Gardens and Architecture, Getty Villa

Exploring the Herb Garden at the Getty Villa

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A beautiful day and the blooming of spring brought me out of my stuffy cubicle and into the Herb Garden at the Getty Villa. As the sun streamed onto my shoulders, I inhaled the fresh sent of mixed herbs and flowers—basil and thyme, a hint of lavender, a sweet note of chamomile.

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Like nearly everything at the Villa, this herb garden was based upon the original garden at the Villa dei Papiri in Herculaneum. The herb garden, or kitchen garden, was typical of wealthy households in ancient Rome. Plants grown in this garden were used for medicinal, culinary, aromatic, and religious purposes. The Villa’s Herb Garden today contains many varieties of the herbs we all know and love: mint, basil, thyme, oregano, marjoram, and sage. But it also showcases plants that were used in ancient times for surprising purposes.

For example, costmary is available today, but rarely used. In ancient Roman times, the leaf of this plant was often used as a sedative tea. Later on in the Middle Ages, the leaf of this plant was typically used as a bookmark. (Side fact: this botanical bookmark was primarily used in the Bible, the most widely distributed book at the time, thereby earning it the nickname “Bible Leaf”). It was especially useful for this not only because of its long, flat leaf, but also because of  its properties as a silverfish repellent and an instant “pick-me-up” when its minty smell was inhaled—so you wouldn’t fall asleep during those long sermons.

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Another plant used in ancient times was lamb’s ear. This plant produces unbelievably soft leaves (hence the name), which ancient Mediterranean peoples used as a bandage for wounds.

lambs_ear

The Herb Garden also boasts a number of fruit trees, including apple, pomegranate, apricot, fig, quince, and pear, along with several grape vines that are sure to be plentiful in years to come (right now they are still young and small).

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The next time you’re at the Villa, make sure to stop by the Herb Garden, located immediately west of the large Outer Peristyle. Often missed because it can’t be seen from many Villa locations, this garden is a wonderfully peaceful stop on your tour.

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19 Comments

  1. vickie long
    Posted September 17, 2010 at 8:13 am | Permalink

    Can you tell me what cultivar of lavander is planted under the white arbor in the sculpture garden near the tram.

    Thank you,
    Vickie Long

    • Posted September 23, 2010 at 9:49 am | Permalink

      Vickie — Thanks for your question. The lavender planted at the Getty Center near the Lower Tram Station, by the arbor with the picnic tables, is Spanish lavender (Lavandula stoechas), cultivar ‘Otto Quast’. The same cultivar is also at the top of the hill, near the elevator leading from the Upper Tram Station to the Museum Entrance Hall, under the row of crepe myrtles. Here is a photo of the Spanish lavender by the picnic tables:
      Spanish lavender, Lavandula stoechas 'Otto Quast', at the Getty Center

  2. Lee
    Posted June 20, 2011 at 8:01 pm | Permalink

    Hi,

    There is a patch of green-onion like plants at the Getty herb garden. But unlike other green onion plants with flower like seed pods, the plants grow several small bulbs at the tips of the leaves. I’ve always thought bulbs divide slightly below ground. Never have I seen leaves sprout bulbs at their tips. Can sometime please tell me what kind of plant/herb this is? It would make a addition to my own herb garden.

    Thanks,
    Lee

  3. Chayse
    Posted June 30, 2011 at 3:56 pm | Permalink

    HI Lee,

    They are Egyptian Walking onions. When the bulbs mature on the stem tops, they dry out and bend over with the weight of the bulbs. The news bulbs sprout and so, the common name, walking onions. They grow year after year and the green stems can be harvested and used like green onions all year long.

  4. Roanne
    Posted August 24, 2011 at 3:53 pm | Permalink

    Hi Kim, I really appreciate your post and love the Herb garden! I was there again this past weekend and asked an employee if the herbs, fruits or other produce were being used for cooking at all. I was extremely surprised to learn they are not. Would the getty be interested at all to start a program like this? I know plenty of food banks, restaurants that use local produce, or even public schools that could really use the amazing stuff grown at the villa!

    Best,
    Roanne

  5. Bobby Dias
    Posted February 17, 2012 at 8:28 am | Permalink

    The lavender is from a seed packet from a Santa Barbara nursery/florist. Except for the garden with the succulents I planted all the plants at the Getty and the Getty Villa in the early 1960s. My idea for the tram and the parking garages at the Getty and the Getty Villa. Also, the areas for offices and other non-vistor areas at both were added on to the design by me, me feeding the architect about those items, plus the research/education building in back at the Getty. After getting to get to know me Mr. Getty pretty much let me add on what I wanted, including much of the glass doors and separation panels. When the the original floor marble started to arrive at the Getty cracked I choose replacements from local Los Angeles area stock wherever I could find some. Not quite as good a color scheme as originally planned but good considering the alternative. I chose the original marble at the Los Angeles County Museum Of Art and the Santa Barbara Museum Of Art and much of the Norton-Simon and some other California museums, myself raising the money to pay for the work-no charge by myself on any museum work.

  6. Kim Mary
    Posted May 24, 2012 at 1:25 pm | Permalink

    Hi—I joyfully attending a plein air drawing opportunity at the Villa & was sketching in the herbal garden. I was fascinated by the artichoke-like plant and wondered if someone might be able to identify it. Can’t wait to attempt to plant my own….thank you so much, Kim

  7. Diana
    Posted July 23, 2012 at 6:32 pm | Permalink

    Thank you for this informative site! Do you happen to know the varieties of ornamental oreganos and their sources?

    Thank you in advance.

  8. Kim
    Posted July 26, 2012 at 10:29 am | Permalink

    Hi Diane, The three varieties of oregano in the garden are: Dittany of Crete (Origanum dictamnus) from Crete, Sweet marjoram (Origanum majorana) from southwestern Europe and Turkey, and classic oregano (Origanum vulgare) from the eastern Mediterranean.

  9. diana osberg
    Posted October 16, 2012 at 5:27 pm | Permalink

    We took a garden tour. It was wonderful. I have a question: What is the name of the plant that the docent referred to, several times, as the longevity plant on the outer gardens? Thank you, Diana

  10. Kim
    Posted October 17, 2012 at 1:37 pm | Permalink

    Hi Diana,

    I spoke with Michael DeHart, our expert on all things garden, and he let me know that the longevity plant is also known as Acanthus mollis. The common name is bear’s breeches. Great plant!

    Thanks,

    Kim

  11. Posted January 15, 2013 at 12:39 pm | Permalink

    What are the palm trees in the Herb garden – the garden is wonderful even in the winter and we loved the palms – would like to know their name

  12. Kim
    Posted January 22, 2013 at 11:08 am | Permalink

    Hi Larry,

    The palm trees are date palms. The botanical name is Phoenix dactylifera. Glad you enjoyed the Herb Garden!

    Thanks,

    Kim

  13. Gloria
    Posted May 28, 2013 at 11:18 am | Permalink

    As we entered the beautiful herb garden I noticed two small trees across from one another with gorgeous orange/red flowers. Were they fruit trees? Were they pomegranate trees? Can you give me their name and would it be possible to purchase one from a nursery you might suggest.

  14. Kim
    Posted May 28, 2013 at 3:49 pm | Permalink

    Hi Gloria,

    I again consulted our Grounds Supervisor Michael Dehart to find out the answer to your question, and great job on identifying the tree yourself:

    The trees described is, indeed, a pomegranate. It is the common one that was available 40 years ago when it was planted in the Herb Garden. It is, however, a double flowering type. Most Southern California nurseries would be able to find this tree.

    Thanks,

    Kim

  15. KaCee
    Posted June 17, 2013 at 7:56 am | Permalink

    Hi, Can you please tell me what the Lavender plants are called that are planted in the Herb Garden of the Villa? I love how the flowers are on the ends of long stems and appear to be floating above the plant. I would love to get some of these and plant them in my garden at home.

    Thanks for sharing your knowledge
    Sincerely
    KaCee

  16. Theo
    Posted March 22, 2014 at 10:12 pm | Permalink

    Thanks for answering so many questions!

    I believe several years ago I saw a creeping thyme in the herb gardens there and took a picture of the varietal name… unfortunately I was just looking for the photo and can’t find it. could you help me?

    thanks,
    Theo

    • Kim
      Posted March 24, 2014 at 9:13 am | Permalink

      Hi Theo,

      Michael DeHart, our grounds and gardens supervisory, always has the answers – I am a mere conduit. At any rate, you are looking for: Thymus serpyllum. Hope it can work for you in your garden!

      Best,

      Kim

  17. Denise
    Posted May 31, 2014 at 10:58 am | Permalink

    Recently had a tour of the herb garden! thank you so much. It was really a wonderful experience and I am now going to plant some of these herbs!

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