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A Garden Review: Sunnylands

March 5th, 2013 | No Comments »

I visited one well-designed public garden in and around Palm Springs, the garden that surrounds the visitor’s centre at Sunnylands, the modernist house built for Walter and Leonora Annenberg.

Entering the estate, you get a preview of what’s to come: lots of barrel cactus arranged in rows that reminded me of dots on an old-style dot matrix printer.

Barrel cactus at the entrance to Sunnylands

In front of the visitor’s centre — itself a model of contemporary, modernist-influenced design — is an area where dry land plants dominate. My photo emphasizes the liner planting, but the straight lines are held within a circular bed. The circle/line combo continues throughout the gardens.

the Visitor’s Centre at Sunnylands

Behind the visitor’s centre, the first thing you see is a water feature, twin canals that catch the sky and fool the eye — those cacti aren’t growing in water, although they may look like they are.

Beyond the two straight-line canals is a central green. The space was restful to the eye on a hot day.

I very much appreciated the shade offered by the palo verde trees. Their fabulously smooth green trunks provide a striking line of their own when seen against the sky that is always blue.

The trunk of a palo verde tree, against a technicolour sky

The beds around the central green are designed as interlocking circles. They are planted with an array of desert-loving plants that combine prickly textures with softer looks.

I wish I could reliably identify these plants, but despite studying the plant list provided, I can’t. Their nectar must be sweet — I spotted several hummingbirds but was too entranced watching them hover to capture them digitally.  I did capture this bee on a euphorbia.

Altogether, the gardens are worth a visit. I liked seeing foliage and blossom colours massed in interesting ways and the contrasting textures kept me involved. I particularly liked this boat-shaped planting, around one of the many trees I couldn’t identify.

Barrel cactus form a pointed oval in the garden at Sunnylands.

But I’m not hooked on desert plants. Or not yet.

And what to make of the labyrinth located to one side of the central green? Does anyone actually meditate in such a public space? My guess is, the labyrinth is there because of its design, not because of its purpose. And that I find a bit off-putting.

The landscape was designed by James Burnett.