What's in Bloom
Formal gardens at Rancho Los Cerritos were first planted by John
Temple in the 1840s and '50s. Surrounded by a high redwood fence
to keep out the livestock, Temple's garden echoed a colonial garden
style found on the East Coast. There was a main path leading from
the central door to a focal point, a Moorish summerhouse, with secondary
pathways providing access to a dozen raised beds filled with flowering
shrubs, perennials, fruit trees and grape vines. Five Italian cypress
trees provided vertical accents and, in time, became landmarks for
travelers. A perimeter planting of black locust trees added seasonal
interest. Plants undoubtedly came from local mission stock, trading
ships, and even back East; the museum's archives include letters
from Temple to his half brother in Massachusetts, seeking black
locust, peach and plum seeds to plant. The garden was cared for
by Native Americans, who hauled buckets of water from the river
to nourish each planter bed. It was not until a severe drought in
the early 1860s that Temple dug a well and built a cistern to provide
a steady water supply.
Gardens Serve New Owners, 1866-1881
Under Jotham and Margaret Bixby's care, and with the installation
of a windmill and water tower, the gardens recovered from the 1860s
droughts to provide nutritious fruit, glorious color and cool shelter
for the family. The children stored their croquet set in the summerhouse,
and the women often sewed, read or watched over the young ones,
taking shade under the orange trees or veranda in the heat of the
day. The only surviving plants added by Jotham and Margaret Bixby
during this time were two Australian Moreton Bay Fig trees, which
eventually grew together and today have a dominating presence.
Decline and Rebirth
1890 and 1927, when the adobe served as home to various boarders,
the gardens were planted with row crops and used to house chickens
and pigs. Their glory destroyed, there were only a dozen or so trees
still standing when Llewellyn and Avis Bixby remodeled the house
in 1930. Selecting noted landscape architect Ralph Cornell to redesign
the gardens and grounds, the Bixbys directed their landscaper to
incorporate existing trees and the old water tower into the new
plan, and to reintroduce historic vegetation known to have been
planted in Temple's garden. A vast lawn was installed for the family's
use, and the central pathway was gently curved to soften the look
and to get around one of Temple's cypress trees!
also planted the inner courtyard for the first time, since it no
longer served as an entryway for horses and carriages of the 19th century.
The courtyard became an intimate garden with fruit trees, sycamores
and flowering plants, extending the family's living space. A small
pond served as a focal point, with a bronze toad presiding over
the water lilies.
To the south of the ranch house, Cornell planted a subtropical orchard
with a variety of avocado, citrus, macadamia nut, loquat, sapote
and cherimoya trees, surrounded by a hedge of lemon and strawberry
guavas. This orchard was restored in 2003 with a grant from the
Long Beach Navy Memorial Heritage Association.
In The Garden Today
at Rancho Los Cerritos are ever-changing with the season and may be
toured throughout the year during public hours or by scheduling a
special garden tour. Garden
tours are held every Saturday and Sunday at 2:30 p.m., this is a
wonderful opportunity to journey through various species of plants
at the Rancho. The historic site boasts many unique plants and
features, so stop on by today and see what’s in bloom!
Located in the
island bed, this evergreen shrub had bright yellow flowers in early
spring; the colorful fruit are the results of pollination. Although
evergreen, as the leaves age they change color before dropping,
adding yellow and red tones to the dark green plant.
heterophylla – Foothill Penstemon
Located in the
island bed and in pots, this is a native perennial, thanks to the
work of hybridizers we now have dozens of selections to choose from;
the most common colors are purples and blue.
californica – California Fuchsia
Located in small
island beds as well as on Virginia Road slope, this perennial blooms
in late in summer and into autumn. The bright orange tubular
flowers are popular with hummingbirds. Once they get established
the spreading roots can colonize an area.
Located in the
shade garden, these bulbs have foliage reminiscent of Agapanthus but
instead have fragrant pink blossoms. There are two clumps in this
area, one currently in bloom and one not yet in bud. Also look for
Amaryllis blooming by the trypot and soon near the pomegranate
trees. These smaller flowers will look similar but are not fragrant
and have no foliage.
Located next to
the central brick pathway adjacent to the veranda, these annual
flowers are adding late summer color. They are also popular nectar
plants for beneficial insects.
Located at the
margin of the lawn with a second tree next to the wisteria arbor,
this is a popular flowering tree in southern California that adds
brilliant splashes of color in the summer.
Nymphaea ‘Attraction’ –
Located in the pond, this hardy water lily opens its
flowers with the sun and closes them at night. Thirsty insects land
on the lily pads to sip from puddles captured by the leaf or to
drink from the leaves' edges.
Polianthes tuberosa - Tuberose
Located in pots,
this plant has a wonderful fragrance.
Eustoma grandiflorum – Lisianthus
A popular cut
flower, these flowers are sometimes compared to a rose and sometimes
to a tulip! While not fragrant, their color makes the flowers a
worthy addition to old- fashioned gardens.
of their bounty, from various species of plants at the Rancho, including
jams and seeds, are available through the Museum Gift Shop.