“You can’t plan nature; you court her.”


A Garden of Color

This article in the LA Times made me more curious about Robert Irwin’s work on the garden at the Getty Center than I’d ever been and more interested in seeing it. Of course, I’ve always wanted to see the museum, having only seen the old Getty many years ago. You may remember Susan’s post on this.

Garden in Early Spring

In the article, Irwin says,

It’s my observation that gardeners and gardening for a very long time have had to take a back seat. … When I talk to these people [landscape designers], I’m inclined to point out that this could be their day in court, you know.
When I first started making proposals for the garden . . . they said, “You can’t do this.” They all said, “It’s not really a garden.” And I was very taken back by that, because I couldn’t understand approaching something with everything already defined. And it seemed to me that that’s an odd way to approach the world, especially a world as rich as the world of plants. There’s no palette as rich as a garden. And the intensity of it — I make this statement all the time: You can’t plan nature; you court her.

Spring time at the Getty

I have always admired Irwin’s work very much. He’s a minimalist, a color and light man, so conceivably a good choice to plan a garden, especially a museum garden. If you’re going to pick a visual artist, that is. At a museum, or really any large institution, it seems the type of busy colorful-border-type garden, the type I would probably plant, wouldn’t be the right choice. You need something a bit more organized, and probably with fewer plants and more of them. At the Albright-Knox Art Gallery, in the sculpture “garden,” there are a couple lovely specimen trees and a wide border of pachysandra around a paved area and a large sculpture. Pachysandra is probably one of my least favorite plants, but it works very well in this context, where the complex Jim Hodges sculpture (can’t find a good pic!) needs a quiet backdrop.

Of course, what Irwin has done is no quiet backdrop, but as an exterior artwork designed for the Getty, judging from the photography submitted by LA Times readers (shown here), it holds up pretty well. The article notes that the oversight of the garden and its necessary changes over time are now the responsibility of its curator, Jim Duggan, not Irwin.

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Elizabeth Licata

Elizabeth Licata has been a regular writer for  Garden Rant since 2007, after contributing a guest rant about the overuse of American flags in front gardens. She lives and gardens in Buffalo, N.Y., which, far from the frozen wasteland many assume it to be, is a lush paradise of gardens, historic architecture, galleries, museums, theaters, and fun. As editor of Buffalo Spree magazine,  Licata helps keep Western New Yorkers apprised about what is happening in their region. She is also a freelance writer and art curator, who’s been published in Fine Gardening, Horticulture, ArtNews, Art in America, the Village Voice, and many other publications. She does regularly radio segments for the local NPR affiliate, WBFO.

Licata is involved with Garden Walk Buffalo, the largest free garden tour in the US and possibly the world,and has written the text for a book about Garden Walk. She has also written and edited several art-related books. Contact Elizabeth: ealicata at yahoo.com


  1. That is so cool , i think i am doing well if my plants survive my watering ( mainly cos sometimes I forget ) guys and gals who achieve those types of gardens have my ultimate respect


  2. Elizabeth and Ranters, I love the Getty on the hill, the gardens. The artwork left me wanting……the gardens are superb. Make it a destination and then let me know, I have a list of about 10 other great places to see in LA. Nancy Goslee Powers gardens at the Norton Simon are incredible. Maybe we should all meet in LA for a garden tour with Paula P and Debra P and the bloggers!

  3. I remember when that garden was installed. There was much scepticism amoung gardeners that the azeleas in the water labyrinth would survive in LA.

    Looking at that maze now, it’s awfully green. I suspect those aren’t azeleas.

    Anybody know?

    Jenn/Garden Djinn

  4. Jenn,

    From the article I believe they are. They spoke of having potted ones at the ready to replace any of them if needed. (Though I see that postscript is not on the site–where did I see it?) But Irwin talks about them as though they are still there.

  5. You gotta give Irwin credit. He was thinking of the gardeners ‘job security’ when he designed the planting plan for the Getty.
    Gotta love an an artist who looks out for the welfare of gardeners.
    Give me an Irwin garden with Getty underwriting and that is a match made in heaven.
    Show me to the bank ( and the greenhouse for regular plant refreshments ! )

  6. Hmmm…not my taste, but the three mazes looks just like, no, EXACTLY like the three spirals found inside of Newgrange in Ireland to me!

    Am sure that there is no copyright infringement since Newgrange (an hour-ish north of Dublin) predates the pyramids!

    Mazes are great – but ones you can’t run around in are well, annoyingly useless and, hmm…not my taste.

    Please tell me they are functional!

  7. Thank you for this!!!
    You wouldn’t believe the furor in the garden community here in LA over the irwin garden! I almost had a fistfight with a nursery owner one afternoon after a very heated debate over it. It seems nobody in the professional landscape industry here could get over the fact that he got the gig rather than ‘one of their own’.

    I LOVE the garden, but it is my kind of thing – and I’ve always loved Irwin’s work. I went to a talk he gave at the LA County Museum a couple of years ago, and gardeners would be very happy to know that he is a true plant lover – he isn’t just using them as another media to exploit. He wanted that garden at the Getty to be exuberant, sensuous, and seasonal. It reminds me of a home garden, but on a large scale – it is truly a plant fan’s garden.

    I have to agree with Michele Derviss about the azalea maze – not my thing. But everything that surrounds it is glorious imho, so … I can forgive it.

    Anyone who is considering an LA Garden Tour, count me in!

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