Screens on KCET—by Dr. Laura Wilhelm, LauraWil Intercultural
Los Angeles, CA (The Hollywood Times) 7/17/17 – “Is a garden about nature, or is a garden about culture? Actually, it’s a reflection of both. It’s where culture and nature meet,” says David Brown, Executive Director of the Descanso Gardens Guild, Inc., at the beginning of the new LOST LA segment scheduled to air on the evening of Tuesday, July 18th on KCET. The Guild is the member-supported 501 (3) (c) nonprofit organization that manages Descanso Gardens on behalf of the property’s owner, Los Angeles County.
A graduate of Dartmouth and Trinity College, David joined Descanso Gardens in mid-2005. He interjects his thoughtful insights throughout the one-hour LOST LA segment along with many other Descanso Gardens affiliates.
Located in the Verdugo Hills of La Cañada Flintridge near NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Descanso Gardens provides visitors with an environment reminiscent of the 1001 Nights. People from all backgrounds are culturally attracted to Descanso’s fabled oak cover, camellia and rose gardens, and Japanese-inspired structures.
Southern California has long been touted as nature’s wonderland, and advertisers lost no time in selling Heaven on Earth. This is tied up in the Spanish colonization of the region.
Japanese gardeners also had a critical role to play in helping to maintain pristine green spaces such as Descanso amidst the heavy urbanization LA underwent after World War II along with the rest of the country. Many of these gardeners had to be reintegrated after the forced Japanese internments and resettlements occurring near the end of the war under order of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt following Japan’s bombing of Pearl Harbor on December 7th, 1941 (“a date which will live in infamy.”)
In these times the Descanso Gardens are especially loved for their plants of Asian origin, bonsai shows, and Japanese tea house. Social progress can sometimes be made metaphorically!
As Brown points out, the very idea of culture is bound up in the growing of plants. Both camellias and roses have value as status symbols, and lawns partake of traditions laid down by the British aristocracy centuries ago in much rainier climates than those found in the Southland.
“Beauty will save the world,” claimed Russian writer Fyodor Dostoevsky. The Descanso Gardens may be testing this bold proposition with programs such as Harvest Garden that include at-risk youth.
On the morning of Friday, July 7th, 2017 this reporter was able to speak briefly on the telephone with David Brown and Matthew Crotty, one of the producers of LOST LA: DESCANSO GARDENS. Both meditated on the use of green space as a repository of cultural values and said that Descanso gave “lungs” to its multitudes of annual visitors.
During the period 2005—2017 under David Brown’s leadership, Descanso Gardens has enjoyed a period of growth, rejuvenation and expansion highlighted by a restoration of the historic Boddy House; creation of the Sturt Haaga Gallery of Art; growth in membership to over 16,000 households; increases in private funding and gifts; new gardens such as Hope’s Garden olive grove, the Oak Woodland/California Meadow, and the Ancient Forest exhibit featuring a recently gifted collection of 60 species of cycads; the successful introduction of Enchanted: Forest of Light; record-high visitor attendance; and a top-to-bottom commitment to a future of sustainability in design, collections management, and messaging.
Both Brown and Crotty heartily encouraged this reporter to come see this “fragment of the green past and future”, which she did with her husband on the afternoon of Friday, July 14th, 2017 in honor of Bastille Day. The gardens are located at 1418 Descanso Drive, telephone 818-952-8887.
This time they were only able to stay long enough to view the Enchanted Railroad and sample lunch at the café. However, time still remains this summer to take the grand tour! We at THT hope this will be the beginning of a beautiful friendship with Descanso Gardens.