The Woman Behind The Huntington Ranch Garden in San Marino

The Woman Behind The Huntington Ranch Garden in San Marino

SAN MARINO, Calif.—Cara Hanstein has spent the past 25 years studying plants. She started working at a local nursery in San Francisco while going to school for interior design and art at San Francisco State University. Hanstein’s affection for native plants brought her back home to Southern California where she now exclusively manages the gardens at The Huntington Library in San Marino.

Cara tends to four gardens—the Ranch Garden, the Children’s Garden, the Potager, and the President’s House— at The Huntington Library. These gardens are treated like art collections and used as an outdoor classroom for school groups, volunteers and visitors to study the diverse native and non-native landscapes.

“We have lots of fruit trees and lots of vegetables and those need lots of pollinators,” said Hanstein. “By integrating these native plants in the garden, we really are creating more of an ecological garden.”

Most people think of the honeybee as the primary pollinator, but California has 1,600 native species of bees that live in wood cavities or underground tunnels and do not make honey, according to the University of California, Davis. These native bees are vital to urban agricultural landscapes and increase the overall quality of the environment.

“In a lot of garden design, you will see the same swaths of a particular plant. Or in a traditional vegetable garden, you might see rows of the same type of vegetable growing. Here we really try to have a lot of different things happening,” said Hanstein.

“Nature loves diversity.”

Hanstein says this plant diversity invites different native bees, butterflies, and other important pollinators into the Ranch Garden.

“This garden is a community effort. We have lots of volunteers and other gardening staff that work here, so there are a lot of people that love this garden, said Hanstein.

The Potager Garden is the newest garden under construction that Hanstein manages. Potager  translates to “for the soup pot” in French and refers to a kitchen garden. The kitchen garden has an abundance of fruit trees and vegetable plots that resemble a living mosaic, both practical and beautiful.

The Potager Garden at The Huntington has a wood-burning pizza oven and outdoor kitchen space, which will offer a menu incorporating the fruits and vegetables from the garden once it opens later this year. The potager will represent foods of the world according to Hanstein.

“I think just being able to see fruits and vegetables growing together will be very beneficial for a lot of people,” said Hanstein.

Visit to find out more about the gardens at The Huntington Library in San Marino, California.


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