How It Once Was Here

Last week the privilege of visiting the garden of a historic local home was mine.  By "historic", I mean built in 1930, which for many places in the world, is "nearly new"--but this is Southern California.  While our county is not old, even where the Western US is concerned, little evidence of everyday life in that era remains.  This visit was a reminder of how it once was here. 
There were, still, a few living witnesses to 1930's Southern California in that neighborhood and at the home we visited:  the trees.
A brief walk in the neighborhood showed some of them.

An Arbutus unedo that has had a hard life.
 A mammoth California Sycamore, growing as they often naturally do:  sideways for a while, before upwards.
 Several magnificent Lophostemnon confertus, wedged into the hellstrip, making a heaven of it. 
 Bleeding sap.  In trouble. 
 Treasure them, before they are gone.
 One of the magnificent native California oaks in the neighborhood.
 And a more modest, unknown species the last drought probably killed off. Perfect for Halloween.
 The home we visited was built in 1929-1930 by a local real estate magnate.  He farmed citrus as a lucrative side business.  He lived a lifestyle that was the dream which drew so many people to California in the citrus boom of the late 19th and early 20th centuries.  

The history is well known:  boosters lured people west by telling them they would be assured of plentiful food for their families in Southern California's year round growing climate.  A man could work at his chosen profession, with a side business growing citrus on his own property and a home vegetable garden producing fresh food year round, or even grow citrus as his main income.   

The home we visited once was an example of this way of life, an era has almost completely vanished.  Southern California's future is rich farmland covered up with massive apartment blocks, the merest fringe of plants around them. 

A Podocarpus, possibly a very slow-growing species, towered over the two story house.  You just don't see them this big except as survivors in old neighborhoods.  
From another angle:
A topped (or wind snapped) Deodar Cedar.  There was another enormous one on the other side of the house. 
The Bougainvillea may not be that old, but its support is. 
Though many tall trees shade the garden, their canopies are so high the feeling is that of being in a cathedral, not a cave.  The lawn was removed some time ago, replaced with a thick spongy mulch as pleasant to walk on as grass. 
Under the trees, the front garden was mainly Dasylirion and Hesperaloes.  Two large happy Adenanthos shrubs acted as foundation shrubs, and a large old pair of Zamia furfuraceas flanked a pathway.
The property is made up of three city lots.  The size of the house  indicates the wealth of the original owner, but most lots were bigger back then, providing space for those citrus side-businesses   The original owner also farmed several acres of citrus groves behind the house.  The groves became single family homes in the 1950's and early 1960's. 
There were once several Citrus trees in the side garden, but they suffered in too much shade and were removed.  Towering conifer on the left, another large tree towards the right. 

Charming details on the house exterior.  This is a very large house for 1930:  over 3,000 square feet.  Shrubs are reflected in the window glass. 

Succulent vignette by the front door.
The main focus for the homeowners is the vegetable garden and the many fruit trees, which include citrus, avocado, and subtropical exotics like Papaya, Mango, and Jujube.   

There is a prolific Passionfruit vine covering an arbor that produced over 700 fruits this year, with many more fruits yet to ripen.  
The homeowners share with the neighborhood. 
Swiss Chard
Casual whimsy in this relaxed, unpretentious, well-loved outdoor space.
Young Mango tree
Papaya fruit
Papaya flowers
Papaya flowers may be male, female or hermaphordite.
The leaves are very ornamental, besides providing fresh fruit for the family. 
Autumn sunshine lighting up a Calla, Zantedeschia aethiopica: 
Nowadays most people have no time for an extensive fruit and vegetable garden that feeds not only themselves but also friends and neighbors.  Once upon a time in Southern California, this was typical and a dream come true.  Can we remember what a good idea it is to grow at least some of our own food, and relax with family in the process?  

The old trees are watching.  


  1. What an interesting place. I love those big old trees.

    1. Me, too. The Deodar Cedars are especially magnificent.

  2. Lovely, thanks for sharing your visit. Were the trees with eyes on the historic property?

    1. No, actually on another historic property around the corner.

  3. That poor Arbutus, it looks so tortured. Thanks for this post, it was an interesting look at how life used to be for Californians with money. I'm afraid I'll never understand how someone first decided to try eating a passionfruit, it just does not look appetizing to me.

    1. I didn't even realize it was an Arbutus, but it was full of the readily identifiable fruits. Poor thing. Would like to know its story. The trunk was all split...

      Totally vote with you on passion fruit. Such a big thing on a season or two of Great British Baking Show. Had me mystified. Ditto for Dragon fruit.

  4. Cape Town also is turning fertile farmland into must have houses. But those people also need to eat. And the area they are targeting is a recharge zone for the aquifer.
    But then our Porterville house, used to be the neighbour's vegetable garden - which fed a family with four children.

    1. I guess humans are going to start figuring out the value of farmland when the climate-change famines arrive. Maybe.

  5. A nice trip down memory lane. I can remember stately homes like this in the old Brentwood area, where my grandmother worked as a live-in housekeeper. I wonder what that home looks like now. You're right that the tall trees mark the luxurious estate gardens of old (something that my community fails to understand with its emphasis on views over trees.) And I still remember the grove of orange trees that used to sit one corner away from my childhood home. It was originally owned by the then up-and-coming star of the tv series, The Rifleman. That orange grove disappeared decades ago.

    1. In Brentwood, might be a McMansion by now.

      There are still two or three old orange groves nearby, owned and cared for by grandchildren and great-grandchildren of the original owners. Perhaps they get the agricultural property tax rate that way, which is dramatically lower. Maybe even agricultural water rates? That I'd like!

  6. Trees are eloquent storytellers if we bother to listen. Your post made me quite wistful.

    1. A novel called The Overstory won a Pulitzer this past year; it was supposedly a book with trees as characters. Buying the book and starting to read, I found unfortunately the humans in the book getting most of the attention. I was hoping to hear the voices of the trees!


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