Four-Leaf Bromeliads?

Four-Leaf Bromeliads?

Puya berteroniana

Forget shamrocks. The best plant at The Huntington on St. Patrick’s Day is a bromeliad. At the bottom of the Desert Garden is the giant Puya berteroniana,which amazes us each year at this time with green flowers. This year it began its bloom on March 1 and has produced some very tall stalks of pale teal and others of shamrock green.

The Huntington has more than 20 kinds of Andean puyas, from several sources—probably the finest collection in North America. A large collection came from James West, who was a member of T. Harper Goodspeed’s expeditions to the Andes. Goodspeed wrote about those exploits in the botanical travel classic Plant Hunters in the Andes (1941). Myron Kimnach, the former botanical director of The Huntington, also helped expand the collection.

Puya berteronianaPuyas bloom from late winter throughout the spring, and come in a variety of spectacular colors, including brilliant yellow, teal blue, royal blue, green, purple, and near black. Amazingly, all puyas have a very special characteristic—after they bloom, their petals twist together, perhaps to protect the ovary from cold and insects.

You will soon be able to find a yellow giant, the Puya chilensis, along the west side of the Desert Garden. And Puya alpestris, the turquoise one, will soon be flowering on the central main path, at the entrance to Heritage Walk, which holds other puya surprises.

Caption: The Huntington’s giant Puya berteroniana, with timely green flowers. Photos by John Trager.

Joanne Gram is a docent in The Huntington’s Desert Garden and the editor of The Jumping Cholla.

MR. HUNTINGTON’S GARDEN | Mr. Huntington’s Garden Springs Forward

MR. HUNTINGTON’S GARDEN | Mr. Huntington’s Garden Springs Forward

Wisteria in the Japanese GardenWith this posting, I’m beginning an on-going commentary in which I hope to explain the potential mysteries of why change happens (or doesn’t) in the gardens, giving fair warning as to what plans and projects are in the offing, and making suggestions as to what corner of the grounds you might wish to explore at the moment. But it shouldn’t be a pure diary, a one-way conversation. Rather than relying simply on my ability to guess what questions might be on your mind, it is only fair to invite you to post questions and comments for our response.

Starting with the corners…. It has been a long and lovely spring, almost unbelievably so. There were no sudden, serious freezes or early scorching heat spells to spoil the fun, and rainfall has been better than normal. I feared that the rain a couple of weeks ago would wipe out the flowering of the ‘Pink Cloud’ cherries, but walking through the Japanese Garden last week, I saw they were still looking cheerful enough, though past peak. The big news, however, is that the wisteria on the faux bois arbor overlooking the road and main garden is just showing color, so the next few days will be worth a visit. Sometimes people call the office to find out when the wisteria will be in bloom; the answer for this year is now.

Crews working on the pond in the Chinese gardenI was down in the Japanese Garden because we are still working on some details of restoration plans. You might have read in the Calendar that this garden closes on April 4 to allow us to complete improvements in time to celebrate the 100thanniversary of its creation next spring. So last Monday, a team of us walked down to examine the area below the ponds, attempting yet again to wrestle one of the last remaining details into submission, which is how and where to filter and pump recirculating water for the ponds. With a tight budget, but an eye on the long-term, there seem to be plenty of challenges. How do you set up the ponds for another hundred years of operation—repairing the liner, restoring the edges and the ancient grotto, installing new piping and systems, allowing for expansion—while keeping the needed pumps and contraptions both available for maintenance and completely out of sight? If you never see them, and the ponds are beautiful, then we made all of the right decisions.

Of course, what you might have noticed at the end of last week was that the ponds were far from beautiful—they were a muddy, sodden mess. David MacLaren and his crew lowered the water level in the Japanese Garden and Chinese Garden ponds in order to transplant the lotus so they would survive during the upcoming construction. As usual, we found more than bargained for, making it clear that the Chinese Garden pond is due for a complete clean out this summer.

A new path at The HuntingtonAnother project that you might never have noticed in progress is quietly open for inspection—construction of a walkway from the Desert Garden entrance to the Rose Garden. Following the top edge of the slope, the new path passes through the Palm Garden, the top of the Jungle Garden, below the south terrace of the Huntington Art Gallery, and arrives at the path that takes visitors from the Rose Garden into the Subtropical Garden. Shadi Shihab, the curator of floristic gardens, and his staff have a lot of work ahead to resculpt and replant edges where contractor Forrest Hopkins and his crew cut through and formed the path, but the construction barriers have been removed. I encourage you to explore the new vistas this path provides, while also taking advantage of a new route from the Desert Garden to the café.

As we surge toward the end of the month, don’t forget to keep some time on your calendar for the California Bonsai Society’s show, which will be staged in Friends’ Hall on Saturday and Sunday, March 26 and 27.

Captions: Wisteria beginning to bloom on the trellis of the Japanese Garden; a work crew gets ready to transplant lotus in the pond of the Chinese garden; a new trail connecting the Desert Garden to the Rose Garden. Photos by Jim Folsom.

Jim Folsom is the Telleen/Jorgensen Director of the Botanical Gardens at The Huntington.

EXHIBITIONS | The World of John Frame

EXHIBITIONS | The World of John Frame

For months now, we have been looking forward to an unusual exhibition—a display of works created by the Southern California sculptor John Frame. For the better part of five years, Frame has been assembling a body of work that features, at its core, an eclectic cast of fully articulated characters. The figures are a combination of meticulously carved wood and found materials, and together they inhabit a complex universe—one that, he says, speaks to the age-old questions “Where did I come from? What am I to do while I am here? And what, if anything, happens when I’m gone?”

Three Fragments of a Lost Tale: Sculpture and Story by John Frame,” comprising three dozen sculptures and accompanying still photography and stop-motion animated film, opens in the Boone Gallery on Saturday, March 12. An eight-minute film about the artist’s process will also be screened in the gallery.

In the book that accompanies the exhibition, David Pagel, an art writer for the Los Angeles Times and associate professor of art theory and history at Claremont Graduate University, writes, “Frame’s meticulously sculpted figures, painstakingly made props, consummately tailored costumes, and elaborately fabricated sets, not to mention his sensitively lighted scenes, gorgeously scored story, beautifully composed photographs, and extraordinarily poignant frame-by-frame animation bespeak the multiplicitous, mix-and-match talents of a jack-of-all-trades.” Frame and his work is all that. And more.

O-Man. Photo by John Frame.Frame has said he is not of this century, and his work seems a throwback to a time when productivity was a more deliberate, patient, and quiet process. He says his art making is best expressed by a quotation from John Ruskin: “Fine art is that in which the hand, the head, and the heart of man go together.” And each figurative sculptures certainly reflects that belief—gorgeously rendered, and so alive each seems poised for movement, nearly about to fly. But Frame does not toss out the 21st century altogether. In fact, through his savvy use of cameras and computers, he produced a saturated, hauntingly beautiful animated film scored, incidentally, by himself, on keyboard and computer. And, also via computer, Frame made great use of eBay, where he purchased antique odds and ends for use in his sculptural forms. More on that in a future blog. Meanwhile, mark your calendar: The exhibition opens this weekend. Check out what the LA Times has to say about it.

Also opening: A concurrent exhibition curated by John Frame in the Works on Paper Room of the Huntington Art Gallery. “Born to Endless Night: Paintings, Drawings, and Prints by William Blake Selected by John Frame.” Frame is an avid reader with broad interests, whose works relate in diverse ways to the collection at The Huntington. He says he was influenced heavily as a young artist by Shakespeare’s writings and the illustrations and writings of Blake; both figure deeply into the “Three Fragments” exhibition.

Captions: John Frame MMVI – MMXI by Johnny Coffeen, Music by John Frame. Copyright 2011 The Huntington; O-Man. Photo by John Frame.


Susan Turner-Lowe is vice president for communications at The Huntington.

LECTURES | The Fruits of Their Labors

LECTURES | The Fruits of Their Labors

The Huntington's new avocado heritage orchardCarl Stucky and Julie Frink know a thing or two about avocados. Stucky has been around avocados for more than 40 years and is now an agricultural consultant and farm manager of six commercial orchards in and around Carpinteria. He is a member of the board of directors of the California Avocado Society, and he also is a past president of the organization. Frink has decades of experience, too, having long volunteered at the University of California South Coast Field Station in Irvine, a 200-acre research facility that includes more than 150 varieties of avocados.

At The Huntington’s next Second Thursday Garden Talk & Plant Sale, you can listen to the pair share tips on selecting, growing, and caring for avocados in the home garden. Some of Frink’s advice will be inspired by her experience tending to the trees in her own yard in Huntington Beach, where she has no fewer than 20 varieties by her last count.

One of Frink’s tasks at the Irvine Field Station was to create a database that eventually listed more than a thousand avocado varieties. But chances are you will find just one type available at your local grocery store—the Hass avocado. It was named after Rudolph Hass, who patented the variety in 1935; it was then widely propagated and distributed by Brokaw Nursery of Whittier. All Hass trees today can be traced back to that tree in Rudolph Hass’s yard.

Avocado trees still growing in the heart of the Huntington RanchHow did the variety become so popular? “It has a long life on the tree,” explains Stucky. While you might have about 3 days to harvest a fruit like cherries, Hass avocados can hang on the branches for a couple months after they are ready to eat. The thicker skin, too, makes the variety more durable for packing and shipping. In time, the variety came to dominate the market, supplanting the Fuerte. Now avocado orchards from the warmer climates of San Diego County to the cooler environs of Santa Barbara County tend to grow it as their crop of choice.

But that doesn’t mean the Hass suits every taste. Frink and Stucky will talk about other favorites, such as the Reed or Pinkerton. The history of the avocado in California can be traced by stories about the commercial choices between one variety over another. In fact, The Huntington now prides a modest heritage orchard of 33 distinct cultivars, which represent the history of the avocado industry in the 20th century. The small trees (photographed above) are now growing in a section of The Huntington that still includes a few acres of Henry Huntington’s original orange grove, not to mention some massive surviving avocado trees. The old and the new trees are part of The Huntington’s Ranch project. Last year, Stucky was part of the team that helped graft the cultivars onto root stock provided by the very same Brokaw Nursery (now of Saticoy) that first put the Hass avocado on the map.

The Garden Talk takes place Thursday, March 10, at 2:30 p.m. in Friends’ Hall and will be followed by a trek to the nursery for a plant sale. You can mark you calendars for future Second Thursday Garden Talks & Plant Sales: On Thursday, April 14, Clair Martin, the E. L. and Ruth B. Shannon Curator of the Rose and Perennial Gardens at The Huntington, will discuss sustainable rose gardening. On May 12, historian Andrea Wulf will give a talk called “Founding Gardeners: The Revolutionary Generation, Nature, and the Shaping of the American Nation.” And on June 9, Tom Spellman, a veteran of the nursery business, will discuss the 12 most important antioxidants from your garden.

Matt Stevens is editor of Huntington Frontiers magazine.

Captions: A section of the Ranch includes a new heritage orchard of avocados, including 33 different cultivars. (It is called the Shepherd-Brokaw collection in honor of the Brokaw Nursery and Jack Shepherd, who donated the archive of the California Avocado Society to The Huntington.) Several avocado trees on the Huntington grounds date back to the early 20th century. Photos by Scott Kleinrock.

Best in Show

Best in Show

"The Big O"What does it take to win “Best in Show?” The flower judges will have the answer this weekend when the North American Clivia Society presents its 8th annual Clivia Show and Sale at The Huntington. The event will be held in the Botanical Center on Saturday and Sunday, March 12–13, from 10:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.

More than a hundred plants will be displayed, representing numerous species and hybrids, including Clivia miniata, the most popular late winter, spring blooming member of the genus. Experts will be on hand to answer questions about selection, cultivation, and care. In addition, vendors will have a wide variety of plants available for purchase. Entry is included with general admission.

Most Southern Californians have at least a passing familiarity with the shade-loving clivia, which in winter and spring bears bright clusters of flowers in orange, yellow, or cream. Native to southern Africa, the plant was introduced into Europe in the early 1800s. The first named species, Clivia nobilis, was christened in 1828 by Kew botanist John Lindley in honor of Lady Charlotte Clive, Duchess of Northumberland. Clivias reached the height of their popularity as house plants in the Victorian era, and have enjoyed a resurgence of popularity as landscape plants since the 1980s. Their colorful blooms, evergreen foliage, ease of care, and preference for mild winters make them a favorite with local gardeners.

"La Creme"But you won’t find mere “garden variety” blooms at this year’s show. “You’ll see some exotic color patterns that you will never see in the nursery, let alone in anyone’s back yard,” says Jim Folsom, the Telleen/Jorgensen Director of the Botanical Gardens. “This is a great chance to see the newest colors, patterns, and forms.” Look for unusual colors such as salmon and deep red, bi-colored blooms, variegated leaves, and atypical forms.

While you’re here, be sure to save time to explore the gardens, too, where you will find blooming displays of clivia in the northern Jungle Garden, North Vista, and other well-shaded areas.

And about that judging…. After checking out the judge’s choices, visitors are invited to cast their own votes for the “People’s Choice” award.

Captions: ‘The Big O’—voted “Best in Show” for blooming clivia last year; ‘Peach 04-09-07-11,” voted “Best in Show” for blooming clivia in 2009.

Lisa Blackburn is communications coordinator at The Huntington.

Mystic Chords of Memory

Mystic Chords of Memory

Ronald C. White Jr.Today we mark the 150th anniversary of Abraham Lincoln’s First Inaugural Address. In a way, the commemoration kicks off the sesquicentennial of the Civil War. For the next four years, historians will note the 150th anniversaries of everything from the attack on Fort Sumter (April 12, 1861) to Lee’s surrender to Grant at Appomattox (April 9, 1865).

Lincoln biographer and longtime Huntington research fellow Ronald C. White Jr. is in Washington, D.C., to mark the occasion. Today he will give what he calls the “back story” to the First Inaugural Address at a luncheon at the New York Avenue Presbyterian Church, where Lincoln attended services during his presidency. White also contributed a new essay today for the website of National Public Radio—“150 Years Later, Lincoln’s Words Still Resonate.”

White won plaudits in 2009 for his book A. Lincoln: A Biography. He’s also the author of The Eloquent President: A Portrait of Lincoln Through His Words (2005) and Lincoln’s Greatest Speech: The Second Inaugural (2002). He likes to tell the story that his interest in Lincoln dates back to his visit to the 1993 Huntington Library exhibition “The Last Best Hope of Earth: Abraham Lincoln and the Promise of America.” He conducts much of his research at The Huntington.

White will give another talk on Saturday, this time as the keynote speaker at a luncheon at the Willard Hotel, where Lincoln stayed before moving to the White House. The event is sponsored by the Lincoln Group of the District of Columbia and follows a morning program at the Capitol Visitor Center that features actor Sam Waterston reading the inaugural address, including the famous last line: “The mystic chords of memory, stretching from every battlefield and patriot grave to every living heart and hearthstone all over this broad land, will yet swell the chorus of the Union, when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature.”

“I’ll be talking about this marvelous rhetoric,” says White. “In times of crisis we so often see politicians appealing to the fears of people, but Lincoln appealed to their hopes.”

You can listen to White discussing his book A. Lincoln: A Biography on iTunes. You can link to his new essay on the website of NPR; it will be broadcast on All Things Considered at a later date.

Matt Stevens is editor of Huntington Frontiers magazine.

Caption: Ronald C. White Jr., photo by Cynthia C. White.

FROM THE RANCH | And We’re Back

Romanesco Cauliflower

After a bit of a break to finish planting fruit trees in the food forest and work on Ranch programming for the next year, we are back to blogging and look forward to posting much more regularly about all things Ranch related. We have an exciting year ahead for the Ranch, with public open-house days, free lectures, and train the trainer programs in addition to the continuing education workshops already being offered. Check back for more details as we confirm dates!


Scott Kleinrock is the Ranch project coordinator at The Huntington.

LECTURES | Writers’ Block

LECTURES | Writers’ Block

Kenneth Warren’s latest book—What Was African American Literature?—is based on a set of lectures he delivered at Harvard a few years ago. This week he’ll take the podium in The Huntington’s Friends’ Hall to share a bit from what he hopes will be part of his next book. His lecture takes place on March 2 at 7:30 p.m. and is free and open to the public. This morning at 9 a.m. PST you can also follow his Live Chat conversation with Henry Louis Gates Jr. on The Chronicle of Higher Education website. (Gates is the director of the W.E.B. Du Bois Institute for African and African American Research at Harvard University.)

Warren is Fairfax M. Cone Distinguished Service Professor of English at the University of Chicago and the R. Stanton Avery Distinguished Fellow at The Huntington for 2010–11. His new book makes the case that what we call African American literature is the creative work written by black authors within and against the segregationist strictures of Jim Crow America.

“I’m not pushing for a particular end date for African American literature,” explains Warren, “except to suggest that it is linked to the victories of the Civil Rights era, in which legal foundations that mandated segregation became dead letters by the mid-1970s.”

In his previous book, So Black and Blue: Ralph Ellison and the Occasion of Criticism (2003), Warren took a closer look at the most famous author of that transitional era. Ellison famously came out of relative obscurity by publishing Invisible Man in 1952, winning the National Book Award in 1953, and then witnessing the passing of Brown vs. Board of Education in 1954 only to labor over his second novel for the rest of his life.

While Ellison was a prolific essayist, his struggle to write fiction might have stemmed, Warren says, “From the fact that he had so long been focused on engaging the problems of Jim Crow America, and in some way he sort of wrested his artistic power from having to think about and respond to the humiliations of a Jim Crow society.”

In his Huntington lecture—and future book—Warren is more concerned with exploring the emergence of African American literature in the wake of yet another famous legal case, Plessy vs. Ferguson in 1896, which upheld the constitutionality of “separate but equal.”

Despite its failings, Reconstruction had at least given freed blacks citizenship and access to political life. But with the Plessy decision the door slammed shut for most blacks in the south. In response, writers like Paul Laurence Dunbar, Charles Chesnutt, and Sutton Griggs felt it was their responsibility to speak for the disenfranchised.

In describing his upcoming lecture, Warren says, “I really want to drive home the crucial importance of disenfranchisement as a condition for the emergence of the idea that literature had to—and could—provide a voice for a largely silenced population.”

If you miss Warren’s Live Chat you can read it later. Also on the website of The Chronicle of Higher Education is Warren’s recent article “Does African-American Literature Exist?” You can also learn more about Warren and his book on the blog of Harvard University Press.

Matt Stevens is editor of Huntington Frontiers magazine.

Captions: Warren’s new book with Harvard University Press; photo by Maria M. Warren.

LECTURES | Speaking of Birthdays

LECTURES | Speaking of Birthdays

Henry Huntington, 1927For a short month, February has a lot of big birthdays—George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, and Charles Darwin, to name just a few. Perhaps none is bigger (here, at least) than Henry Edwards Huntington’s. He was born Feb. 27, 1850, in Oneonta, N.Y. Since the founding of this institution, officials have commemorated the anniversary with a Founder’s Day lecture.

In recent years, President Steve Koblik has delivered a couple talks. Last year, Jim Folsom, the Telleen/Jorgensen Director of the Botanical Gardens, spoke about the Japanese Garden, which will close in a month or so for renovation before reopening in 2012 for its centennial. In 2006, David Zeidberg, the Avery Director of the Library, gave a talk titled “What a Difference a Decade Makes.” He looked back on his first 10 years as director of the library, an era that included the opening of the new Munger Research Center. With some amusement, he also recalled the Founder’s Day lecture he nervously delivered in 1996, a couple days before his first day on the job.

This year, Robert C. “Roy” Ritchie’s Founder’s Day lecture is a bookend of sorts to Zeidberg’s 1996 talk. Ritchie is retiring in June after 19 years as the W. M. Keck Foundation Director of Research. In his talk last Thursday, he spoke about “The Hidden Huntington: The Huntington as a Research Center.” He recounted the early years of an institution that began with a remarkable collection of books and manuscripts and evolved into a place where scholars made use of them. He finished by summarizing the state of the research program today.

In thanking Ritchie at the end of his lecture, Steve Koblik said, “Roy entitled this presentation ‘The Hidden Huntington,’ but the fact is that since Roy came to The Huntington, the research element is no longer the hidden Huntington. Prior to 1990, this was a very inward looking institution in terms of its research program, and what Roy has done is opened it up, professionalized it, and made it an integral part of humanities research—not only in this region but in the country and internationally.”

You can listen to recent Founder’s Day lectures, including Roy Ritchie’s 2011 address, on iTunes U.

Captions: Henry Huntington, 1927. Copyright The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

Matt Stevens is editor of Huntington Frontiers magazine.

A Single Manuscript

A Single Manuscript

Christopher Isherwood, c. 1932Sunday night, Colin Firth has a good chance of winning his first Oscar for his role as King George VI. While The King’s Speech is not yet available on DVD, you can rent A Single Man and watch Firth’s Oscar-nominated performance from last year. That film is based on a novel by Christopher Isherwood (1904–1986), whose papers are at The Huntington and include drafts of A Single Man. His second draft, with handwritten corrections, is currently on display in the Library’s Exhibition Hall.

Published in 1964, A Single Man tells the story of one day in the life of a lecturer at a Los Angeles university, whose long-time partner has died. In her label in the display case, literary manuscripts curator Sara S. “Sue” Hodson writes, “With grace and eloquence, Isherwood’s portrayal of one gay man’s life speaks to the over-all human condition. At once humorous and deeply moving, yet never depressing, the novel is widely considered to be Isherwood’s masterpiece, as well as an under-appreciated gem of 20th-century literature.”

Christopher Isherwood, c. 1950Born in England, Isherwood became a naturalized U.S. citizen after settling in Southern California in 1939. He is best known for The Berlin Stories, tales that fictionalize his life in pre-World War II Berlin that were later adapted as the play I Am a Camera and the award-winning musical Cabaret. The Huntington collection includes literary drafts, diaries and journals, photographs, audio and videotapes, and letters from many authors, including W. H. Auden, Truman Capote, E. M. Forster, Somerset Maugham, Stephen Spender, Gore Vidal, and Tennessee Williams.

Hodson curated the exhibition “Christopher Isherwood: A Writer in His World” in 2004. That exhibition was followed by “Celebrities, Friends, and Strangers: Portraits by Don Bachardy.” Bachardy, a critically acclaimed portrait artist, was Isherwood’s long-time partner; he donated the Isherwood materials to The Huntington in 1999.

And Hodson is no stranger to film herself. She was featured in Chris & Don: A Love Story, the 2007 documentary about the couple’s remarkable decades-long relationship. It was directed by Tina Mascara and Guido Santi. Hodson also appeared recently on a panel celebrating the publication of Isherwood’s The Sixties: Diaries. She joined moderator David Kipen and painter Peter Alexander for “Christopher Isherwood’s Los Angeles,” an event sponsored by Zócalo and held at the Hammer Museum in December.

Matt Stevens is editor of Huntington Frontiers magazine.

Captions: Christopher Isherwood, c. 1932, photograph from personal album; Christopher Isherwood, c. 1950, photograph by William Caskey. From the collection of the Huntington Library, copyright The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.