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California mission gardens.

California mission gardens

Stepping into the garden at La Purisima Mission (shown at the top of this page) is like stepping back in time; hundred-year-old olive trees and native oaks form a canopy over a mellowed fountain and frame views of the mission colonnade. Dirt paths wander past native plants prbably known to the first settlers here: ceanothus, coffeeberry, buckwheat. It's a garden of subtleties, of tiny jewel-like blooms that beckon you for a closer look. It's also a garden filled with plants belonging in California's dry landscape.

Of 21 missions established by Spanish padres along the California coast, 17 now have gardens. Many have evolved over the last five decades, some since the last drought.

Most of the gardens bear no resemblance to the earliest mission huretas--food-producing enclosures from which the padres introduce olive and pepper trees, pomegranates, citrus (they planted the first orange groves), and grapes (theirs were the first vineyards).

While most of the gardens have at least some irrigated sections, you can find water-sensible plants such as ceanothus-- which bears sky blue flowers in front of the newly refurbished Mission San Jose-- or bottlebrush and grevilleas (both Australian natives) at Mission Santa Ines. Once established, some of these plants can survive on no watering at all. You'll also find survivors of earlier times:

An oleander pruned as a tree, more than a century old, still blooms in summer at Mission San Juan Bautista.

At Mission Santa Clara, on the campus of Santa Clara University, a row of graceful 160-year-old olive trees edges the remains of the original mission's old abobe wall.

A 152-year-old olive tree with a neatly rounded canopy stands beside the church entrance at San Antonio de Padua.

If you plan a mission visit, allow time to browse through the gardens. You may even come away from some of them with planting ideas. The following nine, listed south to north, have the wides variety of plants with water needs suited to the California climate. The five marked "L" are arranged like botanic gardens, with their plants labeled.

San Diego de Alcala (L). Arid-climate plants combine in lush, colorful groupings. Under the light shade of pepper trees in the main courtyard, aloe sends up orange, candle-like bloom spikes behind hedges of yellow-flowered euryops. Lavender lantana scrambles over opuntia cactus. In front of the church, a Cape honeysuckle hedge blooms spring through summer.

Open daily 9 to 5. Admission: $1 adults, free ages under 12; 10818 San Diego Mission Road, San Diego.

San Luis Rey de Francia. Water-conserving bottlebrush, palms, oleanders, and strawberry tree (Arbutus unedo) grow in the enclosed garden east of the church. In the old Sunken Garden, just south of the parking lot, paths edged with ice plant and sea lavender curve past olive and pepper trees and brick-edged channels--remains of the mission's original irrigation system.

Open 10 to 4 Mondays through Saturdays, noon to 4 Sundays. Admission: $2 adults, $1 ages under 12. From Interstate 5 at Oceanside, turn inland on State 76 and go 4 1/2 miles.

San Juan Capistrano (L). Plants native to arid, temperate, and semitropical climates come together on the 10 1/2-acre grounds. Bougainvillea and a majestic century-old pepper tree grow against the backdrop of ruins and a Moorish-style fountain in the entry garden. Cape honeysuckle, Cape plumbago, bottlebrush, and lantana edge outer pathways near the ruins of the old stone church.

In a small display garden just west of themission museum, you can see plants introduced by the Spanish, including tomatoes (which came from western South America) and some legumes. The Baja Garden, just east of the museum, contains prickly pear, crown of thorns, and other cactus and succulents from the Southwest. Open daily 8 to 4:30. The admission is $2 adults, $1 ages under 11 with adult. From I-5, exit at Ortega Highway (State 74); head west.

San Gabriel Arcangel. Grapevines, planted in 1925, cover a trellis along the garden's west side. In the rear quadrangle are two olive trees that were planted in 1860. Plants are in the process of being labeled.

The gardens are open 9:30 to 4:15 daily except major holiday; 537 W. Mission Driven, San Gabriel. Church is closed because of recent eathquake damage; donations go toward restoration.

San Fernando Rey de Espana. One or two fruit trees frome very variety that originally grew at the mission--including pomegrante, olive, citrus, plum, and fig-- grow throughout the manicured gardens.

Open 9 to 5 daily. Admission: $1 adults, 50 cents ages 7 through 14. From Interstate 405, drive east about five blocks on San Fernando Mission Boulevard.

Santa Brbara (L). In the enclosed garden beside the church stands a Moreton Bay fig, a native of Australia planted in 1890. Fences in the parking lot are festooned with bougainvillea, cassias, honeysuckle, and trumpet vine.

Open 9 to 5 weekdays, 1 to 5 Sundays. Admission: $1 adults, children under 16 free. From U.S. 101, drive northeast 2 miles on Mission Street; turn left on Laguna Street.

La Purisima Concepcion (L). Although the garden in this 967-acre state historic park is not an authentic restoration, it contains a wide variety of plants that were used by the padres and Indians for food, fiber, and medicinal purposes.

Grapevines and pomegranate, fig, and pepper trees now growing here were started from grafts, buds, and cuttings taken from plants at other California missions. Among the more than 80 spcies, you'll find toyon, ceanothus, evening primrose (Oenothera hookeri), Matilija poppies, California fuchsia (Zauschneria california), and yellow-flowering currant, crowned in spring with fluted yellow flowers.

Plant labels include information on plants' uses. For example: "Catalina Cherry (Prunus lyoni): cherry fruits were used to make a fermented drink." Among the plants you'll see blooming this month is Rosa california, with pale pink single flowers. Also look for several features of the mission's original water system, including the central fountain.

Open 9 to 4:30 daily. Admission: $1 adults, 50 cents ages 6 through 16. From U.S. 101, exit at State 246 and head west about 19 miles toward Lompoc.

San Carlos Borromeo de Carmelo. More than 200 kinds of plants thrive throughout the mission grounds, only half a mile from the ocean. Many are tough hombres: Matilija poppy, yellow-flowered cassias, wisteria, Jupiter's beard (Centranthus ruber), and Mexican bush sage, topped with velvety purple bloom spikes six to nine months a year. The bougainvillea pictured on page 144 blooms regularly without any watering or feeding.

Says gardener Robert Kraemer: "This is an established garden, filled with hardy plants--many of them self-sufficient--that can withstand all types of weather conditions, including coastal winds." Venerable plants in the large courtyard include a 55-year-old pepper tree and 'Maman Cochet', an 80-year-old tree rose planted more than 40 years ago by mission restorer Sir Harry Dowine with cuttings from San Juan Bautista. It gets watered about every two weeks.

Open daily 9:30 to 4:30, the mission is on Rio Road and Lasuen Drive, Carmel. Admission is free.

San Francisco Solano (L). In the courtyard is a small bed of native plants, including lupines, manzanita, and ceanothus. Along the back fence, 135-year-old pickly pear cactus mound 15 to 20 feet tall with fat, gnarled trunks and spiny beaver-tail pads. Open daily 10 to 5. Admission: $1 adults, 50 cents ages 6 through 17. The mission is in Sonoma, on the northeast corner of the Plaza, at Spain and First streets.

Photo: Brilliant backdrop: hougainvillea 'Barbara Karst' blooms 7 months a year, peaking in June, at Mission San Carlos Borromeo in Carmel. Lavender and orange lantana twing together over doorway; velvety, purple spikes of Mexican bush sage are in foreground

Photo: Nestled against chaparral-covered hillside, restored La Purisima Mission near Lompoc looks as if it had been preserved intact. Tree is Fremont cottonwood

Photo: Planted in the late 1800s at Mission Santa Clara de Asis, wisteria and Lady Bank's rose still bloom together each spring

Photo: Courtyard garden at Carmel Mission blazes with California poppies. Church's Spanish colonial towers rise behind

Photo: Fluted flowers of red trumpet vine (Distictis buccinatoria) add brilliant accent to adobe wall at Mission Santa Brbara

Photo: Tile in the Spanish mood contrasts handsomely with the rose-pink blooms of raphiolepis at Mission San Buenaventura

Photo: Lush but unthristy trio at Mission San Diego de Alcala includes Mediterranean fan palm, nandian, and raphiolepis

Photo: Forming a 700-mile chain between San Diego and Sonoma, the missions are about 30 miles apart. Many are now active parishes; a few, such as La Purisima and Sonoma, are state parks. All welcome visitors

Photo: Granddaddy of them all, first pepper tree planted in California (in 1830) still stands--gnarled butshapely--at Mission San Luis Rey

Photo: Fragrant hedge of rosemary borders patio at San Gabriel Mission. Cannon behind-- called a frijolera (bean-shooter)-- belonged to mission arsenal
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Copyright 1988 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Article Type:Directory
Date:May 1, 1988
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