Located in the heart of the San Gabriel Valley, the Los Angeles County Arboretum and Botanic Garden was our destination on Tuesday. Richard Schulhof, the CEO, welcomed us in the Visitor Center and escorted us to the staff conference room. Richard has been the CEO for just nine short months, but already seems to have an amazing handle on the Arboretum. He demonstrated this as he walked us through the organization’s framework and unique responsibility to its community.
The Arboretum has an interesting history. Its 127-acres have been under cultivation since the West was settled, but the most well known owner was one E.J. Baldwin. A man who accumulated his wealth through gold mine investments, Baldwin converted thousands of acres into an agricultural estate. The heart of the estate eventually became jointly purchased in 1948 by California and the county of Los Angeles, with the goal of building an arboretum around the historic buildings. This direct tie with the government from its inception has given the Arboretum a real responsibility to serve its community.
Richard brought us up to speed on the Arboretum’s current state of affairs and discussed the impending challenges and goals. He had a real excitement for where the Arboretum was going, and stated that this was, “the most public, public garden” for which he has ever worked. Major upcoming transitions for the Arboretum include a change from county government funding to reliance on a recently created Los Angeles Arboretum Foundation, and the impending creation of the first Korean Garden in North America. Richard hopes that all of these goals will ensure that the Arboretum continues to serve its community well.
As Richard wrapped things up, two additional staff members arrived: Jim Henrich, Curator of Living Collections (a college friend of Dr. Lyons) and Tim Phillips, Superintendent. They were our tour guides for the remainder of the day, beginning with a behind-the scenes tour. Our first stop was the Arboretum Library, where Librarian Susan Eubank energetically introduced us to their public collection. Another highlight was the new permaculture garden, created and maintained by Caitlin Bergman. Yet throughout the day and regardless of where we were, the air was filled with the mournful caterwauling of the local peacock population.
We enjoyed a delicious lunch with the Arboretum staff, and then departed for the “front of house” tour with Jim and Tim. We were introduced to their many global collections, from Madagascar to Australia, as well as historic elements dating from before E.J. Baldwin’s ownership of the land. Even with the broad range of plant collections, historic buildings, events and activities available at the Arboretum, it seemed that each led back to serving and educating the community. Tim and Jim offered much insight into the operations of an Arboretum, from biological control to on-site management of film production crews. Even in golf carts, we had to rush to see all the garden areas. At the conclusion of our visit, we would have to agree that this Arboretum is one of the most “public public gardens” we have experienced!
Photos by Rebecca Pineo