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Huntington Highlight: First Ranch Station Open House

The Huntington’s Ranch Station, an ongoing experiment in urban gardening techniques, had its first open house of the summer this past weekend. Patch talked to visitors to get their reactions.

On Saturday, ’s had its first open house since its launch last November. Usually inaccessible to the general public, the Ranch is a new project in urban gardening experiments that continues to evolve. The open house went from 10:30 a.m. until 1 p.m. and drew a steady crowd of interested visitors throughout that time.

Ranch Station intern Anna Greenland, who was on hand to assist with answering guests’ questions, explained that the Ranch is “an educational space, [a] demonstration garden” where The Huntington is experimenting with different methods and techniques for sustainable urban gardening. The hope, she added, is that people will be able to take away ideas they can apply to their own garden projects, no matter how much space they have—or don't have—at home.

Scott Kleinrock, the project coordinator for the Ranch, was also at the open house, often surrounded by groups of people asking questions and seeking advice about garden-related issues. The goal with the Ranch, he told me, was to keep it low-maintenance and relatively low-cost, so that visitors could see ideas that could be readily adapted to their individual situations and abilities.

I chatted with several visitors, too, including members Steve and Lauri Rizes, who had come over from Sherman Oaks. Attentive gardeners themselves (“Nothing goes in our garden that isn’t edible or drought-tolerant,” said Lauri), they were appreciative of the opportunity to explore the site. “I’d love to see [the Ranch] through the seasons,” said Lauri. As far as any ideas that she might think about using at home, she said she liked the trellising method the Ranch staff had employed for growing tomato plants (rather than circular cages).

A few visitors, though supportive of the endeavor and what had been done so far, recognized that the Ranch is still a fledgling venture. Member William Welch said, “I think it’s a good beginning”, his wife Nancy adding that she had hoped to see even more examples of urban-gardening methods. But they seemed pleased that The Huntington had established this project for exploring ways to approach sustainable gardening. “I think it’s very important that the public become aware of how they can turn their home into a food source,” said William.

Landscape architect and arborist Pieter Severynen, who was taking notes in a spiral notebook, was also more reserved in his praise, but said, “It’s fascinating to me to see what approaches one can take…there is the potential here for a tremendous community service.” He also remarked approvingly upon the fact that The Huntington “tried to save as many trees from South Central Farm as they could”— an urban garden in Los Angeles that was (controversially) closed down in 2006.

One possible critique: The plants were carefully labeled, but any visitors who weren’t experienced gardeners (as I most definitely am not) may have had trouble figuring out what was being done in each section of the Ranch. When I asked Kleinrock about the lack of explanatory signs or displays, he acknowledged that that might be something to address in the future, saying, “The first open house is a learning experience for us, too.” He said that at some point he’d like to make .PDF documents that people can download, which would serve as helpful resources for Ranch visits and would explain what techniques are at work.

For now, keep an eye on the Ranch blog for information and take advantage of upcoming free Ranch lectures on June 28 and August 30, both at 7:30 p.m. in Friends Hall, to learn more about urban gardening topics. Plus, there will be another “” 3-class series with Erik Knutzen and Kelly Cloyne on July 30, August 6 and August 13 (Saturdays) at the Ranch site from 9:30 a.m-12:30 p.m. (Members: $120. Non-Members: $135. To register, call (626) 405-2128.)

Overall, people’s reactions were positive, and many look forward to seeing what the future has in store for the project. “I think it’s amazing what [The Huntington is] doing,” said Marissa Aho of Studio City, a member who was visiting with her mother and a friend from San Diego. As an urban planner, Aho expressed her feeling that the Ranch project is “very timely.” “I’m very excited to be able to see it,” she said.

If you missed the open house on Saturday, you’ll have a few more chances to visit the Ranch this summer. Open houses will take place on the fourth Saturday of the next three months, so mark your calendars for June 25, July 23, or Aug. 27. Entry is included with Huntington admission and no reservations are required. To find the site: Starting at the Teaching Greenhouse (next to the Children’s Garden), follow the signs along a paved path. 

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