They Unpaved The Parking Lot, And Put Up A Paradise

Last week, I had the opportunity to visit the LA Natural History Museum's Nature Gardens.  Prior to the gardens being open to the public in 2013, the 3.5 acre area was mostly parking lot.  The well-known firm of Mia Lehrer and Associates were assigned to create a Nature garden where the parking lot once was.  

The intent of the garden is to provide a taste of nature in an urban environment, with habitat for many birds and insects. 

Large raised planters doing double duty as a wall edging the front part of the garden are built of argillite stone slabs stacked vertically.
 Prostrate Rosemary and other low-growing plants drape gracefully over parts of the walls.
This wide path is actually an emergency fire lane: a safety requirement for a public facility.  All these large trees were planted only about five years ago.  The many native Oaks, Sycamores, and Alders are large enough to make the garden seem much older than it is. 
A native Dudleya tucked into the stone wall:

Falugia paradoxa, common name Apache Plume, is a featured plant.
Of course, Agaves. 
Agaves near paths have their terminal spine nipped.  Many school children visit the garden daily. 
Dalea greggii is a low spreading plant that is a valuable food plant for pollinators. 
Although there are some identification signs, the Nature garden are not intended as a botanical garden.  It is intended as habitat for native fauna and as an educational opportunity for human visitors.  If you grow it, they will come.  And they have. 
Several examples of our native Heteromeles arbutifolia. 
Delicate Bouteloua gracilis flowers contrast with the big bold leaves of Agave americana.
Behind the Agave,  Cercidium x 'Desert Museum'. 
Looping whips of steel are welded into a serpentine, sinuous, vine-like safety barrier for the pond.
The original wing of the museum was built in 1913.  The garden in part celebrates the museum's 100th anniversary. 
This grassy meadow provides extensive insect habitat.  The three vertical beams on the right are drilled with holes to provide nesting for native solitary bees.
The wonderful allure of this garden was in its expression of the California climate.  It captures the "genius of the place".  This garden is California and no where else. 

Our summer is our "winter".  It is a time of dormancy, of browns, golds, and tawny straws.
To build, to plant, whatever you intend,
To rear the column, or the arch to bend,
To swell the terrace, or to sink the grot,
In all, let Nature never be forgot.    
But treat the Goddess like a modest Fair,
Nor overdress, nor leave her wholly bare;
Let not each beauty everywhere be spied,
Where half the skill is decently to hide.
He gains all points who pleasingly confounds,       
Surprises, varies, and conceals the bounds.
  Consult the genius of the place in all

Aloe 'Cynthia Giddy', for the hummers:
A Baccharis 'Centennial' hedge:

There's the fire lane, looking the other direction:
Beyond the county museum's nature garden is the city's formal rose garden, evoking an older Los Angeles, once upon a time, a city with a lot less people and therefore a lot more water for gardens. 
The Nature Garden's roses are an allée of 'Lady Banks' growing on supports crafted from pieces of rebar.

Beyond the allée is the "edible garden".  Food is harvested for museum events or donated to a local food bank.  The fluted green planters are intended to illustrate for local apartment dwellers that food can be grown even in a small area.

Oh, hey.  That's a booster rocket for the space shuttle, lurking behind a Eucalyptus. 
This portion of the garden is meant to represent the ecology of the Los Angeles river, back before it was turned into a concrete ditch.
Sambucus mexicana, Elderberry.  Once upon a time I made elderberry jelly.  Intense, wild, purple-black. 

Back in 2012, rammed-earth walls were A Thing. 
What a lovely view from the compost bins.  The garden is designed to be "sustainable", which is still A Thing.  
After the tour, a brief meeting with former residents of California. 
Although this garden is completely surrounded by urban Los Angeles, it seems to perfectly capture what the place was before it was Los Angeles.  The Museum unpaved the parking lot, and put up a paradise.  Sometimes you don't know what you've got, until you get it back. 


  1. The Nature Gardens seem like the best part! That Alexander Pope verse is perfect -- spot on! On a personal note, it's been almost 10 years since I've flown into LAX, and back then I remember seeing the Coliseum with a lot more parking lots... maybe my memory is flawed.

    1. There's some neat things there in Exposition Park, surrounded by one of the most dangerous gun-and-crime-ridden neighborhoods in California.

      Work is beginning on the Lucas Museum Of Narrative Art(!!!) just on the other side of the so the area is a bit of a mess right now. So happy LA got that museum instead of Chicago.

      Not sure about parking lots. The Lucas Museum lot will be under the Museum. There will be a garden on top of the Museum. Cool, eh?

  2. What made rammed earth less of A Thing? I greatly admire the rammed-earth pillars and gateways at the Digging Dog gardens (via blogger pix).

    The image of the "LA River basin" tears me up. This is a fabulous California garden, with so many dimensions.

    1. As I recall (and am probably wrong about) getting them made was not much cheaper than getting masonry walls built--and masonry walls last longer. Same thing with gabions, unless you have a whole lot of rocks you need to utilize.

  3. I'm sure Joni Mitchell would be impressed - I know I am. I've yet to get there but will drag my husband out (he loves museums) so I can see the garden sometime this winter. Leher and her crew did a masterful job on the garden, and your photos captured its appeal beautifully. I hope you're staying cool this weekend - and hydrated! Fingers are crossed that we see no new fires.

    1. The Expo Line stops right there, if you care to light-rail your way. The Science museum next door has the Space Shuttle.

      Yes wow it's already 90-something here. Hotter tomorrow. So far the merest suggestion of a breeze.

  4. One of Mia Lehrers principles spoke at last falls' PHS summit regarding the efforts to transform LA with integration of natural areas into the urban environment, notably the plans to re-green the damnable LA 'river'. It's nice to see other institutions in LA are embracing climate appropriate green spaces.

    1. A great success those principles have been at the LANH, too. The LA River project is slowly gaining support; one section has gotten some restoration and guided kayak tours are done when water is present in the area. I think what has helped a great deal is the great success of the High Line in NYC; developers realized there are big $$$$ to be made on developing urban properties adjacent to a formerly blighted area that has been re-vivified with plants, water, and walking trails.

      Despite the concrete, the LA River really is a river. Bringing it back to life would be a wrong righted.

    2. OH bring us more of the LA River. One fine day I hope Cape Town will restore its streams and wetlands - we need to return our stormwater to the groundwater.

  5. Oh my. Beautiful photos and a fun write up! Did you really brave the 90 degree heat? It looks far more serene and relaxing than a 90 degree baking in the sun.
    I cannot believe the gardens are only 5 years old and were forged from the flat nothing of a parking lot. It makes me really wonder about my own efforts here ;)

    1. We luckily went on the day when it was 80, not 90, and there was lots of shade, so bravery was unnecessary! The big trees really cool down a space. I too was amazed at the size of the trees, but they probably trucked and craned in big boxed specimens. Sycamores are fairly fast and the native oaks are faster than advertised as my from-an-acorn-in-2011 Q. agrifolia is approaching 15' and providing shade now at the edges of the day.

    2. It's hard to see how your efforts have grown unless you take photos--never would have really appreciated the changes in my garden had I not recorded them somewhat. Blogging has been very useful for that. Your garden is likely much developed, more than you realize because you see it every day!

  6. The LA Natural History Museum is one of those places Andrew always talks about visiting, now that I know there’s something for me there I’ll be much more excited about the idea.

    1. And there are Agaves! :) Yes it's very well worth a visit. We had a great time.

  7. Beautifully executed and a welcome reversal of recent trends to accommodate the almighty automobile.

    1. Much nicer place to spend a few hours, too!

    2. What a lovely reversal - in so many ways...! This sentence really got to me: "... evoking an older Los Angeles, once upon a time, a city with a lot less people and therefore a lot more water for gardens." I was thinking something very much like that the other day, except for here, and in regards to space, not water. Humanity is starting to get to me...

    3. It is an issue no one wants to talk about, but the root cause of climate change, habitat loss, species extinction and so forth is the explosion in our numbers, a net increase of 100 million per year!


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