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New Getty 2: The Inner Circle


The Art Historian and I reached the large terrace where the watercourse goes underground. We met up with a fellow gardener by this pot of  linaria and what looks to me like some form of pelargonium (if it isn’t a geranium, or a heuchera: if you know this plant, take pity and let me know, too).  It was one of those annoying moments when the name of the cultivar – ‘Festiva?’ – is right on your tongue, but somehow not formed enough to quite turn into a word. (Identification for this one, and the red-twigged plant, would be a relief, too.)


A terracotta urn of forced tulips next to the linaria started a conversation with the chance-met gardener, who said he prechilled and planted tulips every year. My hat is off to someone who thinks this far ahead this far and works this hard to have tulips in a hostile environment.* I’m sure they look great in containers in his yard or on his porch. Yet somehow the tulip pots stuck among the brilliant tropical lushness of the Getty just looked out of place to me, a Georgia O’Keefe flower in a Betye Saar painting.

But if tulips with tropicals don’t strike my fancy, I can still appreciate the designer’s urge  for bold new combinations. Robert Irwin’s motto, “Always changing, never twice the same,” is carved into the garden’s plaza floor, which according to the Getty website, “[reminds] visitors of the ever-changing nature of this living work of art.”  Irwin’s vision includes the people inside his artwork.  Instead of the broad allees of formal European gardens, long stretches where people can see and be seen in large groups, Irwin’s meandering paths and spirals take you in a flow pattern where you see only a few people at a time – and you hear even fewer. It feels as if you are on your own personal journey.

Descending a deep, precipitous turn in the path, and the Art Historian and I were suddenly tiny Borrowers in the giant world of the trellises, now revealed in their hugeness.


Further along, the Art Historian and I admired this much simpler pea or sweet pea trellis (in LA, peas get planted year-round, which is why they can have already climbed so high in mid-February). It’s made out of 1 x 1s glued together, although it could as easily be made from scrap wood or twigs (in which case you’d have to use twine or some other form of attachment). To our eyes, the pea trellis made an impressionistic picture with bold plant combinations, unlike the forced tulips and incipient roses we saw.


Unusual combinations are the order of the day in this garden, with its particular pallette of art, climate, water supply, and huge foundation for support. Where else would you find brugmansia and osier willows growing next to each other? (The osier willows are the red and yellow twigs in the background.) The brugmansia flowers had only a subtle, slightly lemony scent; it was midday, after all, and they really wait for the night.


This oxalis/grass/succulent/large bulb combination is a gratifying mosaic of color and shape, though all plants have a similar smooth texture. It’s also a combination that would be difficult to grow as a perennial garden in most places, though it could serve as inspiration for similar low-water combinations to fit your own climate.


Nasturtiums, tropical grasses, and what looks like agapanthus make exuberant fountains of color together. I can’t help thinking this would make a great container combination.


While most of my attention was drawn by unusual combinations, single specimens got a look, too. I found the stems of this tropical grass-like plant


as photographable as the leaves.


The orange-tinged ephedra (an almost abstract plant) was new to me.


And while I have long held the opinion that gold leaves are sick leaves, this sunstruck gold succulent (what can it be?) just bursting into flower might open me to a whole new world of understanding.


The center of the Getty garden is a beautiful example of monocropping – of azaleas? (Yes, they’re Kurume azaleas: I checked the Getty website.)  The pool is shallow enough that the gardeners can wade to create the strokable-looking roundness of the maze. My friend at the Getty says the gardening staff works hardest of all. I believe it. Everything in the garden was beautifully groomed, without ever being stiff or unlivable. All hail Getty gardeners.


So here’s my advice. If you’re in LA, forget the museum: go see the Getty gardens. I have only one complaint: there are no botanical labels.  (You may have guessed this from  the vague plant attributions and  lack-of-identification sniveling throughout these posts. And unfortunately since I’ve been to the website, I can’t whine quite as heartily: they do have a list of some botanical and common plant names there. But still. On with my plaint.) While this is probably for reasons of high aesthetics, it’s a little frustrating to the gardener looking for inspiration. Since they label the art inside with names and dates, why not do the same for the art outside?





*There are such things as tulips which need no help in non-chill climates, but they are species types, not the large and ebullient garden ones we saw here.

{ 7 comments… add one }

  • CamelliaC February 23, 2009, 6:51 am

    I’m absolutely gobsmacked by that azalea maze! Never seen anything like it. It’s beautiful, playful and just a great design.

  • Pomona Belvedere February 24, 2009, 1:50 pm

    It is an astounding sight, and I agree with all of the above.

  • Alice Joyce March 5, 2009, 7:02 pm

    Hi there, I think one of the photos may be Ranunculus ‘Brazen Hussey’ – a Christopher Lloyd selection. The tiny very dark leaves with bright yellow blooms popping up – maybe variegated lirope below it. I grow both plants in my garden, and the ranunculus goes dormant very quickly once our dry season comes on. I find the Getty to be incredibly entertaining and fun to vist, though many friends loathe the place.

  • Pomona Belvedere March 6, 2009, 3:02 pm

    Many thanks for the plant i.d.; now I look at that photo I see the shape of the leaves shows that of course that plant isn’t oxalis. Good to hear about this ranunculus, dark-foliaged plants for hotter, dryer climates seem to be hard to find.

    The Getty garden is certainly provocative and different so I can see how some might find it jarring. To me, the atmosphere is relaxing and intriguing at the same time, a good thing in a garden – or a person.

  • Amy February 7, 2010, 9:45 am

    I think the red twig plant is a Red Osier Dogwood, not to see in your photograph, but that is what it looks like tome.

  • Pomona Belvedere February 8, 2010, 1:53 pm

    Thank you! I think you’re right.

  • tu madre March 5, 2013, 8:35 am

    Gracias! me gusta las ideas. Usaré estas ideas por mi jardin. Mi gato comí todos mis arboles.

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