COVID closures have had a big impact on all of us. At the Getty Center, this unprecedented interruption has had a silver lining: the rare and prolonged absence of visitors has given the Center’s grounds staff the opportunity to take on some long-awaited projects.
For instance, wisteria vines have climbed the lavender-colored arbor near the Restaurant ever since the Center opened nearly 25 years ago. But they never really thrived. “We knew what wisteria should be doing, and it wasn’t doing that,” said Brian Houck, head of Grounds and Gardens. “We pulled the plug.”
Now a cheerful Blue Skyflower clambers up the arbor where the wisteria once grew. “We have high hopes,” said Houck.
This is just one of the projects the Getty Center’s 45-person grounds crew—including Houck, horticulturist Jackie Flor, and campus architect Naomi Neville—have undertaken during the COVID closure. Guided by a 157-page manual created by OLIN, the Getty Center’s original landscape designers, they’ve tackled several ambitious landscaping projects, freed of the requirement to button up all the work they do in time for the arrival of visitors each day.
When guests do finally arrive this May, in addition to the Blue Skyflower, they’ll see brand-new Gingko trees on the plaza overlooking the Central Garden. In fall, they will provide a bright pop of color in an area that’s been devoid of foliage since 2015, when the previously planted Mayten trees, which suffered from poor drainage, were removed.
In front of the South Pavilion, the two Chinese Elms—the survivors of a group of Chinese Elms that outgrew their planter—will be replaced by Chinese Myrtles with small, fragrant leaves and white flowers.
The large rectangular area in front of the Getty Research Institute will sport a perennial grass called Autumn Moor Grass, and a new native groundcover called Catalina Currant, which will give up a musky perfume.
Guests will also want to look out for new, dramatic Monstera vines growing along the travertine walls on the ramps to the Central Garden from the Garden Terrace Café, realizing a long-delayed original intention. Montezuma Cypress trees near the Museum Courtyard will be freed from the travertine tiles that cramped their beds. Tufted Zoysia grass will carpet the Fran and Ray Stark Sculpture Garden at the bottom of the hill, and Running Man—a sculpture by Dame Elisabeth Frink—will appear to run through it.
Houck and his crew are eager to welcome back visitors to see what they’ve been doing, but they’ve also relished the solitude. “It’s kind of fabulous and surreal to be here all alone,” said Houck. “Our sense of ownership and connection to the site has increased. And that’s the most important thing for gardeners. We’re soulful about what we do.”