A California native, the Buckeye butterfly is amongst the pollinators found at the Natural History Museum's native garden. Photo: NHMLA

A California native, the Buckeye butterfly is amongst the pollinators found at the Natural History Museum’s native garden. Photo: NHMLA

On a field trip to the Nature Gardens of the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County, Carol Bornstein, the gardens’ Director and also co-author of, California Native Plants for the Garden, and Dr. Brian Brown, the museum’s Entomology Curator, served as our guides. Our visit was an inquiry into native gardens within urban settings, a subject of ongoing interest to us as designers of urban spaces.

My strongest impression of the day was the different perspectives of the gardens we heard and experienced. We listened to Carol Bornstein, who is a horticulturalist, describe how her staff is maintaining an aesthetic and cultural balance with the plants of each garden and talk about the plants’ life cycles and care. I smiled in appreciation when she said, “brown is a color too,” a familiar statement to most designers of California native gardens.

Back in 2011 the NHMLA's Curator of Entomology, Dr. Brian Brown brought in an extra piece of redwood from his yard, and with the help of the museum's exhibit technicians drilled over 200 quarter inch holes to turn the wood into bee hotels.

Back in 2011 the NHMLA’s Curator of Entomology, Dr. Brian Brown brought in an extra piece of redwood from his yard, and with the help of the museum’s exhibit technicians drilled over 200 quarter inch holes to turn the wood into bee hotels.

With Dr. Brown, we adjusted our viewing lens as we shifted our listening from a discussion of shrubs and trees to bees and flies. He talked about pollinators and directed our attention to the gardens’ native flies, butterflies, bees and other insects. We learned from him that there are over 500 species of native bees in Los Angeles (wow!), and that Argentine Ants, an introduced species, have displaced many of our native ants.

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I was then drawn to the gardens’ other visitors, the people for whom these gardens were created. I watched as school children navigated the landscape and discovered the things that we discussed with Carol and Brian and which make these gardens special. They entered the woven willow playhouse and followed paths leading to bee hotels, insect traps, a pond and other finds. They curiously investigated the gardens’ Living Wall – and perhaps, I wondered, contemplating a climb.

We started our visit thinking about the performance of native gardens within urban settings. We wondered about how urbanization affects plant culture, pollinators, and wildlife habitats. We observed, asked questions and listened. The day was not about answers.

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