The Rest Of The Newport Beach Civic Center Garden

Ah, a native plant garden at summer's end. Good thing there are sculptures to look at. 

The sixteen acre Newport Beach Civic Center garden is divided into the following:
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The Desert Garden looked mostly wonderful, although I wonder how they are going to handle Agave americana's tendency to sucker itself into massive clumps.  These orderly rows won't be orderly forever.  
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The Palm Garden functions as a screen hiding the road cars must take to get into the parking garage.  I have a serious Bismarkia crush still, after mooning over the beauties at the LA Arboretum.
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There were also Dioons, Cycas... photo newport2838_zps4b39a5ab.jpg
...and what are those non-Bismarkia fan palms?  Trachycarpus wagnerianus? 
 photo newport2849_zps7b9d08b1.jpg Give them all a decade or two and they'll be more compelling.

To be honest, for six months or more, most non-irrigated California native plants look like crap.  They just do.  They're asleep for six months, waiting for rain.  They turn brown.  Some of them turn black.
What is beautiful right now is the stairway. 
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The most successful native gardens I've seen looking good even in the dry season, are woodlands--Oaks, Toyon, and Manzanitas, with a fluffy carpet of fallen oak leaves munched beneath visitor feet.  The Civic Center garden had a few of each of these plants, but the designers chose Coastal Sage Scrub, not Oak Woodland.  Technically correct, but not so enchanting or impractical--our native oaks are best planted from local acorns, and how many people today think of a long-term future for a garden?   
Young Toyon (Heteromeles arbutifolia):
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 Granted, backlighting gave a touch of magic to the dying Gaillardias in the Meadow/Grassland.
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Salvia clevelandii in the foreground, not so good this time of year.  blooming Epilobium canum in the background, looks like crap, too.  The boulders are nice but bear no resemblance to the site's own yellow-gold sandstone--I know I quibble, but...
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Not dead, asleep. The wetlands are between those two sets of blue metal.  The lower structure is a bridge, the upper a seating area for observing a muddled mass of  foliage that may or may not contain a bird.
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Young, recently planted Arctostaphylos stressed by a hot summer.  Eventually, they can be beautiful. 
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The designers placed most of the sculptures in the Coastal Sage Scrub section of the garden, which gives the area interest when the plants are summer-dormant.
A giant Kachina made from old cars.  Not my favorite sculpture.
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With the "salon" sign in the background, these were like shampoo bottles, but also evoke 1960's era space capsules.  Oh that view is tremendous.
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A large native plant garden is difficult.  

Some idiotic nit-picker comes along and says the boulders are not right.  Oaks are more compelling than Coastal Sage Scrub, but the Oaks belong a few miles inland.  A designer might just give up and mass plant the Rhaphiolepis.   

Arranging groups of native plants as if they were conventional landscape plants looks unnatural.  Sweeps and lines look odd, when you've seen natives in, well, nature.  Yucca whipplei can be seen in the Cleveland National Forest as regularly spaced as these Agaves, but only on slopes facing a particular direction.  As the slope changes orientation, the Yucca thin and then vanish.

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Just a big mass of the same plant seems better, with a sculpture to distract.  Love the ADA-compliant walkway more.
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But this is a native demonstration garden of sorts, not habitat restoration.  Let's move on.
Yes, I know bermuda grass in the vacant lot down the street looks like that.  
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This is the wetlands.  Can you tell?
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Across the cool foot bridge...
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There's a bouncy cantilevered lookout to the sea.
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Carefully sited and measured so the homeowners across MacArthur don't sue the city for blocking their ocean view. 
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Please don't sue the green steel origami bear cub.
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From the lookout:
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The bridge over the wetlands gully:
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This was my favorite sculpture, by the Torrey Pine Grove, on the way to the dog park.
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It was beautiful close up as well as from a distance.
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The fancy non-view-inhibiting bridge leads to the fanciest dog park in Orange County.  The grass is plastic, the dogs are well-behaved, and all the owners are on their iPhones. 
Not the usual chain-link draped with forgotten leashes.
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Clever that the low concrete base for the steel poles is high enough so that dogs will pee on the concrete instead of on the steel.
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Hey, you random human you, wanna throw ball?  My owner is on the damn phone again.
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The netting--did the lawyers demand that?
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Beautiful place, all in all.  The native plants will develop better in time.  Perhaps the specimen Oaks will shed enough acorns to create a woodland after all.  Plus, the millions show.  
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  1. It may not be perfect (what is?) but from what you've shown us the Newport Beach Civic Center looks like a rousing success to me. There are so many things to look at and explore, and none of it is boring. Which cannot be said for many other public buildings and facilities.

    Re Agave americana in the third photo: Like you, I question their use of this species. The new $ 1 billion terminal Sacramento International Airport uses neatly arranged rows of Agave americana, too. Clearly somebody didn't do their homework. Why not use a solitary species? Agave weberi would have been nice, for example.

    1. Very successful--I think so also. Yes yes yes--those americanas. I guess it would be budget--what is cheaper than americana? I can't see them paying the maintenance crew to dig out suckers, tho. There Will Be Clumps. Budget, right? Shows you the professionals have to compromise a lot. Rows of A. salmiana--some grand monster--wouldn't that have been impressive?

      Now that I think more about it, I wonder if the native/grassland section will, within a decade or two be another civic office building. It's adjacent to the parking garage and they didn't spend a lot of the $ there.

  2. You are very generous and optimistic in your comments, not some idiotic nit-picker. It's like the emperor's new clothes; people aren't saying what they are really seeing.

    Crap, indeed. I have yet to see a decent California native plant garden in southern California. Two likeable gardens are the Maloof Foundation Garden in Rancho Cucamonga which mixes natives with other climate-adapted mediterranean plants and plants that were already on the site and Sunnylands in Rancho Mirage which I have only seen in pictures. It is quite unnatural but seasonal and sensitive. City of Newport Beach had a chance to an innovative leader. They could have made gardens using local coastal habitats and their plants, just think sand dunes, coastal bluffs, estauraries, salt marshes, sweetwater marshes. The Torrey Pines garden is the right idea. Instead they opted for a poor example of Disneyland-type features. They muffed it.

    1. I think I might have not expressed the native area well--they did use coastal sage scrub plants--I think what I did not make clear is that the native garden which seems to me most enjoyable to the average person (neither gardener nor scientist) is oak woodland.

      Listening to visitors and seeing facial expressions--people loveoaks. Coastal sage scrub is harder to love. I think of the original area of Irvine Park, which is simply an oak grove, some of the trees over 400 years old. People of all types love them and walk around looking at them. Rancho Santa Ana in Claremont I think successful, because there is quite a lot of Oak/manzanita woodland there.

      I will have to look up the Maloof and Sunnylands--thanks for mentioning those, and for your thoughtful comment.

  3. Thanks for this, though I realize the native area might have been thought out some moreto look better in summer dormancy. (timeline, future phasing so more spare?) As an LA, this is actually good overall, but perhaps most of the issue is not just how So Cal needs to switch more to landscaping with less irrigation - and to accept that everything need not be groomed and green, even changing the definition on what perfect means for a semi-arid area.

    I agree on the oak woodland's appeal, if one can get people to experience it, maybe with some more design and groupings / zoning of plantings they could do coastal sage better?

    Enjoying these posts!

    1. Happy your found the post of interest. Thanks!

  4. Seems like there is enough hardscaping and sculpture to keep things interesting even when some of the plantings are not at their best. Repeat visits would tell the story. I enjoy your opining don the subject.

    1. It was very interesting for a plant-person, and if we get anything like a rainy winter it should look great next spring.

  5. Lots of interesting parts of this great garden! I share your Bismarkia nobilis lust. Unfortunately, it's not winter hardy here. Such a beautiful and huge palm!

    1. I wonder why Bismarkia is not planted more often. It has such a bold, dramatic look. I saw some for sale at a local garden center and I sure was tempted.

  6. Re: Agave americana - when designing a garden, the order expressed in the initial installation need not represent the intended image of the garden forever. It would seem that someone focussed on working with plants may also know that A. americana pups and clumps. Today's gridded rows could have been intended to be tomorrow's rolling hills of agave. Similarly, the Euphorbia resinifera clumps in the desert garden will one day grow together creating an undulating euphorbia field....

    1. Certainly that could be a possibility. I'll have to get back over there soon and have a look at how they are maintaining (or not maintaining) everything. Re: E. resinifera--yes likely could fill in--though I like it as it is, with the "negative space" effect.


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