Museum Director Musings on the Homestead’s Spring Landscape

by Paul R. Spitzzeri

It’s sometimes too easy to get trapped inside the office and forget that the Homestead had a remarkable landscape, thanks to the financial support of the City of Industry, the general oversight of our facilities coordinator Robert Barron, and the day-to-day care provided by contractor Square Root Landscaping.

Obviously, much of the site’s landscape goes into hibernation mode during the winter, with trees shedding leaves, rose bushes and grapevines pruned, and flowering plants going dormant.  Of concern (for broader reasons as well as local ones) was the historically low rainfall through much of our rain season, which officially begins on 1 October.

Approaching 160 years in age, if the family story is correct, this Lady Banks rose in front of the Workman House has just started showing its yellow blooms, which are only present for a few weeks.

Fortunately, we got some late season precipitation that, while nowhere near what is called “normal,” at least provided some much-needed nourishment to our plant palette at the Homestead.  So, it’s been within the last couple of weeks, since the official coming of spring on the 21st, that we’ve seen a notable change with the museum’s plant life.

The accompanying photographs were taken around the site’s historic houses, the Workman House and La Casa Nueva.  For example, one of the most dramatic springtime transformations comes with the nearly 160-year old Lady Banks rose bush at the front of the Workman House.

After a winter pruning, the vines in the demonstration vineyard to the west of the Workman House are now emerging for the next growing season.

This amazing survivor was planted, it was said, by William and Nicolasa Workman to mark the birth of their first granddaughter, Lucinda Temple, in 1860.  The bush appears in the oldest known photograph of the house, dating about a decade after that, and in many subsequent images.

It was so large that it climbed on much of the roof and was cut back significantly in the building’s exterior renovation in the late 1970s.  There was a scare about fifteen years ago when termites invaded the plant, but sage (!) advice from the folks at Rose Hills about proper care and maintenance helped significantly and the bush has been doing well ever since.

One of the healthier and more vigorous plants in our native demonstration garden, south of the vineyard along the center driveway between the two historic houses.

Around the corner at the west side of the Workman House is the demonstration vineyard, now in its fifth growing season.  Planned and supervised by Robert with the Square Root staff, the vineyard has three varieties of grapes (cabernet, merlot and chardonnay) and has been doing well so far.  Usually, the vines mature about this time, so, theoretically, there should be wine-worthy fruit coming soon, but we’ll see if we can do some testing to determine the quality of the grapes.

Just south of the vineyard is the native garden, planted at about the same time and handled by some of our public programs staff working with a plant palette through selections from the Theodore Payne Foundation in Sun Valley between Burbank and San Fernando.  This garden is utilized for a program conducted with the Kizh Nation: Gabrieleño Band of Mission Indians and focusing on the broad use of native plants by native peoples.  A photo here shows one of the flourising plants.

Emerging in recent days are new leaves of several dozen old trees and their red blooms that will eventually (if they survive wind, birds and squirrels) morph into pomegrantates.  This is on the north driveway adjacent to La Casa Nueva.

Across the driveway that separates the Workman House from La Casa Nueva are a few dozen pomegranate trees that surround the latter structure.  These are just now starting to develop the buds that produce beautiful red flowers and, by the early fall, the large fruit that is tasty, but very messy.  We do give away up to two pieces per person if the crop is good and this depends on whether winds blow the buds off the tree or if birds and squirrels steal them away, among other factors.

At the south end of the center driveway is an orange tree and at this time of year, the blooming blossoms provide that redolent odor that is one of the sweetest smells on the site and, historically, drew a lot of attention on tourist excursions in the region.  Unfortunately, the photo here showing a bunch of blossoms on the tree can’t convey the delicious odor!

Some of the several dozen rose bushes, including a wide array of colors, in planters next to the Mission Walkway and adjacent to the West Lawn of La Casa Nueva.

We also have some older grapevines near both houses, one in the courtyard of the Workman House growing on a long trellis may date back to the occcpancy of the Workman family.  The Mission Walkway that surrounds La Casa Nueva on three sides also has trellis work on which grapevines, which could be from the late 1920s, grow.  The grapes mature in the late summer and the leaves are removed so that, by now, the new leaves come out and the new grapes will be appearing in coming months.

On the west side of La Casa Nueva, there are hedges, some old aloe vera plants (tall as trees) that are starting to enter the final stages of their life span, some original cypress trees and, as shown in an accompanying phot, a nice massing of rosemary on the side of the front porch.

A fine massing of rosemary bushes next to the patio at the northwest corner of La Casa Nueva.

On this side of the house is a large lawn, but, when La Casa Nueva was completed in late 1927, this was a rose garden.  A reference to this are several dozen rose bushes that border the lawn near the Mission Walkway and there are a profusion of colors that are just now coming out in significant numbers, as shown in a photo.

In the courtyard, we have an interesting grouping of banana palms, hedges, and other plantings that were added a number of years ago as a best attempt to recreate what was there in the late 1920s, as seen from a period photograph.  Another photo shows this area from the back door of La Casa Nueva looking south into the courtyard where these plants and the original fountain make a very nice setting to complement the architectural beauty of the house.

A nice view from the rear entrance to La Casa Nueva through banana palms and other plantings to the courtyard fountain.  Many of these plants were installed to recreate the look from a late 1920s photo of the area.

Finally, the east side of La Casa Nueva is lesser viewed, but it does have some interesting plantings, including lillies planted outside the dining and breakfast rooms of the house.  The latter has painted glass windows on the east side adjoining the lillies that are planted outside of it, so, sometimes it is quite a sight to see the painted ones with the live ones as a backdrop.

Outside the dining room and breakfast room of La Casa Nueva at the east side of the house is a nice grouping of white lilies with new growth of grapevine leaves on the trellis of the Mission Walkway in the background.

Spring is a particularly good time to visit the Homestead because of the typically milder, temperate weather as well as the profusion of growth and blooms in the landscape.  So, join us on public tours Wednesday through Sunday on the hour from 1 to 4 p.m. or browse the grounds at your own pace at our upcoming Victorian Fair, the weekend of 28-29 April from 1 to 5 p.m.


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