EDIBLE ESTATES regional prototype garden #7: DESCANSO PUBLIC DEMONSTRATION GARDEN
Location: La Cañada Flintridge, California
Commissioned by: Descanso Gardens
USDA plant hardiness zone: 10
Established: January 12, 2008
Size of garden: 35 x 70 feet (oval)
Descanso Gardens, a 160-acre public garden located at the base of the San Gabriel Mountains, north of Los Angeles, invited Edible Estates to create a public demonstration garden in its featured center-circle planting area for the 2008 calendar year. Unlike the other Edible Estates gardens, this one was tended by a staff of professionals at Descanso, and the food produced was donated to a local food bank. This garden was designed primarily to educate and inspire the thousands of annual visitors, who include local residents, tourists, and gardening enthusiasts.
Adjacent to Pasadena, California, La Cañada Flintridge has a great climate for growing a wide range of plants year round and is home to a very sophisticated and enthusiastic gardening public. The rotating seasonal displays of spectacular ornamental and flowering plants are a highly anticipated feature on the garden’s grounds and are especially prominent in the center circle. Since edibles had never before been featured in this space, it was an experiment for Descanso to see if its savvy visitors were ready to welcome a productive landscape into the heart of this typically ornamental area.
A miniature home, consisting of a redwood platform and trellis, was constructed and placed at the center of the garden display. The front walk to this “house” divided its “front yard” in half; the left side was planted with a conventional grass lawn, the right side with a complex and dense garden of fruits, vegetables, and herbs. The house served both as a viewing platform and an interpretive center, telling the stories of the two landscapes with signage and graphics oriented out of each of the two windows overlooking the garden and the lawn.
Though some visitors might be familiar with the pleasures of beautiful kitchen gardens, they likely would know them to be placed in backyards, where they are not taken as seriously as the manicured landscapes and gardens in front. By simulating a space that would be very familiar to any homeowner, this Edible Estate garden invited all visitors to consider the choice they have between two very different outdoor possibilities: the lawn or the edible landscape.
The initial planting in January included selected perennial herbs, fruit trees, vines and bushes, and late cool-season greens and vegetables. In May, and then again in October, we replanted the garden with featured selections of seasonal vegetables. During the course of just one growing season, visitors could observe the lawn side of the display remain exactly the same, while the garden side changed and evolved dramatically. Beans, squash, edible flowers, and lettuces planted by seed sprouted and took over their allotted spaces in a matter of weeks. Fruit trees blossomed and bore fruit, and, most dramatically, Italian squash planted at the base of the house covered the garden side of the structure with their huge leaves and pendulous four-foot fruits. Chickens were even brought in every Saturday to spend some time wandering the garden, scratching up the dirt, fertilizing, and eating pests.
The horticulture team measured and recorded the inputs (water, fertilizer, time, fuel) and outputs (food, green waste, biodiversity, air and water pollution) of the opposing garden and lawn and recorded them weekly on a chalkboard chart displayed on the viewing platform. Students from the fourth-grade class at nearby La Cañada Elementary School visited weekly through the spring and fall to investigate this data and, specifically, to observe and record the biodiversity within the garden, including which birds and insects were attracted to the plantings. Their observations, such as this journal entry by Sarah Cooper, age ten, on June 10, 2008, were shared with visitors in display boxes throughout the garden: “Today we went to Descanso Gardens. I can confirm that the Edible Estate sustains more life than the grass area. The plant I am studying is the Red Acre cabbage. It does not have any chewed leaves, but I have noticed approximately ten tiny, yellow eggs right next to it.”
DESIGN, PLANTS, AND MATERIALS
The design and structure of the garden employed a variety of strategies for small-scale domestic food production. Ten-inch-high redwood raised beds, each 4 x 4 feet, lined the front walk and were regularly switched out with annual vegetables and herbs; a domed structure of rebar and tree branches, which people could pass through, was covered with climbing beans, cucumbers, and squash; small paths were created to lead to oval spaces, which were each lined with a different hedgelike perennial herb, including rosemary, thyme, and lavender; a series of five-foot-tall willow branch wigwams were used to create a vertical structure for pole beans to climb; the perimeter of the oval-shaped garden was planted with edible flowers and herbs, such as nasturtiums and creeping rosemary, that would grow to cascade over the retaining wall. The goal was to create a beautiful, food-producing garden that offered many possibilities and ideas for visitors to take home.
[INSERT GARDEN PLAN]
southern highbush blueberries
strawberries (Fragoo white, Fresca, Quinault, Sequoia)
nasturtium (Alaska, tall single-bed)
Fruiting Trees and Vines:
grapes (Black Monukka, Merlot, Ruby seedless)
apples (Anna, Fuji, Granny Smith)
Washington navel oranges
African blue basil
Osaka purple mustard
parsley (curly, flat)
thyme (creeping, elfin, Pink Chintz, silver, wooly)
lettuce (red rib Italian ,Black-Seeded Simpson, green oakleaf, H. Rouge d’Hiver, Outrageous, Red Deer Tongue, red Romaine, Red Sails, Romaine, Ruby)
Swiss chard (Bright Lights, red)
sugar pea pods
Red Mangel beetroot
Red Acre cabbage
onions (French red, Green Bunching, Red Delicious)
Jade Cross Brussells sprouts
peas (Blauschokker, English)
sweetpeas (Bijou, Mammoth)
GARDEN STORY FROM THE FOURTH GRADE TEACHERS
As a fourth-grade teacher at La Cañada Elementary School, I knew it would be an amazing experience for the students to be involved in the new Edible Estates garden—and I was right. It provided a hands-on educational opportunity not easily replicable in the classroom. Every month each of three fourth-grade classes visited Descanso Gardens, measured the growth of plants, tested the soil, weeded, and harvested fruits and vegetables. Students recorded their observations in garden journals with notes, sketches, and even haiku poetry, all related in some way to the year’s science curriculum.
Within a short time students began encouraging their families to start their own gardens at their homes. They also became protective of the exhibit and warned other visiting school groups to stay on the walking paths. The final testimony to our experience occurred during the summer of 2009, when a few fourth-grade graduates voluntarily visited the Edible Estates garden to help harvest the summer vegetables, including gorgeous cucumbers and zucchini. Several of them took vegetables home to share with their families, cementing the idea that edible gardens truly make the most of our natural resources.
- Susan Fuelling, Laurie Hopkins, and Dale Freyberger, La Cañada Elementary School teachers
Text from EDIBLE ESTATES: ATTACK ON THE FRONT LAWN (Metropolis Books, 2nd Ed., 2010)
Descanso Gardens, January 12–December 1, 2008
Rachel Buchwalter, David Brown, Garrett Brown, Travis Fernandez, and Brian Sullivan at Descanso Gardens; Susan Feulling, Dale Freyberger, Laurie Hopkins, and the fourth-grade class at La Cañada Elementary School
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