Number 44   September - October 2005


By Clair Martin

Over the years it has sometimes been necessary to move large trees and shrubs on the grounds from one site to another in The Huntington Gardens in order for construction or garden renewal to be accomplished. Staff has a long tradition of moving large trees, cacti, and shrubs to accommodate the founder?s vision. One current example is the work being done around The Huntington Gallery and Rockery in preparation for the closing of the Gallery and a needed restoration of the physical plant.

The contractor will work around some of the large trees but a number of Lady palms (Rhapis excelsa and R. humilis) and cycads planted in the Rockery on the north, and west sides of the Gallery had to be moved to make room for installation of construction staging next to the building. In all cases these plants are to be conserved and planted back into the garden when reconstruction is finished.

One concern has been that both the palms and the cycads must be transplanted during the summer to insure that they grow new roots. Both plant groups will only replace damaged roots during the warm weather of summer.

Prior to this, a small part of Mr. Huntington?s Rockery adjacent to the Loggia had to be removed to make room for a new handicap egress ramp and a number of very large and old cycads had to be boxed and moved until they could be replanted. The crew of the general contractor, Valley Crest Tree Company, hand dug each cycad and boxed it before it was lifted out of the site with a crane and then moved to a holding area, where all the plants will be cared for prior to being returned to the garden.

The Rockery adjacent to The Huntington Art Gallery was established when Mr. Huntington instructed his Garden Superintendent, William Hertrich, to start work on the Rockery he had planned for the north side of the Loggia. As construction on the house progressed, this commission was begun. Searching the country high and low for suitable rock, Hertrich finally found a soft porous stone in the Santa Cruz region of the central California coast. Cutting this tufa stone with crosscut saws Hertrich oversaw the loading of two large open freight cars and sent them off to their final destination via the railroad spur at the San Marino Ranch. Completion of the house allowed the Rockery to be established. Clearly Mr. Huntington prized his Rockery and the staff has worked over the years to maintain his vision.

Part of the current work included a decision to completely remove the large Senegal Date palm (Phoenix reclinata) in the Rockery and replace it with a cycad growing on the northeast wall of the Gallery. This cycad, Encephalartos altensteinii, sometimes called ?Bread Tree,? native to South Africa, was nearly 12 feet tall and crowded up against the building. Moving it required hand digging and building a 48-inch box to hold it during the move.

First the contractor?s crew also had to remove several additional cycads in the Rockery to make room for the new construction. While this was being accomplished it was discovered that former Huntington staff had left a number of the cycads in their original metal containers when placing and planting them in the Rockery. These large metal containers still had their original handles that looked very much like large cooking caldrons! The Senegal Date palm had to be hand dug with pick and shovel to remove the large multi-trunked tree and fibrous roots.

Each cycad, when boxed, was lifted out of the ground with a crane and then trucked to the holding area. Once room was created the 12-foot E. altensteinii was lifted with the crane over the Rockery and planted in a place of honor, in the center of Mr. Huntington?s much-prized Rockery.

The restoration of The Huntington Gallery is planed to take an estimated three years. Once the work is finished the Rockery will be returned to its original glory reflecting Henry Huntington?s foresight and love of his ranch.

Clair Martin, Ruth B. and E.L. Shannon Curator of the Rose and Perennial Gardens


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