Sunday, August 19, 2012

The First Estate of Beverly Hills~ Home and Garden Tour ~ Part III

"A garden should make you feel you've entered privileged space- a place not just set apart byt reverberant- and it seems to me that, to ahieve this, the gardener must put some kind of twist on the existing landscape, turn its prose into something nearer poetry."

~ Michael Pollan, Second Nature: A Gardener's Education
Design note: citrus are social trees. Give them companions.
Travel mixed with good earth and the blessed weather of Southern California make for wonderful gardens. Terraced hillsides holding cutaways for citrus trees borders on Nirvana. Don't you just love how the the fruit bearing limbs are shown off amongst other greenery?

Our modern selves take for granted shopping for fresh fruits and vegetables. In the early decades of Beverly Hills, not even wealthy socialites could send their staff out for much in the way of fresh produce. It was grow your own or do without. 

Before the summer sizzled, the lath house orchid's is frequently shaded under a blanket of purple morning glories.  The MacKenzie-Childs watering can and artwork punch up the visual interest of the good eats of the vegetable garden near the kitchen door. 
Image found at  The Department Store Museum blog
Virginia Robinson, with her taste for couture, while serving on the board of the family flagship stores (J.W. Robinson's) heavily influenced the decision to build its first major branch store outside Los Angeles. Built on the site of a successful Hollywood Atelier, the building designed by Charles Luckman and William Pereira was set off by the landscape  design by Florence Yoch and Lucile Council. The luxurious interiors by Raymond  Loewy specified Vermont marble and Brazilian agate. In 1952 the store opened to accolades- anchoring Beverly Hills reputation as a destination for status shopping. 
Each cypress is trimmed exactly 2" shorter than the last to subtly enhance the perspective
With mountains of money at her disposal, Virginia Robinson was not content to just spend it on personal pleasure. Not content to spend her time at board meetings of the department store founded by her late husband's family.  She put her resources to work as a benefactor of charities as diverse as The Hollywood Bowl through Kennel Clubs. 

However, h
er greatest legacy is the home and gardens she bequeathed the public. She died just a few months short of her 100th birthday, leaving behind a property that was old and in need of repair. Gratitude to the Friends of Robinson Gardens and the LA County Board of Supervisors for working lovingly with the property- and respectfully with the neighborhood.
Magenta pops of color on blooming succulent Calandrinia 

Swaths of lavender essential oils warmed by the hot Southern California sun spoil you forever for the real McCoy

Virginia was not corseted up by her original vision of a totally Mediterranean ambiance. As the land was worked and the microclimates forced some plantings into fields of mulch, she worked with the reality that because dreams don't always come true, there is no reason you can't have another, just as lovely dream

Hanging pots of  succulent hides the imprefection of an aging wall

Our docent led tour mentioned that the reality of growing water constraints feeds changes to the garden.

The stairwell would be stark wihtout the symmetrical planting of pots
The 90 minute tour left time to notice vignettes and the broader context of the garden.

This gateway to the mansion was originally straight from the cul de sac. But Virginia decided life was not that way. So she had pedestrians turn on entereing; a physical metaphor for life's journey.

I apologize that the richness of photos and lessons just over-flow what I intended to be my last post on the garden. To live the poetry created on a once barren dirt hill requires a bit more time to digest than planned.
 Please come back one more time for this series closer. I promise- we'll rest our feet while we stop to smell the roses at The Ivy Restaurant on Robertson...


  1. Beautiful, in every way...And I look forward to the rest. I LOVED that Beverly Hills ROBINSON' was a Beautiful store and they had the best of the best in every area. I bought my couch there---I still have it! .....And back in the day, they had a HUGE Parking lot, too.
    This Home and Garden is a delight, Lydia.

  2. Interesting and beautiful gardens. One of my most favorite places to shop was Robinsons. xo

  3. Lydia,
    The O L of the Hills comment reminded me that we bought our peach leather couches at Robinson's. They are the ones in our little family room. In fact mother and I shopped for many many things there. As I said before our favorite spot was the fur department. We were frequently seen there delivering our furs to cold storage. When they closed the stores it was difficult to find another cold storage.

    I am thinking Nordstrom's comes the closest to the quality in shopping at Robinson's. As I said yesterday we were so disappointed when they merged with May Co. I think it brought down the brand name. That beautiful first store opened the year mother brought me to California, 1952.
    It's so interesting reading about Mrs. Robonson but what baffles me is with all her wealth and charitable giving WHY in the world did she allow her estate to fall into in disrepair?? Any idea?

    Thanks Lydia for an interesting read and lovely photos.

    XO Trisha

  4. Hey guys! Parking! I will have to mention parking! VR was an automobile car aficionado- insisted on the maximum amount of parking at the stores built during her tenure.

  5. Hi, Trisha! Thank you for the wealth of comments. It helps write subsequent posts knowing what the audience is interested in reading about.
    To answer the last question quickly- Mrs. Robinson was 2 months shy of 100 when she died. When a 100 year old woman dies decades after her husband- she isn't going to care about the same things when she's very old. It could be as simple as having 2 dozen house hold staff and having up to as many full time garden caretakers once her entertaining days were over may have been more hullabaloo than a woman who just wanted to read alone in her King Palm grove wished to have around.


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