The Walt Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles is a gleaming silver space age structure which opened in October 2003. Designed by celebrated architect Frank Gehry, it is home to the Los Angeles Philharmonic and the Los Angeles Master Chorale. The photo below is the facade as viewed from Grand Ave and 2nd Street. The building occupies the entire block and each side features a variety of flat and undulating metal panels. At $4.50 per 15 minutes of parking in the structure across the street you are just not getting views of all sides of the building!
A short walk up a wide staircase easily visible from the corner of Grand and 2nd will take you to one of downtown Los Angeles’s secret garden gems–The Blue Ribbon Garden. This rooftop garden wraps the modern architecture of the Hall on three sides. In spite of its almost 1 acre size the garden is intimate in nature, an amazing design feat given that at the core of the garden the building’s facade rises several more stories and that there are also many opportunities from garden’s perimeter for expansive views of the surrounding city.
The Blue Ribbon Garden is a gift from individual members of The Blue Ribbon, an organization of women devoted to the support of the music center and its resident companies. The garden provides a gracious outdoor venue for receptions and other events; I imagine it would be beautiful at night when lit for a gathering of music lovers.
This sculptural Erythrina coralloides, native to Mexico and commonly called naked coral tree, is one of several in the garden and greets you at the top of the stairs. This species is the first of many tropical trees and shrubs in the landscape. The naked coral bears showy red flowers in the spring and is deciduous, as you can see by its just turning leaves. This species is said to be the most cold hardy of the coral trees. Just beyond, a labyrinth awaits a busy Angeleno in need of a calm respite from the hustle and bustle of downtown. I fully intended to get a closer look at this but when I circled back at the end of my wanderings an actual line had formed with soon-to-be-newlyweds and their engagement photographers waiting for their turn in the labyrinth’s center!
This garden’s plant palette is well-defined and restrained; the selected elements are repeated throughout. No willy-nilly plant collectors at work here. That restraint has produced a very calm but not at all boring viewing experience. As with many open urban gardens, this one seems to be a magnet for readers and lunchers in ones and twos–nothing rambunctious going on here.
Also repeated throughout the landscape is the Bauhinia x blakeana, or Hong Kong orchid tree. I had to stand on my tip toes to catch a good look at its blooms.
Another tropical, the Hong Kong orchid tree grows to about 20 feet tall and broad and is semi-deciduous and frost tender.
The juxtaposition of the leafy green trees, even those just starting to don their fall colors, with the sleek metallic building facade somehow seems to be both startling and expected and the same time.
Lovely foliage color combination
The bed plantings soften the winding edges of the wide paths. Pavers set into the paths pay tribute to those donors whose gifts built this city garden.
Large mounds of Strobilanthus cusia, Chinese rain ball, offer late fall blooms. Also called Assam indigo, this herbaceous perennial is native to tropical climes and not frost hardy. There are over 350 species in this genus and one of the most commonly known to American gardeners is Strobilanthus dyeranus, Persian shield, grown for its green, silver and purple variegated foliage with pale violet flowers. The Chinese rain ball and all its cousins are surely hummingbird havens!
Definitely a focal point in the garden, the architect designed this fountain to pay tribute to the late Lillian Disney and her love of roses and Royal Delft porcelain vases.
The large rose is covered in a mosaic of thousands of pieces of broken Delft porcelain and tiles.
You can just make out some of the donor tribute pavers surrounding the rose. More silvery wall panels rising to the sky provide a backdrop for the fountain. I am not sure if the water action on this fountain is intentionally subtle or if it was just not working today.
Wow–from total shade to total sun in just a few feet!
Another interesting pair of semi-tropical trees–these are Dombeya wallichii, the pink ball tree from Madagascar. The velvety heart shaped leaves are dinner plate sized as seen below. In autumn and winter this smallish tree will be adorned with large clusters of fragrant pink flowers. The clusters will fade to pale pink, then brownish, and then dry on the tree. So sorry that these were not in bloom yet.
Although much of the plant material grown here is not conducive to my garden’s slightly colder winters, the obvious takeaway for me is how effective using limited but bold and repeated plant selections throughout a space can be. The Blue Ribbon Garden earns a place on my list of off the beaten path small gardens to revisit at a different time of year, even if I have only an hour to spare. I would love to see the pink ball tree in bloom!