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Gardens of the California Missions

Articles: Gardens of the California Missions

Mission San Carlos, 1839
The author was inspired lo look more deeply into the topic of California mission gardens by a paper prepared in 1978 by Cynthia Roberts, then a student in the landscape architecture program at the University of California, Berkeley.
Mention of California mission gardens evokes romantic images of jasmine blooming under arcades, geometric beds of exotic flowers, and balconies smothered in bou­gainvillea. Yet, despite the Spanish origins of the mission padres and the widening availability of exotic plants in the late 1700s when most of the California missions were built, the early mission gardens in no way resembled the elaborate pleasure gardens of the Spanish tradition.

The vagaries of climate and the preeminent need for agricultural crops to supply the largely self-supporting missions probably dictated that the orchard or food garden (the huerta) would be given preference over the ornamental or pleasure garden (the jardin). Life at the missions was often difficult, as contemporary records show. There were droughts in 1800, 1807, and 1809, heavy rains and flooding in 1816-17, drough...


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