Huntington Gardens

Interview with Seth Baker Head Gardener

The Huntington is a library, art gallery and botanical garden in Pasadena, Los Angeles; the library has over seven million manuscripts and 420,000 rare books. The collection ranges from seven drafts of Davis Henry Thoreau’s American classic Walden to first editions by Charles Bukowski and Jack London. There is also a substantial art gallery, which includes classics from the 1700s such as Blue Boy by Thomas Gainsborough right up to modern installations by Los Angeles artist Alex Israel. Henry Huntington played a major role in the development of Los Angeles, he left the estate and his extensive art collection to open to the public when he died in 1927.

We spoke to one of the head gardeners, Seth Baker, who has worked at the Huntington for eleven years. The garden is home to over 15,000 plant varieties over 120 acres; Seth looks after the education visitor centre and the entrance complex at the Huntington Library. We chatted about everything from how to combat ground erosion (plant grasses, as their roots are really long, he recommends bunch grasses) to Peter Sellers’ character Chauncey Gardiner in the 1970s classic Being There.

R What are the highs and lows of working here?

S I think like anything bureaucracy, power struggles are the lows; highs are being outside, it’s always amazing, observing nature, being a part of that process. If nothing else, you’re able to see the bigger picture; the cyclical nature of things.

One of my favourite places at Huntington is the Stroll Garden, which is predominantly Australian plants. Blue Bush Acacia is brilliant, it has really interesting foliage, it grows really quickly and it’s low water, so really appropriate here. It’s a spectacular colour, bright blue.

R What advice do you have for home gardeners and what’s your garden at home like?

S Stick with it would be my advice and probably the biggest mistake people make is not paying attention to the tags on plants. When it says full sun, regular water you have to give it full sun and regular water. Understandably that eludes a lot of people! Oh well, it gets three hours, that’s full sun, right? Don’t be afraid to experiment either, it’s going to die eventually, have some fun with it.

My home garden is differently a case of the cobbler’s children have no shoes. It’s a sad, steep slope of Algerian Ivy.

R Do you have a favourite garden?

S I really like Parc de la Villette in Paris, in Eastern Paris, Bernard Tschumi designed it. I’ve only been once, but it’s a great postmodern garden. 

This is an edited version of the full interview