Henry Huntington, who amassed a fortune in the railroad business, purchased the San Marino Ranch here in Southern California in 1903. In the ensuing years, Huntington transformed the property into a public garden, complete with a tea room, rare books collection and exhibits of art, photography and more. The Huntington Library, Art Collections and Botanical Gardens
is a lovely place to spend an afternoon. The dozen thematic gardens are works of horticultural and landscaping art. But the time has come for The Huntington to get its hands dirty, and get "back to its historic roots," with the introduction of Huntington Ranch
At the time Huntington purchased it, San Marino Ranch was planted with hundreds of acres of citrus, stone fruit, walnut and other trees, all commercial crops. Huntington even expanded on these orchards, installing what is thought to be the first commercial avocado grove in the state. But these groves were diminished when he repurposed the property, developing residences and creating the ornamental gardens, then opening the property to the public.
Huntington Ranch will not be accessible to the public visiting The Huntington on general admission. The ranch will, however, "host a wide range of programs for adults, children, teachers, horticulturalists and others," according to official press materials. Participants will work with trees and plants on the ranch, including the new heritage grove of avocado trees planted by the California Avocado Society
. Another special section at the ranch are the dozens of fruit trees saved from South Central Farm
when it was shut down and destroyed in 2006, which were transplanted by the Metabolic Studio
, a signature program of the Annenberg Foundation
. Metabolic Studio also contributed financially to the realization of Huntington Ranch.
Last weekend saw two events as the ranch made its debut. On Friday, a "scholarly conference" titled "Bringing Home the Ranch," at which ethnobotanist and keynote speaker Gary Paul Nabhan expressed his thoughts on "Adapting Food Production to a Hotter, Drier World: Using Urban Agricultural Stations to Train Future Farmers." Then, on Saturday, a sold out
symposium for urban agriculture enthusiasts featured talks by a potpourri of local organizations, including two that I know from personal experience: the hive masters from Backwards Beekeepers
and Silver Lake Farms
, which operates a local CSA program.
The next event is scheduled for Jan. 22, 2011, and the Huntington's online calendar
doesn't show anything others on the books yet, so we'll have to keep an eye out for further developments. Rachel Vourlas, Botanical Programs Supervisor for the ranch, says, "We envision the ranch becoming a hub for youth and family nutrition-based outreach. This is a space where people will really be able to get their hands dirty. Where they can experience the excitement of learning how to grow food in a natural and sustainable way." Project Manager Scott Kleinrock told Huntington Frontiers
that at the ranch they'll be "demonstrating a myriad of growing approaches, from techniques for urban farmers who are growing for farmers' markets and restaurants to those more relevant to home gardeners who grow in backyards or even on balconies."
The Huntington's commitment to horticultural education has blossomed in recent years, with the opening of the Rose Hills Foundation Conservatory for Botanical Science in 2005 and a new Botanical Center that is home to the Bing Children's Garden as well as labs, a nursery, classrooms and more.
Whether you live here in the Southland or are planning a visit, the Huntington is a gem of an institution that's not to be missed.
Here are some photos from the Ranch, courtesy of the Huntington:
Ranch Project Manager Scott Kleinrock (holding shovel) gives a tour of the Ranch to a group of symposium participants.
Several "edible landscape" beds demonstrate various options for incorporating food into backyards. Here, stones and a birdbath create an ornamental setting for salad greens, herbs, fruit trees and native plants that attract beneficial insects.
Salad greens for container gardening: kale, mizuna, mustard greens and others. Fruits (and vegetables) of labor at the ranch.