Museum Director Musings: The Homestead’s Historic Landscaping

by Paul R. Spitzzeri

After blistering temperatures in the 110s two weeks ago and then high humidity several days ago, this 4th of July weekend is, so far, gorgeous.

Today was a nice day to take a break from some mundane office work and stroll the grounds to appreciate some of the beautiful landscaping that surrounds the Workman House and La Casa Nueva.

In particular, we are fortunate to have a number of historic trees, bushes and other plantings to add to the horticultural interest this remarkable site holds.

This grapevine may, at least in part, date to 1860 when a visitor to the Workman family mentioned a grape-covered trellis in the courtyard behind the house.

For example, the approach to the Workman House for many visitors is through a grapevine-covered arbor bisecting the rear courtyard.  While it is hard to know how far back this goes, one of the vines (shown in an accompanying photo) is quite old.

In fact, John Q.A. Warren, visiting the Homestead in 1860, stated

The main building or residence [the Workman House] is in the form of an oblong square [rectangle]; in the center is a large open court yard, containing tropical fruits and an arbor of trellis work, covered with grape vines running the entire distance.

That September, the first granddaughter of William and Nicolasa Workman, Lucinda Temple, was born.  It has been passed down that, to commemorate the occasion, the Workmans planted a Lady Banks rose bush in front of their house.

Evidently planted in 1860 to commemorate the birth of Margarita Antonia Temple, the first granddaughter of William and Nicolasa Workman, this Lady Banks rose bush, which blooms briefly in the spring, is nearly 120 years old.

If the tale is true, then that hardy plant is nearing its 120th birthday and is looking “hale and hearty,” as an old phrase put it, at the front of the home today.

While the grape arbor and the rose bush are the oldest of our historic plantings, another grandchild of the Workmans, Walter P. Temple, added a great deal to the plant palette when completing La Casa Nueva in the late 1920s.  A number of examples of his garden are still with us.

It couldn’t be done now, but this deodar tree in front of the Workman House was decorated for Christmas by the Walter and Laura Temple family in the 1920s.

One, actually, is in front of the Workman House just a few yards from the Lady Banks rose bush.  A deodar tree, now spanning many dozens of feet in height, was small enough in the 1920s to serve as an outdoor Christmas tree.  A cousin, though disfigured by a badly bungled pruning in the 1990s, stands along the driveway between the Workman House and La Casa Nueva.

Around the latter is the Mission Walkway, with etchings in the cement walk of the 21 California missions and the Pala “station” of San Luis Rey.  Trellis work over the walk is covered with dozens of grape vines, which Walter Temple allegedly propagated from cuttings of the old “mother vine” at Mission San Gabriel.  In the planter beds on the outside of the walkway are quite a number of pomegranate trees, also said to be from the 1920s.

These “silent sentinels” standing at the front entrance to La Casa Nueva are cypress trees planted in the mid-1920s during the home’s constructions.

At the three entrances to La Casa Nueva, from the north, east and southeast, Temple had cypress trees planted and the specimens from the first two of these are still going strong.

The same is the case at a corner of the house, where the distinctive Tepee was finished at the end of 1927.  Photos from that time show skinny sycamore trees recently installed at the north end of the structure and those now tower over both the Tepee and La Casa Nueva.

When the unusual “Tepee” retreat was finished in 1927, the towering trees that are planted in front of the structure were skinny sycamores.

These are just some examples of the historic plantings that we are lucky enough to still have as part of our beautiful landscaping around the Workman House and La Casa Nueva.

In fact, you can see all of these historic plants tomorrow the 3rd from Noon to 4 p.m. by joining us for the second of our “First Sunday Picnics.”  You can bring your own picnic and sit and enjoy your meal on the West Lawn of La Casa Nueva, tour the historic houses, and enjoy antique lawn games.  For more info, see the flyer here.

3 thoughts

  1. Thank you for all that great information… is the trees that make the homestead such a peaceful place…..I will be pointing out these historic wonders on my next tour

  2. First, congratulations, once again on your new position at the Homestead. I very much look forward to new things to come at the Homestead. I enjoyed your first blog and hearing again of your background. I was also very interested in more about the plants and trees, some of which I knew and some being new to me. I look forward to your periodic blogs and think it’s a great idea.

    Good luck in the new job!!

  3. I always look forward to these postings. Thank you for all the good work you and the Homestead group do for me and the many others who visit.

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