By Myriam Hu and Judy Polinsky
For many years the Herb and Shakespeare Gardens received only part-time Curator and Gardener attention. With the reorganization of the Botanical Division in 1999, the assignment of these two gardens to Clair Martin, Curator of the Rose and Perennial Gardens, and the expansion of the staffing in these gardens, Katarina Eriksson arrived at The Huntington as Head Gardener of the Perennial Gardens. In addition, a full-time gardener was hired for each of these gardens. You may have noticed the difference all of this has made. The gardens have been transformed into healthy areas full of colorful annuals and perennials all year-round.
I recall the first time I met Katarina after she arrived in The Huntington Gardens in November 1999. I thought, ?She looks like a fairy gardener with beautiful golden long blonde hair. All she needs is a wand, and I am sure the gardens will be transformed in the wink of an eye.? The Perennial Gardens have been transformed, not in the wink of an eye, but by five years of planning and hard work. Katarina?s creativity, along with the work, has transformed the Shakespeare Garden into one of California?s loveliest. Her artistic abilities are expressed in her palette of flowers, trees, and shrubs, thereby creating a multi-dimensional landscape of color, texture, and depth.
Katarina as a child (left front) and her family
How did Katarina come to possess these talents? She was born in Pasadena, California, the younger of two children. Her father is a physical therapist/chiropractor and Swedish Masseur, who, with his wife, emigrated from Sweden in the 1950?s. Katarina?s passion for plants and gardens resulted in her studying Ornamental Horticulture in high school and pursuing a degree in this field from Mt. San Antonio College, graduating in 1986. Her education was continued at Cal Poly Pomona. In 1988 she founded Kat?s Landscape Design.
The following interview was conducted recently with Katarina.
What motivates you to come to work at The Huntington?
?Mostly the friendly people, Staff and Volunteers alike. I feel as close to many people here as I do my own family. It is so beautiful here. I love the sunrise when the world is quiet and the birds are singing. Oftentimes, it is magical.
?I have worked many landscapes where only a handful of people can truly enjoy them. Here, thousands of people from around the world see our efforts.
?I am amazed when I am in an outside social situation where no one knows me. When I say I work at ?The Huntington,? I get so many wonderful remarks such as, ?I love it there!? or ?Wow, how wonderful!?
What are your interests and specialties?
?I have worked on all kinds of gardens from the lush English Gardens to Xeriscape (environmental design of residential and parkland using various methods of minimizing the need for water use.) My specialties are edible and perennial plantings. I have an interest in historical, medicinal herbs, and the usage of all other herbs. I am passionate for fragrant plants, exotic edible plants and flowers, fruits and vegetables, which leads me to a strong obsession in the search of poisonous plants. Currently, I am studying Shakespeare?s plants mentioned in his plays. The symbolism of the flowers and plants of that time is particularly interesting.?
What was your biggest accomplishment before you came to The Huntington?
?Among my professional projects, I designed, installed, and maintained a four thousand square foot herb and gourmet vegetable garden at the Parkway Grill Restaurant in Pasadena.?
We have noticed a great many changes in the Shakespeare Garden. Can you tell us what has been done?
?The colors in the two dells have been organized. One has cool colors: blues, lavenders, pinks, and white. The other dell has warmer colors: yellows, orange, and reds. It creates a journey of colors leading through the garden.
?Plants are being placed that are mentioned in Shakespeare?s plays and sonnets into groups in the garden. For example, near Shakespeare?s bust, I have the Hamlet plant along with the quote, ?Rosemary for remembrance??
?In creating the Romeo and Juliet bed next to the path leading to the Rose Garden Café, we have planted romantic flowers with dramatic colors?deep blue and dark rose. These are the colors that popped into my mind when I read the tragic story.
?Currently we are working on A Mid Summer Night?s Dream under the English Oak, planted with fairy bells and other plants mentioned in the play.?
What are the future plans for the Shakespeare Garden?
?We hope to have more labels and signage on the plants and trees. We will work on and decide on the look of the future Shakespeare signs. Also, the Curly Willow will be replaced in a few years. This is a short-lived tree, which is slowly dying. We have a rooted cutting about three feet high from the existing tree. We will probably plant it in the same general area, giving shade to the visitors passing by.
?Currently we are planning to redo the hedges around the North Vista and the Scott Gallery. The ones currently there are overgrown, and it would be nice to have the same hedge look. English Holly is the best choice, but is very slow growing. We, therefore, plan to put in young plants in back of the existing hedge. When these plants grow larger, after several years, we will remove the unwanted ones. This will eliminate any large unsightly holes in the landscape. For a garden to have an established and refined look, it takes patience and patience.?
Sounds impressive! Any plans for the coming spring?
?Well, we are again planning a ?Primrose Path? leading to the Café. A large area of blue and pink around the Scott Gallery is planned: dark blue Lobelia and Snapdragons. Do you think anyone will notice the tie-in with Pinkie and Blue Boy now housed in the Euburu Gallery??
What is the most important element in your landscape design concept?
?Knowing that we have to design for many different microclimates in the shade and in intense sun in such large spaces. We have broken the areas into sections where particular plants will grow in their own favorite microclimate. For example, the lowest section, the southeast corner, is one of the coldest areas. We can grow many cool-loving plants such as English cowslips and lilacs. However, just twenty feet away in the bright sunlight, which is very hot, we have roses and lavender. Knowing all these facts helps us in choosing the correct plants for each location.?
After this interview we felt as if we had attended a most intensive ?Master Gardener? class. As Volunteers in the Shakespeare Garden, we have learned a great deal about the art of gardening from Katarina. We are grateful for having a kind and caring friend and gardener who is so very patient, finding time to answer all questions and providing explanations despite her busy schedule.
We get many fantastic compliments from visitors coming to the Shakespeare Garden, ?the crossroads? of The Huntington. Perhaps fairies are real after all!
Myriam Hu, Docent and Volunteer, Herb, Rose, and Shakespeare Gardens
Judy Polinsky, Volunteer, Herb and Shakespeare Gardens