sugarbush (Rhus ovata), thickly cascade along the slopes and in the beds of the canyon trails. Our guides related to us that the university botanical garden is 16 hectares, about 40 acres, and the campus is half planted and half in its natural, native chaparral state. Adjacent to the campus is an additional 1100-acre area, known as the Box Springs Reserve, which belongs to the University and is part of the statewide University Natural Reserve System of open land.
At Bobcat rock, we stopped to take pictures of this dramatic granite outcropping, resembling the sleek head of a native wild cat. These natural outcroppings of many windswept granite boulders at the top of Alder Canyon, are surrounded by chaparral and native vegetation. In the distance the Box Spring Mountains reflect the rounded smooth curves of these granite rocks.
At the end of our hike, we were invited into the garden conference room to hold our annual meeting chaired by Co-Chair Branch, Virginia Paca. Ann Beisch reported on the MGS Annual General meeting in Athens and the pre and post trips to Corfu and Pelion. Branch members and members of our Advisory Board were in attendance. Our program speaker, Jodie Holt, Director of the University of California Riverside Botanical Garden spoke about the history of the garden and its mission to highlight California Chaparral. The meeting was adjourned by Virginia and members then visited the city of Riverside, California.
Text and photo: Ann Semaan-Beisch
To read an abridged version of Ann’s article “Late Winter in a Chaparral Garden” in The Mediterranean Garden Journal No. 96, April 2019 click here.
Annual Plant Exchange and Pot-Luck Lunch with Talk on "Healthy Soil - Healthy Plants - Healthy Gardens"
This year our Southern California branch combined our annual plant swap and pot-luck luncheon with a program entitled "Healthy Soil- Healthy Plants - Healthy Gardens" by organic garden educator, Gisele Schoniger at Kellogg Garden Products.
The annual program was again held in the charming La Casita Del Arroyo, a community meeting house, water demonstration garden and butterfly sanctuary perched on the edge of Pasadena’s Arroyo Seco. The casita is a 1932 Spanish revival structure designed by noted architect, Myron Hunt, and built by unemployed workers during the Great Depression using native Arroyo stone and lumber from the velodrome built for the 1932 Olympics.
Members brought cuttings and plants from the gardens and enjoyed a delicious array of savory and sweet dishes.
The program focused on the importance of soil health in a successful garden and how to achieve it. Gisele took a deep dive into soil science and then explained the various organic products that Kellogg offered for various situations. A family-run business in California for three generations, the founder H Clay Kellogg stood by Rachel Carson, author of “The Silent Spring”, when she was being vilified by the media, the chemical industry and academic institutions for her concern over the indiscriminate use of pesticides.
The program ended with each member introducing themselves and sharing information on upcoming events and MGS trips.
Tour of Apricot Lane Farms
It was a beautiful spring morning as our group toured Apricot Lane Farms. Our very own MGS member, Lucas Carlow, who was an intern at the MGS Sparosa Gardens in Athens, and Ruby Molinari guided us through orchards, vegetable gardens and habitat around the farm’s pond.
We explored how Apricot Lane Farms’ ecological approach to farming creates a healthy farm ecosystem that regenerates the land. We were all impressed with the restoration work and biodiversity systems at the farm.
Afterwards, we visited the farm produce stand.
Please check Apricot Lane Farms to learn all about their mission and being a certified biodynamic
farm. You’ll enjoy the videos of the animal stories too. Go see their new released film "The Biggest Little Farm". It’s going to be shown in international theaters soon.
Theodore Payne Foundation for Wild Flowers & Native Plants (TPF)
Sun Valley, California
We had a special behind the scenes tour of Theodore Payne’s propagation and seed program facilities by Director, Kitty Connolly, followed by a talk by well-known Southern California horticulturist, Lili Singer.
Theodore Payne (1872-1963) was a renowned California seedsman and nurseryman that urged the use of California native plants. He lectured across the state on preserving the wild flowers and landscapes native to California. He began his nursery in 1903 and it continues to this day to be ‘the resource’ for California native plants.
Please check Theodore Payne’s website. TPF has upcoming wildflower tours and their annual spring native garden tour. The aerial view of the property is amazing!
Lili’s topic was Beneficial Bugs in the Garden. A healthy native garden includes a miniature menagerie of tiny insects and other creatures that keep pest populations in check. This lecture highlighted helpful bugs that we are likely to find in home landscapes. The close-up slides of the insects were fantastic! The members really enjoyed the lecture as Lili exposed the “little insects that run the world.”
Annual Meeting, Panel Discussion on “Gardening in the Face of Climate Change”, Tour of Descanso Gardens
We held our panel discussion with Carol Bornstein, Marilee Kuhlmann, Bob Perry, Nicholas Staddon, and Virginia Paca as the moderator on “Gardening in the Face of Climate Change.
Tour of Descanso Gardens’ Oak Woodland
Descanso’s Executive Director Juliann Rooke described how 90% of Descanso’s camellias were burned from the 118 degree heat wave we had this last summer. She said only 10% will not recover and thankfully those were not single species. She said in the parking area the suffering redwoods are being replaced by Guadeloupe Island Cypress, which are able to tolerate the heat without harm.
Currently Descanso is working on a master plant to double the area open to visitors. This 18-month process will move the fence line up to the ridge to allow for more space for trails. She said the parking lot is always full due to increased interest in the gardens. The auxiliary parking is open 265 days a year. The Enchanted Effect night light show and Instagram/social media has increased membership by 18,000. The nighttime event stays clear of nesting locations.
Seven years ago, Descanso lowered their water use by 75% by moving irrigation away from the oaks and delivering irrigation solely to the camellias over the 18 acres of oaks and camellias. At the California Natives Garden, irrigation was removed after year three. The irrigation pipes were installed on the surface of the soil and reused elsewhere at Descanso.
We went past the Center Circle, focusing on show-stopping plants from all over the world, which thrive in low seasonal rainfall, past Boddy’s Lodge (as Mad Men scene was shot here), through the Oak Woodland, and past the California Natives Garden. Our guide, Leyla, noted that deer haven’t feasted on the sage, artemisia, and ceanothus. We discussed the invasive pepperweed, Lepidium latifolium, which someone suggested treating with 20% horticultural vinegar and boiling water. On our walk through the Oak Woodland we saw many scrub oaks, Rhus ovata, Baccharis salicifolia (Mulefat), and Leymus triticoides ‘Lagunita’ which spreads very aggressively.
A Day In and Around Newport Beach
A sizable group (50) of gardening enthusiasts gathered at the Newport Beach Civic Center (designed by PWP Landscape Architecture), ready to embark on a sun filled day of education, beautiful gardens, and spirited conversations.
Pamela Palmer thoughtfully brought along books about Newport Beach Civic Center Park, a 16 acre ecological parkland with a variety of unique landscape zones: Desert Garden, Torrey Pine Grove, Coastal Sage Scrub Gardens, urban runoff and detention wetlands, meadows, and more. The site meets LEED and Sustainable Sites Initiative criteria and illustrates the California horticultural heritage of the city.
We visited three intimate, more formally styled private gardens in Corona del Mar and Newport Beach. Our first garden was created clean, unfussy exterior spaces for entertaining, with an emphasis on viewing the spaces from the interior. Cool green hedges and gravel patios created a sense of space and casual elegance, while an outdoor whitewashed brick fireplace and sturdily strung café lights invited us outside. St. Francis of Assisi watched over tidy brick raised beds, with boxwood trimming cut flowers.
We then switched gears before visiting the other two private gardens, and went to the Environmental Nature Center, a hidden sanctuary founded in 1972 that educates children and communities about California native plant communities, wildlife habit, and sustainable building practices with its LEED certified building. Bo Glover, Executive Director for 27 years, enthralled us with his commitment to environmental education and passion for the resource. Lori Whalen, Director of Communication, described the site, its walking trails, Butterfly House, Redwood Forest (where a pre-school will be built in the near future), and the 15 native plant communities. Even though the site is surrounded by dense residential development, it has been graded with hills and ravines (using soil excavated from the nearby Newport Harbor High School pool) to create an insular, forest-like environment where for an hour or two one can feel immersed in nature, miles away from the urban environment surrounding it.
After feeling enlightened and empowered through our tour of the ENC, we drove to our second private garden, hosted by Missy Schweiger. Missy detailed the process she went through to create and execute her garden vision. Corona del Mar is a tight knit, dense community of small scale homes where land is precious. Instead of building a large home with little garden space, Missy made a bold and personal decision to keep her house footprint small and leave the remainder of her property open where she could create a garden for herself and her family. One enters the garden through gray weathered arbors and tight Carolina Cherry hedges, creating a sense of anticipation and separation from the street. Formal hedges are layered with looser flowering hydrangeas in between for color and variety of form and texture. The gravel pathways, large sitting rocks, and painted shutters give a relaxed, whimsical feel, echoed in the train circling the large central Eucalyptus in the garden. Personal touches such as stained glass windows repurposed into gates, potted cymbidiums, and Chinese urns created a comfortable space for relaxing and full of personality.
With anticipation, we all headed to Sherman Gardens and Library, a botanical garden and research library occupying an entire block in Corona del Mar. Founded by Arnold Haskell in 1966, the gardens are named after M. H. Sherman, Haskell’s former employer and mentor. The gardens are vibrant and diverse and attract families, students, and horticulturalists from the area. There are formal European and Moroccan fountains, a tropical conservatory, koi pond, succulent garden with craggy California Pepper adjacent to the Library, cycads and ferns, roses, and scented geraniums. Although the emphasis is not particularly on mediterranean plants, they are mixed in with perennial borders, enlivening them with scent and color. We ate our lunches of savory and sweet crepes beneath a lattice cover from which peach and pink Dipladenia cascaded out of hanging pots, listening to the tinkle of water from the Moroccan fountains—what could be more mediterranean than enjoying each other’s company and an alfresco meal surrounded by beautiful plants?
Our next garden had a delightful cool courtyard with central wall fountain, built out of Southern California’s native Bouquet Canyon flagstone. The motor court was paved in a random fan brick pattern with splashes of flagstone. The fountain was framed by Boxwood hedges, accented with Bearded Iris, and a diamond shaped espaliered vine on the walls flanking the lion’s head fountain. Convolvulus and Campanula filled in joints along the stepping stones towards the fountain.
We then traveled up the bluff to a large private garden designed by Carol McElwee. The front yard and upper portion of this large property, are dominated by large Olive trees and a naturalistic mediterranean garden. A sinuous flagstone path with Dymondia joints, flanked by mature Rosemary, Echium, and Achillea ‘Moonshine’, leads to the entry gate to the formal pool, lawn, and fountain on the house level. Boxwood hedges, roses, Italian Cypress, Prostrate Rosemary, and Citrus on tiers all create a quintessential mediterranean garden. The view from the upper level porch takes in the vista of the Pacific Ocean beyond, and in the foreground one sees an intricately patterned maze of hedges surrounded by gravel. This is a garden to be seen from above, with its topiary boxwood and sheared Ligustrum. Centered on the house is a private circular firepit space, surrounded by tall Ligustrum hedges. When in the garden, the focus is back up to the house. When in the house, the focus is on the geometry of the garden as a neatly maintained foreground to the view.
Our full day ended at Roger’s Gardens, a one-of-a-kind destination nursery that is more than just a nursery; it is an invitation to garden and enjoy the Southern Californian lifestyle. Ron Vanderhoff, Manager and Horticulturalist, gave us an unexpected glimpse into the two sides of him through his presentation “The Other Side of the Fence”: One as ornamental horticulturalist and nursery manager selling plants. The other as a naturalist educating people on the value of California’s native plants and habitat. The duality of marketplace and conservation sparked vital and passionate conversation among our group. We were all very thankful for the knowledge people like Nicholas Staddon, Marilee Kuhlmann, Nan Sterman, and Pamela Berstler brought to our group and we hope to continue the friendships and conversations from this tour into the future.
3rd Annual Plant Exchange and Lunch
Another beautiful day at La Casita in Pasadena with members, board members and friends discussing garden-related topics over a bring-and-share lunch and exchanging plants.
The setting, La Casita del Arroyo (The little house on the Arroyo), was built as a community meeting house in 1933 as a work project during the Great Depression. The lovely house and surrounding mediterranean-landscaped garden were mainly constructed of natural materials from the Arroyo and recycled materials from the velodrome built for the 1932 Olympics in Los Angeles. In 1988, landscape architects Isabel Greene and Yosh Befu designed and installed a low-water demonstration garden promoting plants suitable for a mediterranean climate and a water-saving irrigation system. (See more about La Casita del Arroyo here.)
For older reports and articles please check out the archived (non-responsive) Southern California Branch page.
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