Getty Center Garden

azaleas at Getty Center garden

azaleas at Getty Center garden

The garden of the future has arrived and is on display at the Getty Center. This is a garden where leaf color is as important as floral display, where plant diversity takes precedence over formal design considerations, and where a spirit of trial and error holds sway.
The garden of the future is a gardener’s garden. It is a garden in which you, a plant lover in the age of information, take an active role. Through the Internet and specialty mail-order nurseries, you can now select from a palette of thousands of species.
In the garden of the future, you grow plants from six continents within a few feet of each other. You are constantly in the throes of experimentation, as your yard is transformed into a kind of botanical laboratory. You become a horticultural scholar as well as as a lover of what grows there.
Aside from the plants themselves, the most notable feature of the Getty Center garden beds is the large amount of empty space within them. Hurrah for empty space! Empty space is a sign that the gardener is waiting to see which plants grow and which plants don’t. Later, the empty space can be planted with the successful species.
It certainly does an excellent job of highlighting the plants that are presently growing. Too often, gardens become so cluttered that the overall effect is an unpleasant visual assault; the eye never knows exactly where to focus.
The garden consists of two long plant beds on either side of a straight, sloping walkway that leads down to a waterfall, which cascades into a maze of circular planters. At the top of the walkway – which is the main garden entrance – there is a planter with large clumps of fountain grass. This initial “dry look” reminds the visitor that Southern California is essentially a desert.
Purple-leafed plants are both the background and the backbone of the Getty Center garden. They are the background, since bright flowers and dull leaves of every type stand out well against them. Their ubiquitous presence makes them the backbone – or the unifying idea – of the garden. Among the purple-leafed (also crimson, copper and bronze) species to be found at the Getty are: Crinum asiaticum cuprafolium, a spider lily with 4-inch wide, 4-foot long leaves and fragrant flowers; Loropetalum chinense rubrum, the pink-flowered razzleberry, which is a low-growing shrub; an oxalis, also blooming in pink; Euphorbia atropurpurea; Hebe “Reevesii”; Heiiotropium arborescens “Black Beauty”; Heuchera “Palace Purple.”
Carex elata “Bowles Golden,” a 2-foot tall sedge with stiff, yellow-orange leaves, is woven throughout the garden as a lightning contrast to the purple-foliaged species. Euphorbia tirucalli “Sticks of Fire,” planted here and there, serves as an accent and as a foil to the dominant purple. “Sticks of Fire,” a compact version of the more familiar pale green pencil plant, has succulent fingerlike leaves painted in bright green, gold and red.
Six descending circles of plants constitute the concentric maze garden. The outer circle is planted solely with New Zealand flax. The circle beneath it is devoted exclusively to variegated society garlic (Tulbaghia violacea “Varie”). The next two circles are a collection of scores of different species, echoing the diversity found in the long planters leading down to the waterfall. Beneath these planters is a sloping circular bed with nothing but Kalanchoe pumila, a gray-leafed succulent ground with pink flowers.
The innermost circle is its own maze of azaleas floating in water. The azaleas and surrounding kalanchoe can only be gazed upon from above. It is a bit disconcerting to be denied access to the focal point of the garden, although, given the decision to put water at the center of things, there was ultimately no choice but to exclude the public from this spot.
You might also resent the small gap that serves as both entrance and exit to the concentric garden, through which all visitors must herd themselves. Two additional gaps, at points equidistant from the existing one, could have been left open to allow for a smoother flow in and out of the maze. Here, though, you feel uncomfortably manipulated; the independent spirit fostered by the gutsy, iconoclastic plant selection is somewhat crushed as you squeeze your way in and out of the single narrow entrance/exit of the maze garden.
A word of caution: Many of the plants at the Getty will grow with difficulty in Valley gardens. The balmy top of a Bel-Air mountain is a much milder microclimate than that of Valencia, Van Nuys or Pomona. Try planting one of each of the species you see (and like) to find out which types grow best in your area – before you plant a whole hillside of them.
Since a major function of the Getty is as a teaching center, I’m sure they will soon have a means of conveying the names of the plants on display. Perhaps they are reluctant to put name tags in the garden itself – which might detract from the horticultural picture they are trying to paint.
I would like to thank Shelley Jenkins of Worldwide Exotics Nursery for supplying the names of several of the plants mentioned above. The Getty has procured many of its uncommon plants from Worldwide Exotics, 11157 Orcas Ave., Lake View Terrace; (818) 890-1915. Worldwide Exotics is open to the public 9:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday only.
Tip of the week: No mulch is to be found between plants growing at the Getty garden. Shredded bark should be considered for this purpose. Shredded bark makes an artistic, matlike mulch that is very effective at diminishing water loss from the soil surface, even while it prevents germination of weeds.

Photo credit: wiseacre / Foter.com / CC BY-NC

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