Saturday, March 22, 2014

More of the Garden at the Getty

Well I promised a bit more on the beautiful Garden at the Getty, as its called. This is the work of the artist Robert Irwin. He describes this as 'a sculpture in the form of a garden', but this is no esoteric experiment with inert materials. It's a beautiful plantsman's garden - sorry - plantperson's garden,  filled with glorious plants arranged in the most exquisite way. Irwin's statement, "Always changing, never twice the same," is carved into the plaza floor, reminding visitors of the ever-changing nature of this living work of art. Not surprisingly a horticulturalist was also involved right through the planning and production stages, sourcing plants and experimenting with planting combinations. Leading into the garden is a ravine with zig-zag paths, a shallow rocky stream and some strong planting. 


One then passes down into a circular path that runs around the pool at a lower level with closely planted borders on either side. Annuals jostle with shrubs and herbaceous perennials in lovely combinations. The path passes under arches ribboned with climbers and shade is provided by a matrix of trees which we struggled to identify in their leafless state but finally decided were Lagerstroma - lovely in a few weeks. Anyway - I'm going to let the pictures tell the story.

What more can one say - an absolute joy to experience!


  1. I find Irwin's garden slightly disturbing, and disrespectful of real garden design that values horticulturally skillful selections of truely compatible combinations. It offers all the wrong lessons to a gardening public that isn't aware of the sleight of hand involved to keep this garden looking good. Plants are treated as disposible commodities, combined on the whim of the designer as if they were inanimate crayon colors rather than living plants. The costs of maintenance are extreme in comparison to similar scaled projects, and certainly not green or sustainable.

    I much prefer the planting philosophy behind a project like Nancy Gosley Powers' Norton Simon Museum. A masterful composition of compatible plantings intended to grow and mature over time without the manic constant change of plantings that could never survive and thrive together long term in Irwin's Getty Garden. I feel Irwin's approach is not an appropriate model for such a public garden in complete denial of the setting, the times, and the message it transmits to the public. When I toured the Museum some years ago while it was still relatively new, the group of 35 landscape designers and horticulturists I was with, primarily were in agreement about finding Irwin's approach disturbing. Maybe it reflects a more traditional northern California versus southern California divide. Our group was more inclined to admire the artistry and horticultural skill of Lotus Land or the Desert Garden at the Huntington over Irwin's work. All of these major gardens are artistic constructs that could never be sustained without regular sustained care, but still seem immenently more "honest" than the intentional and celebrated impermanence of plantings at the Getty central garden.

    This sort of criticism of Irwin's oeuvre doesn't get much play in southern California horticulture circles, but I suspect many landscape designers who have real empathy for planting design and sustainability have similar concerns, but are afraid to buck the prevailing attitudes of group think.

    1. Many thanks for your detailed comment! I don't actually agree with some of what you have said and you will see the latest blog is a response - I do however appreciate the dialogue - different gardens - different opinions!