Photos by Summy Lam, Club Director of Marketing; John Burnes, Alive! editor;
and JuanCarlos Chan, Rec and Parks photographer
Rec and Parks’ horticultural section offers five parks specially filled with floral delights, peaceful petals, gorgeous groves, community gardens … and even pickable fruit. Take a break and enjoy!
Of course all City parks feature wonderful areas where citizens can get back to nature.
That’s the whole point.
But Rec and Parks goes beyond the expected in five parks that include a strong and dramatic horticultural and botanical focus.
That’s the purpose of the department’s horticultural section, offering more than just the normal beautiful green spaces. In the five horticulturally focused parks – Orcutt Ranch Horticultural Center and Community Garden, Chavez Ravine Arboretum, Exposition Park Rose Garden, Sepulveda Basin Garden Center, and White Point Nature Preserve – guests can stroll among groves of stately trees, enjoy cultivated flower beds, pick their own fruit, and in two, plant and grow their own gardens.
Mostly, the horticultural section parks are, like all Rec and Parks facilities, great places to get away from it all, in the middle of the City.
In this feature, continuing our annual “Summer in the City” focus, Alive! visits Robert Baker, Park Maintenance Supervisor, for a tour of Orcutt Ranch in West Hills, and asks his thoughts on why the City works hard so you can relax and breathe deeply.”
The Horticultural Parks
Rec and Parks offers five parks that have a strong horticultural focus. Here they are:
Orcutt Horticultural Center
and Community Garden
LOCATION: 23600 Roscoe Blvd, West Hills
Orcutt Ranch, featured in this month’s main story, offers an auditorium, restrooms, gardening boxes, gazebo, patio, kitchen, flower beds, walking trails, citrus orchards, tree groves, a community garden and many other features.
Orcutt Ranch Horticultural Center is open daily from sunrise to sunset. The ranch offers fruit picking (for a fee) two weekends a year – in July (Valencia oranges) and February (white grapefruit). Bring you own grocery bags or medium-sized boxes.
White Point Nature Preserve
LOCATION: 1600 W Paseo del Mar, San Pedro
The White Point Nature Preserve features 102 acres of restored coastal sage scrub habitat, hiking and handicap accessible trails overlooking the ocean and Catalina Island. The preserve is home to the Nature Education Center, which opened in May 2010 and serves as a resource for students, families, and community groups from all over Los Angeles.
The preserve is owned by the City and managed by a conservancy. A Nature Education Center is housed in a repurposed historic Cold War assembly building.
The preserve is open from dawn to dusk every day.
Chavez Ravine Arboretum
LOCATION: Chavez Ravine Road, Los Angeles
This arboretum is next door to the Grace E. Simons Lodge, 1025 Elysian Park Dr., near Dodger Stadium. The arboretum is in an open space in Elysian Park and has no facilities of its own.
The arboretum features nearly 140 species of trees. For a downloadable guide, go to:
Exposition Park Rose Garden
LOCATION: 701 State Dr., Los Angeles
The Rose Garden offers a classic formal display of beds of roses arranged in a grass-girded oval around a beautiful central fountain.
The Rose Garden has been operated by Rec and Parks since 1928. It is visited by hundreds of Angelenos and tourists each year. It is often used as an urban oasis by the local community as a place of quiet and refuge. On most weekends between April and November, it is the location of choice for weddings and photographs of family gatherings.
The Rose Garden is open daily from 9 a.m. to sunset. It is closed to the public from January 1 to March 15 each year for maintenance.
Sepulveda Basin Garden Center
LOCATION: 16633 Magnolia Blvd., Encino
The Sepulveda Garden Center, associated with Rec and Parks’ Sepulveda Basin Recreation Center, is the City’s largest community garden.
The Alive! Interview
A Respite in the City
On June 28, Club CEO John Hawkins and Alive! editor John Burnes interviewed Robert Baker, Park Maintenance Supervisor of Rec and Parks, 19 years of City service; and Dave Koeper, Operations Manager for Citywide Rental Halls, 19 years, Club Member. The interview took place in the patio and gazebo area of the City’s Orcutt Ranch (Sombre del Robles in Spanish) Horticultural Center in West Hills, where Robert has his office (he supervises the maintenance of 34 parks). Dave Koeper’s content is included in the section on space rentals.
Scroll up and down in the box below to read the entire interview:
Thanks for giving us a great tour of the house, grounds and groves here at Orcutt Ranch.
Robert Baker: Sure. It’s also known as Sombre del Robles – in the shade of the oaks.
First, Robert, what does your job entail? How many people, how many parks, you are supervising?
Robert Baker: Approximately 53 “staff” at this time. “The Valley West District maintains 34 parks and equestrian trails in the District. There are six districts in the Valley Region.
How did you get to your current position?
Robert Baker: After 20 years waiting tables and managing restaurants, I decided I wanted to go back to my roots and garden, and I had a perfect opportunity. I had a friend working in the wildlife reserve in the Sepulveda Basin, and I filled out an application for the City for Gardener Caretaker. I had to wait almost a year for the test to come up. I got an interview, and they hired me. I’m very happy that I was hired on, but very soon after becoming a Gardener, within the first five years, they found out that I had a little administrative expertise, and I’ve been in the office ever since.
When did the Orcutt Ranch come into the City?
Robert Baker: I believe it’s right around 1963 when Orcutt Ranch was named historical landmark number 31 in the City of Los Angeles. They thought it was a beautiful area botanically. It has its own basic arboretum here that Mrs. Orcutt had planted. It’s quite a unique planting in its own right, and for it to be kept for future generations, the City took it over I believe in the late 1960s, and it’s been a wedding facility ever since. The garden plots were developed around 1967. There are 134 garden plots that different community members lease on a yearly basis, and Rec and Parks’ maintenance department takes care of that as well.
Club CEO John Hawkins with Robert Baker, Park Maintenance Supervisor.[/caption]
The City’s been cultivating not just the community garden area but all the groves?
Robert Baker: Right. There’s still 25 acres of property here. Two-thirds of it is citrus, Valencia oranges and white grapefruit, and we have some of the oldest groves of oak trees in Los Angeles, with 680-, 550- and 800-year-old coastal and live oaks.
Any idea how many visitors you get other than the weddings and events and things?
Robert Baker: It’s a little difficult to say because the neighbors have been coming here for years to walk every day. This is a City park. It’s open to the public 365 days a year from sun up to sun down. I’ve never had a count, but there are a lot of people who still think that this is a private residence when they drive by, even though there’s a sign out front. It’s a nice surprise to come through here and enjoy the property.
Robert Baker, Park Maintenance Supervisor (middle) explains Orcutt’s event space to Club CEO John Hawkins (left) and Alive! editor John Burnes.[/caption]
A Horticultural Surprise
With the wealth of horticulture, of plants and roses and trees, it’s unbelievable what’s in here. Are people ever surprised when they come in here thinking this is a City park and yet it’s just packed with flora?
Robert Baker: They’re very surprised. Roscoe Boulevard is a two-lane road right out front, and when you walk in here there’s a myriad of trees. There’s a complete arboretum – there’s a bunya-bunya tree, oak trees of all different sizes and ages, the magnolia trees, the dogwood trees, pittosporum that have grown from secondary hedges up into full trees, and the bamboo grotto, that’s here, too. It is quite surprising. People just walk around for hours.
Why a Horticultural Section?
Why does the City have a horticultural section? Why is this important to the City to maintain facilities that are intensively botanical and horticultural?
Robert Baker: I think it’s important for the younger generations so they can come and enjoy something that they probably don’t get to see in their own neighborhood. The Valley has grown over the years, and it gets kind of congested out here. People live in apartments, and they don’t have their own yards and their own backyards. They literally can come here and enjoy nature. There are birds flying around. There are butterflies. It’s an amazing place just to enjoy. I see children come out here, and they’re kind of amazed at everything that they see.
Just on our tour this morning we’ve seen lots of people walking around. We saw a person meditating.
Robert Baker: Sure. People come here to enjoy the space, and it’s a piece of nature – when you come in here you’re taken back to another time. The Valley used to be wide open, but it’s very congested now, and there are a lot of apartment buildings now. This is a space for people to come to completely relax and lose themselves in this environment.
The Fruit Picks
Talk about your fruit picks program, when you invite the public in to pick fruit – for a fee, of course.
Robert Baker: Right. The white grapefruit here at Orcutt Ranch are ripe and ready in February, so the second week in February is when we usually have our pick. It’s brisk in February, but that’s when they’re ripe, and families come out, and they pick grapefruit. We sell them for about $4 for a bag, $5 for a regular fruit box. We rent pickers for $1, and one lady thought it was renting a guy to go out and pick for her, but these are actually pole pickers. They have a basket on the end, and we show the people that have never done this type of thing before how to use it. It’s something different for people to do, too, because they get back to nature here.
That’s twice a year.
Robert Baker: That’s in February for the grapefruit. Now, the Valencia oranges are ripe and ready in June and July, and we always have our fruit pick the weekend right after the Fourth of July, so this year it’s the 7th and 8th on a Saturday and Sunday, from 7 a.m. till one p.m., We always close at one o’clock because on Saturday and Sunday we usually have a wedding in the afternoon, so we have to be out of here. We open up the property to the public, let them come in and enjoy. Throughout the year we don’t allow any picking, because, again, the fruit isn’t ready at that time, but after our fruit pick the trees still have to be cleared of all the fruit. Yearly we are contacted by an origination called Food Forward. They assist in stocking food banks, distribution areas, and giveaways to displaced people and people of need. They picked more than 4,500 pounds of fruit last year after our public weekend of fruit picking, assisting us in clearing our trees for the next season.
And you say 300 or 400 people might come by for the fruit picks?
Robert Baker: At least, or more.
Robert Baker: They’re all ages. I’ve got little kids who come in, and the people who are running summer schools, sometimes they’ll bring in bus loads of children. The families come from all over, and it’s something that they look forward to every year.
Is there another park in the City that does fruit picks, or is this the only one that you know?
Robert Baker: This is the only one that I know of at this time. The proceeds from our fruit pick go back to maintain Orcutt Ranch – we replace trees, shrubs, roses and the flower beds here.
Robert Baker, Park Maintenance Supervisor, is interviewed by Club CEO John Hawkins (left) and Alive! editor John Burnes in the Orcutt Ranch event space.[/caption]
Gardening Is Personal
That’s awesome. Robert, you had a community garden plot here, but you have a big plot at your home. Why is horticulture important to you? What does it say to you? How do you express yourself through growing things like this?
Robert Baker: For myself – instead of going to the grocery store and just buying something, you have the pleasure of touching the earth itself and literally having a relationship with your plants and shrubs … watching them grow and having the satisfaction of growing zucchini and tomatoes and having them start from a seed, and pick them and eat them, to see it from start to finish. It’s very rewarding.
And you’ve done it since you were five.
Robert Baker: I’ve been gardening since I was four or five years old. My father put a rake in my hand. I remember he would make the furrows, and he’d have me down on my hands and knees putting spring peas in the ground, and then we’d cover them with plastic before the last frost so that they’d start to come up. He taught me all these things because he was a gardener himself for many years. I think he did it because he didn’t want to bend over and plant the seeds himself, so he put me to work. But he gave me the incentive to keep on with it.
This has to be about the biggest garden a person could have, and it’s an amazing garden. You’ve continued since you were a child, and now look what we have. In your own words, invite people to come here and enjoy the City. Invite people to come and visit.
Robert Baker: Sure. It’s absolutely beautiful. The walkways that we have here are open for adventure, and everyone is welcome in this park. If you’ve never been to Orcutt Ranch, you should treat yourself.
And pets, too.
Robert Baker: Sure. You can bring your pets here. They should be on a leash. Every park in the city is dog friendly, but this is not an off-leash dog park, so please be respectful of that and other people. Keep your dog on a leash.
And of course we know you don’t take care of all of this on your own.
Robert Baker: Right. Of course I couldn’t do all this work myself without my amazing staff – my Lead Sr. Gardener, Vel Lauterio, and Gardener Caretakers Ismael Contreras, Tony Zamora and half-timer Ramon Lomeli. They do the majority of the work here at Orcutt Ranch, keeping up the beauty of the gardens.
Great. Thanks for sharing all this, and taking us on a tour of this beautiful place.
Robert Baker: Thank you, gentlemen.
A Stroll Through Orcutt Ranch
Robert Baker, Park Maintenance Supervisor, West Valley District, Rec and Parks, gave the Alive! crew – John Hawkins, CEO; Summy Lam, Director of Marketing; and John Burnes, Alive! editor – a tour of the gorgeous grounds of Rec and Parks’ Orcutt Ranch. Stop by for your own stroll through the groves and flowerbeds.
The Community Garden
Orcutt Ranch offers a community garden, where LA citizens can cultivate their own plants, vegetables, etc. For more information, see the section on community gardens.
A grotto, built by the Orcutt family, provides a slight pause just off the main patio and outdoor reception area.
Valencia oranges are plentiful at Orcutt Ranch. These trees were ready to be picked at the summer picking event a week after these photos were taken. White grapefruits are also grown here.
The Rose Gardens
The original Orcutt house is surrounded by rose gardens.
The historic Orcutt Residence is surrounded by 24 acres of gardens and a citrus orchard. The gardens include heritage oaks trees, wandering garden paths, formal flowerbeds, and a variety of interesting specimen trees, exotic shrubs, and flowering plants. There are several significant oak trees on the property; one of the largest is more that 33 feet in circumference and is estimated to be more than 700 years old.
Trees from this grove were burned as fuel in the lime kilns that were used to build the nearby Mission San Fernando.
A small creek, dry at the moment, meanders through the tree groves. Club CEO John Hawkins (left) and Robert Baker, Park Maintenance Supervisor, look over the dry creek bed.
The Oak Groves
A stroll through groves of majestic trees is an incredible experience, with peace, breezes and dappled light in the middle of the busy city. Some of these trees are estimated to be more than 700 years old.
This (Beautiful) Space For Rent
The City makes some of its most gorgeous parks available for event rental.
Some of the City’s most beautiful spaces can be yours – at least temporarily, for your special occasions like weddings, birthdays, anniversary, and more.
“We have events here at Orcutt almost every weekend from April through November, and usually more than one,” says David Koeper, Sr. Park Services Attendant and Operations Manager for Citywide Rental Halls. A Club Member, he has 26 years of City service.
“People can have their weddings in the gazebo area, on the patio, in a meadow, or other locations. And then have their reception here in the facility itself.
“With the beauty of this park, there are a lot of happy wedding memories from having their wedding here.”
Event booking begins on January 1 of the year prior. So on Jan. 1, 2018, guests were able to book for dates in 2018 and 2019. Fees depend on day of the week, hours, food, alcohol (through approved vendors), insurance, security, and many other factors.
Orcutt Ranch can accommodate events up to 175 people.
Other facilities that David oversees are Brand Park in Mission Hills, which can accommodate about 125 people; Friendship Auditorium, a very large facility and beautiful hall that holds up to 500 people; Grace E. Simons Lodge, in Elysian Park with a Japanese garden; the Griffith Park Visitors Center; and Wattles Mansion in West Hollywood.
Are people surprised at what the City has to offer?
“I think they are,” David says. “When you rent one of these facilities out, it includes the rest of the park. A lot of people are surprised that the prices are as reasonable as they are. You get a beautiful park or whatever facility you end up renting out. They’re very surprised what you get, and how affordable it is.
“The credit goes out to the gardeners and caretakers of these facilities keep them beautiful for the biggest days of people’s lives.”