Water rains through the dome at the top…
Recently I was in Los Angeles, where I had the good fortune to go to the New Getty Museum – and its garden. A friend of mine who works there, as well as the Art Historian traveling with me, both share my opinion of the garden. So I feel confident (and less Philistine) in saying that the garden outside holds more interest for me than most of the exhibits inside.
Unlike most modern buildings, the Getty manages to be thoroughly contemporary, yet congenial to humans. It invokes a spacious Mediterranean classical feel without ever reproducing ancient architecture: the warm stone, imported from Italy, is an important part of both architectural sensations. Whatever I may feel about the ecological consequences of importing masses of stone from Italy, I can’t deny the aesthetic pleasure.
The garden contines in the same strain. It’s roughly based on a spiral, with water flowing through in the best classical Arabic-garden style. (Also in classical Arabic style is the recirculation of the water, which is pumped from the bottom pool back to the top.)
…to a pool in at the top of the garden…
One of the most pleasing aspects of the Getty garden may not be visible to everyone: low water use. Though the garden is saturated with the sound and sight of water, its watercourse and pools are recirculated, and create great effect with a fairly small volume. Many of the plants I could identify in the garden thrive on minimal water, a nice design touch for a climate with so little of it.
…planted with papyrus and water lilies.
The visible water is channeled through a fountain, rivulet, and pools that have a feel somewhere between ancient and modern.
The large boulders are in the watercourse, hidden at this point by plants.
The Art Historian (who is also an artist) liked the way the boulders in the stream start out massive, get smaller, and finally go into embedded pebbles laid endwise in Chinese style.
Since the Getty is on a prominent hilltop, the top of the garden is the place where you get spectacular views of city and ocean, punctuated by the tall wheatshock-shaped structures, as large as spreading trees, and standing in their stead in this garden. Gardeners in a new and treeless environment might take a hint from these graceful elaborate trellises, which at the Getty are strung with bougainvillea, but might be adapted for any climate. With annual vines, they’d also be a great way to get seasonal shade and a stunning display of flowers or foliage. (Most gardeners would have to scale them down, though; these are two or three stories high.)
You may have noticed the very happily situated hellebores in some of the photos above. Hellebores seem to be stalking me lately, determined to get into my garden. These certainly got my attention: I’m guessing they are plain and variegated Helleborus argutifolius (Corsican hellebore), which fits in with the Mediterranean theme. (Any help with hellebore identification will be gratefully received.)
The hellebores are paired here with black-purple phormium, a satisfying shape and color combination. They are also paired (only in LA) with a variegated crassula.
There are many succulents in this garden, which depends as much on foliage as it does on flowers for its effects.
What’s different is that the succulents are not only grouped with each other, but with nonsucculent plants. This reddish succulent (which I believe is the kind of kalanchoe called paddle plant) is paired with another succulent (which I believe is a hirsute echeveria) which contrasts with the kalanchoe while picking up its reddish tints on the tips and edges of its leaves.
Backing off further, you can see the black phormium and the twig of an unidentified but clearly deciduous shrub, outlining this area.
Pulling back still more reveals the variety of plants which beautifully crowd this bit of garden. (The sun was going in and out of clouds, so this picture is darker.) Every square yard of garden is an artwork in itself, and leads you to explore more as you wend your way down to the dramatic center circle.
Next post: the center of the spiral