“Live in each season as it passes; breathe the air, drink the drink, taste the fruit, and resign yourself to the influences of each.”
–Henry David Thoreau
Tucked away in a lesser-known corner of The Huntington, on a half-acre site that once served as a gravel parking lot, sits a garden known as the Ranch. This demonstration garden is literally bursting with the sights, smells, and sounds of a mostly edible landscape designed to thrive in the hot, dry climate of Southern California.
Throughout the year, the garden functions as an outdoor lab for adult and children’s classes, professional development workshops, and symposiums. But during the peak growing seasons—from spring planting through the fall harvest—the Ranch holds monthly open houses where families can explore, learn, and pick up fresh ideas. The final open house of the year took place in late October. Judging by the feedback, it inspired a whole new crop of enthusiastic gardeners—”natural resources” of the very best kind.
When first-time visitors enter the Ranch, they immediately experience a pleasant rousing of the senses from the hum of bees and hummingbirds, the pungent aroma of herbs and native sages, and the sight of butterflies, lizards, and finches busily making their way around the garden. Here visitors can learn more about their favorite foods, rekindle memories of fruits and vegetables savored during childhood, and discover new foods that grow well locally. Children are delighted when a staff member offers them a taste of a fresh carrot that has just been pulled from the ground or a juicy cherry tomato, plucked from the vine and still warm from the sun. (Most of the harvest is donated to a local nonprofit, Friends in Deed, for their community food bank.)
Ever since the Ranch’s monthly open houses began in 2010, they’ve given Huntington visitors the opportunity to get a close-up look at the process of growing food sustainably in an urban setting. People can take away ideas and inspiration for their own gardens—whether they’re looking for the right kind of fruit tree to plant, wondering how to incorporate natives and drought-tolerant plants into an existing garden, or wanting to know the basics of growing fruits and vegetables at home.
“The Ranch is an easily relatable space,” says project coordinator Kyra Saegusa. “For some people it’s an entirely new way of looking at what a garden can be, full of delicious bounty, a great wildlife and pollinator habitat, beautiful to look at, and extremely livable.” Visitors see a space that is both productive and aesthetically appealing without being meticulously manicured. They have no difficulty imagining replicating parts of it in their own gardens, and Saegusa has heard from countless individuals and families who have done just that.
Gardening also teaches important lessons about the role each individual plays in the ecological process. Plants, insects, soil, and the gardener work together in a balanced and harmonious cycle that, in the end, produces nutritious food that supports life. Additionally, gardening offers lessons about patience, acceptance of things that can’t be changed, the value of failure, and living in the moment. Not everything grown will flourish, and that’s okay, because it teaches gardeners to look more critically at their methods, to try something different, and to push themselves to face challenges. Waiting has its own rewards. The peaches that have been watched closely all summer or the melon that’s growing on the vine will taste so much better for having been nurtured, anticipated, and then picked right at the height of ripeness. It’s the best kind of satisfaction.
Each season brings something new to the Ranch. Now that fall’s harvest of pomegranates, persimmons, and figs is winding down, staff and volunteers are gearing up for spring. Until then, the monthly open houses will go on hiatus while the soil is prepared for next year’s crops, seeds are sown, and several advanced workshops in native plant propagation are held. But mark your calendars for the fourth Saturday in March when the Ranch will throw open its gates again, inviting Southern California gardeners to come in and get inspired.
Letizia Ragusa is a horticultural intern for the Huntington Ranch project.