Gardens and Architecture, Getty Center

Sniff Your Way through the Getty Gardens

Let your nose be your guide to some of the Getty’s most intriguing flowers and foliage

National Public Gardens Day is this Friday, May 9! This annual celebration of the nation’s public gardens aims to raise awareness of the important role botanical gardens and arboretums play in promoting environmental stewardship, plant and water conservation, green spaces, and education in communities nationwide. At the Getty Center and Getty Villa, we are celebrating by offering special garden tours, highlighting the incredible aromas that emanate from our gardens. The tour at the Getty Center will be at 10:30 a.m., and the tour at the Getty Villa will be at 2:30 p.m. They’re free, no reservations required.

Our horticulturist Michael De Hart gave me a preview of what you can expect at his aromatherapy tours. Next time you’re at the Center, just follow your nose and discover the following fragrant flora!

Star Jasmine


This sweet-smelling flowering plant is native to eastern and southeastern Asia and can be found all over the Getty Center, not just in the Central Garden. A valuable perfume oil can be extracted from the flowers and a diluted form is often used in Chinese, Vietnamese, and Thai incenses. Flowering usually begins in May and continues through June.



Lavender is native to the Mediterranean and is a lover of dry, sunny, rocky habitats; once established, it’s extremely drought resistant. Every part of the plant is infused with aromatic oil, making it highly valued in ancient Rome. Lavender flowers were very expensive and were used to scent the water in Roman baths. The plant’s name actually derives from this practice: “Lavender” is derived from the Latin lavare, meaning “to wash.”



Not all aromatic plants smell good! Rue has a disagreeable odor, but many uses. Native to the Balkan Peninsula, this herb is grown throughout the world as an ornamental, valued for its bluish leaves and its tolerance of hot and dry soil conditions. The ancient Romans used it as an astringent for muscle aches and sore joints. It can also be used to give a distinctive bite to salad dressings.

Mexican Mock Orange


This shrub, which produces small, white, sweet-smelling flowers, is named for the similarity of its flowers to those of the closely related orange, both in shape and scent. They are popular ornamental plants in areas with mild winters, like ours.



The Central Garden at the Getty Center is home to 16 varieties of roses, ranging in color from white to red to orange and beyond. Most species are native to Asia, with smaller numbers native to Europe, North America, and northwest Africa. Roses are widely grown for their beauty, are often fragrant, and different colors have held special meaning since ancient times.

Elfin Thyme


This subspecies of the thyme plant has highly aromatic leaves and makes an excellent ground cover. It tolerates drought and poor soils, and flourishes in loose, sandy, or rocky soils with excellent drainage. Thyme is used in everything from cooking to the relief of sore throats, and is great for attracting bees.

Sweet Pea


This little gem of a flower was a new discovery for me, and immediately became one of my favorite scents. It’s an annual native to Sicily, southern Italy, and the Aegean Islands. Sweet pea’s delicate flowers span pastel shades of blue, pink, purple, and white and emit an intense, delicious aroma.

Angel’s Trumpet


The Angel’s Trumpet is a large shrub or small tree with picturesque branched form that’s native to tropical regions of South America. The plant is named for the shape of its oversized flowers, which hang down dramatically from the branches. The flowers release their sweet-smelling fragrance only in the evenings, in order to attract pollinating moths.



Heliotrope is a highly fragrant perennial plant, originally from Peru, with an intense, vanilla-like fragrance. It gained great popularity during the Victorian era in England, often appearing in gardens and decorative borders in parks.

Have you been to the Central Garden? What are some of your favorite plants or scents? They’re so numerous, I couldn’t cover them all in one blog post, and would love to hear from you.

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    • Polo and Fishing Fore-Edge Painting


      These idyllic fore-edge paintings come from Mary Grey Lundie Duncan’s book entitled Memoir of Mrs. Mary Lundie Duncan: Being Recollection of a Daughter by Her Mother, third edition, published in 1846. After her daughter’s untimely death at 25, Mary Grey Lundie Duncan recorded her daughter’s life and her hymns. Mary Lundie Duncan wrote hymns for her children, most notably “Jesus, tender Shepherd, hear me” and “My Saviour, be Thou near me.”

      As with an earlier post that focused on fore-edge paintings, the art added to books by owners do not always match the subject matter. It’s unclear when the art was added, but polo and fly fishing do not seem to have much of a relationship to the young life of a devout Scottish woman.

      There is more to this book. It was donated to the library by Mr. and Mrs. Herman Brown in memory of their friend Florence Rice “Floy” Rodman Barnhardt. She was born in Minnesota and died in Houston, TX. Her husband, Gen. George Columbus Barnhardt, commanded the 28th Infantry Division in World War I. She and her husband are buried in United States Military Academy Post Cemetery at West Point. The relationship between Floy Rodman Barnhardt and the Browns is unknown, but it must have been close.

      Thanks to our new archival assistant, Alicia Fan, for making the gifs.

      Sources consulted: Mary Lundie Duncan hymns, Minister Henry Duncan, Find a Grave: Florence Rice “Floy” Rodman Barnhardt, and Find a Grave: Gen. George Columbus Barnhardt.

      Fore-edge paintings are fore-ever awesome.


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