May 31, 2013

Photo Essay: Compton's Historic Urban Garden Oasis

I was running late on Saturday morning, as usual.

I was in too big of a rush to make a monthly 11 a.m. garden tour, and I left my headlights on.

But if you're going to drain your car battery in Compton, it might as well be in the parking lot of the Dominguez Rancho Adobe Museum.

It's amazing that this place comes straight outta Compton, which turns out to be the first privately-owned ranch in Southern California - and therefore the birthplace of private landownership, years before the homestead act. It was originally the seat of Rancho San Pedro, the first Spanish land grant in California (granted to Juan Jose Dominguez, a Spanish solder, in 1784).

The adobe itself was built in 1826 by Juan Jose's nephew, Manuel.

But the real attraction for me and my visit was the garden tour.

Most of the gardens date back to the days of Gregorio Del Amo, who was married to one of Manuel's descendants, Maria Susana Delfina Dominguez.

A horticulturist, Del Amo imported all kinds of plants to the sprawling rancho grounds...

...regardless of where they came from or where they might best thrive.

Many took a lot of watering.

At the time, in the early 20th century, his collection of plants and flowers was a kind of catalogue...

...that attracted visitors - and shoppers - from all over to peruse his offerings.

Some of the existing gardens are comparatively new, like the cactus garden, which seems to have more things you shouldn't touch...

...than things you should.

The cactus garden was a later addition in the 1970s, built as a nod to Del Amo.

Volunteers continue to maintain it - and the rest of the grounds - today...

...and try to both restore its features to their original splendor...

...taking care of historic trees that predate most you'll find in LA... well as reintroducing more native plants that won't require quite so much watering and maintenance.

The original grounds were quite ornate...

...including a Japanese garden and a grotto...

...of which there is a campaign to save and restore as well.

In the meantime...'s a peaceful walk past edible flowers...

...and the biggest Bougainvillea tree you have ever seen...

...whose bright fuschia flowers cascade down its thorny, woody core like a hot pink lava flow...

...covering up decades' worth of pale, dead petals around the back and underneath.

This is what happens when you leave something alone for 50 years. When you don't trim it back, it just grows and grows.

But it also dies.

It's nice to see that some people are paying attention to something beautiful in a largely industrial part of Compton, a city not known for its peacefulness.

It's not only somewhere nice to go, but also somewhere nice to stay...and wait for a AAA truck with jumper cables.

Related Post:
Compton's Hidden Agricultural Riches: Richland Farms

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