Monday, March 4, 2013

Getty Cactus Gardens

I love going to the Getty Center in Santa Monica for gardening inspiration. There's two distinct "characters" to the gardens at the Getty. This is somewhat by design: the buildings and the central garden were designed by two different people, Richard Meier and Robert Irwin. The two took very different approaches to their projects; Meier is known for his grids and orderly designs (primarily architecture) and Irwin is an artist, rather than a designer or landscape architect. Combine the different styles with the fact that Meier thought he would be doing the whole project (only to later have the garden taken away from him), and you have a feud that still echoes to this day.

I've taken a tour of the Central garden led by a docent who was very much in Meier's camp - he told us all the things that were "wrong" with the design! An interesting experience to be sure.

Meier did get to design some of the gardens at the Getty - the biggest of which is the Cactus Garden, on the south side of the complex:

Cactus garden - that's the 405 on the left.
This garden has two main parts - the big round part at the end (that you can't walk in) and the staircase leading to a viewing platform, with a "forest" of Aloe and cacti trees.

The bottom portion has a few species of plants, of which Opuntia robusta, Agave americana 'Marginata', and Echinocactus grusonii stand out the most, to me:
Garden in September of 2012

Garden view in Febuary 2013, with the Kalanchoe thyrsiflora blooming

Similar view in September 2012
Senecio vitalis is used as a ground cover through out. The Agaves flower almost every year (I'm not sure how that works...) and it's fun to watch the hummingbirds fly through them. 
Agaves blooming in September 2012
 A very large number of golden barrel cactus (Echinocactus grusonii) makes up the path leading up to the circle. Too bad you can't walk anywhere near them.
According to a guide, these are all seed grown.
 According to one tour docent, the gardeners weren't allowed to maintain this part of the garden for the first three years, until the guard rail was installed. I guess that means these plants are well adapted to their new environment. Supposedly, they're not watered either.

The pathway to the viewing platform is lined with forests of Aloe bainessi, Senecio vitalis and some kind of cactus that I can't identify (nothing is labeled at the Getty).
Picture of planting beds
 I'm sure someone will be able to identify this one:

The berries were on the trees in February 2013
The Aloe trees are pruned to stay this small: 
Aloe trees - I don't think I've seen these flower, ever.
 While this garden might lack the "overflowing" character of the central garden, it certainly does draw your eye to the views beyond, and the simplicity is a nice counter-point to the art inside (whether that's the paintings or the central garden). I'm trying to decide what to take as inspiration from here - it may just be appreciation of a garden I could never replicate, unless I decide to plant my neighbor's garden with golden barrels...


  1. Thanks for the tour, I really enjoyed getting to see so many photos of the cool cactus garden!

  2. Thanks for taking us along! I would love to see this in person some day!

    1. I hope you do too! I'm not sure my pictures do it all the justice it deserves. Thanks for commenting!

  3. That is an amazing garden and an amazing number of massed barrel cactus. It must have been a challenge to design a garden that can only be seen from a distance and not experienced up close.

    They must replace the agaves annually from a stock grown elsewhere.

    1. That would explain the magic of the "reblooming" agaves! Thanks for visiting.

  4. Oh, I would so want to be down there looking at things more closely. Standing on the viewing platform looking down from afar would be torture. (I'm sure falling into them would be torture too, though). What a cool garden, thanks for showing it.

    1. Me too! I would love for them to add a path in the garden.

  5. Oh yes, I must visit there. Your 1st photos' angle helps, and that axis ending in Meier's spiky focal point is more stunning than ever! Still not getting how that's maintained - seems only slight design modifications would make maintenance tasks easier, retaining the same effect. Perhaps I might luck out on my visit, and I'll see maintenance people out there, if I time it right?

    The feud between both designers I hadn't heard...good thing they had what appears to be separate areas! Having had an inferior ruin part of my design after the fact, such ego wrecks the best intentions. (her additions blah, unrelated to the space...her thirsty sycamores dying, too) Can't wait to see how that all panned out at Getty.

    My friend just called yesterday, asking when I'm coming out to LA!

    1. All the maintenance is done on Mondays, when the center is closed. But maybe you can get a special tour? I would love to see you pictures and thoughts on this place! Thanks for commenting.

  6. Euphorbia ingens, as the unidentified?


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