Gardens of the Getty Center


This $300-million, stunning museum complex in Brentwood, CA  by ubGetgar18400_2er-architect Richard Meier is worth the visit for even casual art- and architecture-lovers.  But we’re all about the gardens here, beginning with the subtle plantings between the many buildings, with their limited color scheme of green, white and lavender.  Nice complement to the off-white palette of the buildings themselves.  But for my gardener’s money, the main attraction is the 3-acre Central Garden – a plant-linGetgar9300ed ravine swirling down to bougainvilla arbors and a pool that’s surrounded by specialty gardens and holds in its center a floating azalea maze.  (Follow this link to photos and a plant list.) 

This garden-as-work-of-art was designed by the painter Robert Irwin and to the well-known displeasure of architect Meier, Irwin was given the freedom to express his own vision, which turned out not to be sedate at all.  So how does a painter "paint" in plants?  With the help of someone who kGetgar20400nows plants, in this case the California landscape architect firm of Spurlock Poirier.

Funny thing, though.  The Getty Center’s docents tell the public it was designed with the help of "horticulturist (sic) Laurie Olin," which deserves a double-sic because he’s a landscape architect and he had nothing to do with this garden, his contribution being limited to thGetgar15400_1e occasional plantings between the buildings.  And though websites across the Internet get the name right, one site stands alone in getting it wrong – our old rant subject, 

Why the nit-picking?  Maybe because Laurie Olin’s a big name here in D.C., what with his recent redesign of the Washington Monument grounds.  It achieved the impossible in this terrorized city – security measures that don’t announce themselves and don’t detract from the site’s pastoral beauty.  His solution?  Ha-ha’s

But no matter who created the Getty’s signature garden, I’ll just enjoy it, and go back to see the crape myrtles in bloom.  So tell me, how do azaleas know when to bloom in this California climate, anyway?

All photos click to enlarge.


  1. Azaleas bloom here (L.A. Basin-not the San Fernando Valley)off and on from December to April, mostly. Some hybrids-Alaska comes to mind-bloom on and off all year. If azaleas get some afternoon shade in the torrid months, you get blooms all year.


  2. Thank you, Susan, for your article on the Getty. I love it’s approach, via tram car, and the marble’s leaf fossils that discriminate eyes can pick out. As far as the Center Garden goes, I love best how it begins: as drops of water slipping through a basin, down through the ravine, and on to the main garden, with it’s ‘floating’ azaleas, and then on to the horizon, out to the ocean. I HAVE heard, third-hand, that while the gardens-in-a-pond idea is conceptually very interesting, they are no fun to maintain, and that there is a bit of grumbling done by those whose charge is the upkeep of the garden.

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