Gardener wearing hat and face mask works in garden, with curving white stone multi-level building in the background

Photo courtesy of Jackie Flor

Inside the Getty Museum, stunning works of art grace the galleries. Outside, flora and fauna create art of a different, but no less memorable, variety. Together, the Getty Center’s Central Garden and the Getty Villa’s four gardens host more than 500 varieties of plants that climb over trellises, wind through mazes, and line walkways. The result is art that you can not only see, but also meander through while breathing in its fresh, fragrant scent.

How does the team of Getty gardeners choose what to plant and keep the flowers blooming?

In honor of National Gardening Day, we invited our social media followers to ask us their garden questions. Brian Houck, Getty’s head of Grounds and Gardens, and Jackie Flor, Getty’s horticulturist answered (and even gave home gardening tips).

Overhead shot of a large garden on a bluff overlooking a city view, with stone buildings on the edges and trees surrounding the circular garden in the middle

The Central Garden at the Getty Center. Photo courtesy of Jackie Flor

Gardening at Getty

Do you favor native species? How do you select what you plant in the design?

The best selections are plants that thrive in our climate. Exceptions are relative to what the plant brings to the garden. For example, roses require more water and food, but the value they bring makes them worthwhile.

Sculpture of man crouching in running position, placed in a bed of white and pink flowers

This sculpture in the Villa’s garden, called Runner, is a modern replica of an ancient bronze sculpture found in the Villa dei Papiri at Herculaneum (now in the Museo Archeologico Nazionale, Naples). Photo courtesy of Jackie Flor

Are you seeing a change in recent years in the type of plants that thrive in the garden, perhaps from climate change?

Yes. The extreme heat in the valley and foothill areas was particularly hard on camellias and apanthus. Wholesale growers are turning more to succulents.

I imagine your gardens are not organic. Is there any push to make them so?

We ask ourselves this question continuously. We search for best practices and the least environmental impact all the time. We find plants also prefer this. For example, the dahlias, which are heavy feeders, get a special organic blended soil to help them grow.

How do you avoid mosquitoes in the garden?

The most important thing is to avoid having standing water, as this is where they breed.

Do you have a resource on which plants you put in and when? I love your gardens!

The best resource by far is the Sunset Western Garden Book. It is consistently updated and has a glossary of care guidelines in the back.

Is there a plant in the gardens that is edible that most people wouldn’t know is edible?

Many flowers are edible. Roses, nasturtium, and violas come to mind. At the Villa, a renovation of the Herb Garden is in process. Expect to see the historic stone edging put back in and many of the plants reset!

A bronze statue of a man seated on a rock looks over the garden and central fountain in front of Getty Villa Museum.

Getty Villa Museum. Photo copyright J. Paul Getty Trust

Home Gardening Tips

What’s the best way to avoid pests in indoor houseplants?

Making sure you cover the basics of plant care is key: water, light, and fertilizer are your best resources before jumping to spray solutions. Home gardeners often forget that fertilizer is also an option.

How do you “feed” a plant?

First, determine if the plant needs supplementing. Most do—some do not. Next, some research will help you determine what type of fertilizer, e.g. roses have different needs than camellias, which like acid-based fertilizer. Obtain a good (organic if possible) product and follow the package directions.

I found scale pest on my aeoniums. How do you treat pests in your garden?

For aeoniums in the ground, scale isn’t often a problem unless the plant is in decline or struggling for some other reasons. There certainly are pesticide choices that can be made at your local nursery. Oftentimes folks look at a variety of soaps, which can be good options. Of course, read your labels and apply accordingly. For succulents in general, do not apply this during the heat of the day as you can scorch leaves if there is direct sunlight.

Will artificial light (like a porch light) hitting my plants all night help or hurt them?

Each plant has its own response to light at night. Most don’t react at all one way or the other. Some are photosensitive, which means if a light is turned on, this resets the night period back to zero.

Angel's trumpet, a leafy plant with yellow drooping flowers, grows with Getty Museum, a large white stone building, in the background

Photo courtesy of Jackie Flor

What’s good for SF natural flora and fauna? What invites owls?

Assuming SF is San Francisco, the summer marine layer does make growing there unique. Investigate coastal plants. The San Francisco Botanic Garden and the Berkeley Botanic Garden are traditional good places to see successful plants. Often I suggest driving around the older neighborhoods to see what is successful over the long term. Owls need habitat and generally, trees (as safe nesting sites) are helpful.

My pathos leaves keep turning yellow. What’s happening to it?

When a pathos is actively growing, fertilizer is needed to retain the older leaves. If one is under-feeding a tropical plant, as a new leaf forms an older leaf will pass away. Regular feeding usually addresses this successfully.