Harmony in the Garden Blog

The Getty Museum’s Central Garden

dsc_0042Two days ago I flew to LA for the day to visit my daughter, and on a whim decided to visit the Getty Museum’s Central Garden. While I’ve been there before in the spring and summer, I’ve never visited in the fall and was excited to see the seasonal changes.

The Central Garden differs from many of the other public gardens I’ve written about in that it was specifically created to be a permanent piece of living art for the museum’s collection by the artist Robert Irwin.

Before visiting a garden for the first time, I always try and do a little research beforehand to help me understand a bit more about the garden, what the creator was trying to accomplish, etc.  This particular garden really drives home the importance of doing so, as unlike other gardens, Mr. Irwin is an artist, not a garden designer, whose emphasis was to create a ‘sculpture in the form of a garden aspiring to be art.‘  And as such, the garden doesn’t follow traditional design principles but is born from the mind of an artist with the goal of eliciting powerful emotions and feelings through artistic shapes, forms, and experiences.




Upon entering the garden, you’ll first pass through a courtyard shaded by a canopy of sculptural Sycamore trees.

The trees are beginning to lose their leaves, revealing their beautiful form and color while casting artistic shadows below on the walls and ground.






The garden then slowly meanders downhill through the Stream Garden, with water cascading around and over the chunky shapes of large boulders.

The shade cast from the overhead canopy of London Plane trees creates interesting shadows on the pathway and plants below.  Combined with the cooling sound of running water, the shadows create a relaxed and somewhat mysterious effect.




As the stream enters the next section of the garden, the Plaza, shade and plants fade away to highlight the simplicity of the textural pebbles and stone.  And if you’re lucky, as these kids were, you can quickly dip your toes in the stream before a security guard chases you off.

Wandering through this part of the garden will lead you to some of the Getty’s most iconic (and artistic) combination of art and plants – towering rebar sculptures filled with colorful bougainvillea.






I love the repetition of upright, spiky, and airy shapes of both the chondropetalum and bougainvillea sculptures.

Carved into the plaza floor is the phrase ‘Always changing, never twice the same’, reminding us of the evolving nature of this garden.

And even though it’s mid-November now, it felt like high summer last week as it was 88-degrees outside.  Despite the oppressive heat, I was looking forward to seeing the above quote in action, and what seasonal changes I might find.




A gently curving and highly structural corten steel and granite pathway leads to the third section of the garden – the Bowl Garden.

For me, this is where the magic happens.

Smack dab in the middle of the ‘bowl’ is an incredible azalea maze.  I just love how the giant bougainvillea-rebar structures sit beyond in perfect proportion to the maze and the white marble museum.

My daughter visited the garden last February and took the photo showing the azaleas in full bloom.  It’s stunning whether in bloom or not!




On both sides of the maze are two perennial beds overflowing with color, texture, form, and scent.  Being so late in the year, I didn’t expect to see much, but due to the long (never-ending, some might say) summer the beds were still in full bloom.

However, there were a few elements that implied it was fall, namely the beautiful pomegranate trees, heavy with fruit, and several dogwoods with their colorful vertical stems.






The perennial beds were in a state of awkwardness this time of year, trying to figure out whether or not to keep blooming or go dormant, so I decided only to highlight a few unusual vines that were still going strong.

One of which is this vigna caracalla (corkscrew or snail vine.)

And growing on another trellis is this magnificent dalechampia dioscoreifolia (Costa Rican Butterfly Vine.)




Alongside each perennial bed are drifts of plants that gently slope upwards, each with a different purpose.  One side is filled with swaths of society garlic (with the focus on scent), and the other with chondropetalum (with the focus on shape and texture.)





Next time you’re in Los Angeles, I hope you get the chance to visit this incredible garden.

Oh, and if that weren’t enough there’s a great cafe for lunch as well as a quaint tram ride that takes you from the parking lot, through the hillside and up to the front of the museum.





And then there’s the museum of course, but I’ll save that for another time.

But I will leave you with one of my favorite sculptures on the front steps of the Getty, titled ‘Boy with Frog’ by Charles Ray.

I hope you’ve enjoyed the tour, and if you’d like to read a bit more about Robert Irwin, the artist behind the garden, click here.


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  • What a surprise to see the beautiful azaleas in bloom. A must on my list of places to go. Thank you Rebecca, love and hugs, Jean.

  • Oh, thank you so much for this lovely ray of sunshine I found in my email amongst all the political doom and gloom this morning!

    • I’m glad you appreciated my article, Priscilla. Visiting the garden was a lovely break from the political drama and I was so excited to write about it to share with everyone. I’m glad it brightened you day. 🙂

    • You’re so welcome, Nancy! I flew into the Burbank airport (SO much easier than LAX) and the Getty was on the way. Have fun there – great exhibits, too.

  • Beautiful! I really enjoyed the tour. I’ll probably never get there myself so it was a special treat. Thank you.

      • Thank you for sharing this beautiful garden. It is a place I must see. What a lovely surprise to see the blooms on the azelas.


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