Ballona Institute Publications in Geography 23

An Environmental History and Historical Geography Story of Early Twentieth Century Coastal Los Angeles County

Robert Jan van de Hoek
Ballona Institute
Los Angeles, California

Robert Jan van de Hoek
California College Certified Environmental Horticultural Scientist
August 23, 2018
          I am not the first person to look back at a landscape via space and time, into the geography and history of gardens, nurseries, farms and horticulture along the Pacific coast of Los Angeles County. Before me, in 1961, Victoria Padilla, more than 50 years ago, wrote a book entitled: SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA GARDENS. On September 1, 1960, she wrote in the Preface to her book, on page vii: "In her book, Gardens in America, published in 1932, Marion Cran decried the fact that no record had been kept of the contributions that pioneer plantsmen had made to California horticulture." Then on page 1, Victoria Padilla presents us with a very deep poem by Goethe, followed by a second poem on page 3, ahead of the first chapter, entitled "THE LAND" and here is an except of the first chapter: "One of the great charms of southern California is the exotic aspect of its landscape. The Easterner here for the first time may feel that he is in a foreign land."
          As I perused the book by Ms. Victoria Padilla, SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA GARDENS, I discovered 6 pages (181-186) subtitled, The Bodgers. Presented below is an excerpt from page 181 and another excerpt from page 278-279. If not for the reprinting of this book by Victoria, led by my good friend, Elizabeth Pomeroy, Sierra Club leader, publisher, writer, and a lover of California History and the writings of John Muir, just like me, in conjunction with my assignment to Bodger Park, as a park supervisor, naturalist, and environmental educator, I would not have discovered this very fine book by Victoria Padilla. I wish to thank Elizabeth, for writing in 1994, as a Garden Historian, for writing the An Introduction to Reprinted Edition" which inspires me. Here are a few excerpts that describe the journey of discovery of Ms. Pomeroy and my own journey as well: "In the 1980s I had the luck to find a copy of Southern California Gardens, signed by Victoria Padilla, and soon after went to visit her. Sitting in her back garden among her bromeliads, we talked about the book and both wished that it could be brought out again." There are 6 more paragraphs that Elizabeth Pomeroy wrote about Victoria Padilla that is very fine narrative story telling. I would like to see her inscribed 1961 copy, and discuss further with Liz, in an interview, her time spent in joyful conversation with Victoria Padilla in a bromeliad garden in coastal Los Angeles County. Sadly, Victoria Padilla passed away, shortly after Liz interviewed Victoria, so she never saw her wish for the book to "be brought again", and so, I can only be grateful and appreciative to Liz. Thank you, Liz!
Victoria Padilla
Foremost California Horticulturalist (1905-1986)
Executive, Southern California Horticultural Institute
Co-founder, Bromeliad Society
Page 181 Excerpted Passage:
          In the early 1880's Peter Henderson, then one of the best known plantsmen in America, prophesied that in fifty years "southern California would be growing seeds for the world." He was certainly correct in his prediction, erring only by extending the number of years it took to achieve this eminence. The fulfillment of this prophecy cannot be better illustrated than in following the career of one family, the Bodgers, today the world's greatest producer of flower seeds. Their growing fields in Lompoc and El Monte cover an area of fifteen hundred acres, and flowers from their seeds grow in every land where there is a garden.
          Their story begins in Somersetshire, England, in the year 1846, with the birth of John Bodger, the founder of the firm.

Page 278-279 Excerpted Passage:
          Another pioneer in the growing of sweet peas was John Bodger, who found the land in and around Gardena, an area lying to the southwest of Los Angeles, especially suitable for their cultivation. By 1916, owing largely to the efforts of his two sons, Walter and John C. Bodger, these fields had attracted international attention. An article appearing in the Melbourne, Australia, Leader for that year stated:

          The largest single field of sweet peas in the world is to be found in Southern California near Redondo. It comprises 350 acres in which are grown sweet peas of nearly every known variety and color. It constitutes a truly interesting sight, and the fragrance of the flowers which loads the air is so heavy as to be almost unbearable.

Although at present other annuals and perennials are produced in great numbers, the sweet pea still holds a prominent place in the industry and every year bigger and better strains are introduced.

Robert Jan van de Hoek
December 21, 2018
          Between Pacific cities with their many urban communities on the Los Angeles coast, there are many home gardens and wild gardens, several parks and former farms with remnant open spaces, and alongshore, sand dunes and lagoons, grasslands and woodlands, wetlands and uplands, cliffs and rivers entering the sea, with a marvelously complex soil, ranging from sandy to clay and loam. And here are found the many kinds of plants, from trees to wildflowers, all thriving in a subtropical climate and semitropical climate that is mild, with flowers and seeds all year and thus birds and mammals, butterflies and bees, all able to be active all year without dormancy, since there is no winter season.
          Consider the garden as a sanctuary, not only for flowers, not only for birds, butterflies and bees, but for us, as a place to find natures peace, as John Muir wrote, in his book. MY FIRST SUMMER IN THE SIERRA, a book that he wrote, while living in coastal Los Angeles, near the end of his life, as a senior naturalist writer with wisdom to go along with his knowledge, and as such, he was a natural philosopher.

I also consider myself a natural philosopher with knowledge and wisdom, and which I shared with the public as ambassador and diplomat with Los Angeles County for 22 years as a park supervisor, supervising naturalist and environmental educator. At Bodger Park, I supervise and manage the Bodger Park Community Garden, the last vestige and remnant of the famed Bodger Family Farm. There are fascinating tropical fruit trees in the garden some quite rare in Los Angeles, outside of Mexico and Central America. And there are mature tall Blue Gum trees that the Monarch Butterfly roost in at night all year, not just in autumn and winter. The woodlands and grasslands and wetlands of Bodger Park supplement the Community Garden to make a veritable sanctuary for native hummingbirds, Monarch butterflies, as mentioned above. Arctic Tundra and Alpine birds during the autumn, winter and early Spring visit Bodger Park, most notably the American Pipit. There are migratory shorebirds, wading birds and waterfowl that visit the vernal ponds of Bodger Park during rainy weather, including the Black-necked Stilt, American Avocet, snipe and phalarope and yellowlegs, Whimbrel (curlew), Vociferous Plover, Willet, Great Blue Heron, Great Egret, Snowy Egret, Black-crowned Night Heron, Mallard and Canada Goose. In migration and as winter residents, there are many songbirds, including the ubiquitous Yellow-rumped Warbler and White-crowned Sparrow. Brief stopover of the Western Meadlow, colorful in yellow and black breast feathers and with white tail feathers is great to see. In spring and summer, various flycatchers nest at Bodger Park, including Cassin Kingbird, Black Phoebe, Say Phoebe and possibly more kinds too. Visiting Bodger Park all year are the Peregrine Falcon, Cooper Hawk and Red-tailed Hawk that is always glorious to observe and hear. Owls are said to visit Bodger Park, but I have not yet heard one or seen one, personally. Bodger Park is a special place for nature and culture, nature songs and human music together make Bodger Park unique, and now knowing some of the history,
          I hope you will join with me in doing interpretation of the park, and perhaps growing some Sweet Pea flowers again, which not only have a wonderful aroma, but are lovely to view with our eyes, and since they are in the Legume family, known as Family Fabaceae to modern botanists, we know the roots of the Sweet Pea enrich the ancient soil at Bodger Park, which by the way, is a marine saline and brackish fossil clay soil of a former wetland and develops deep mud cracks in the warm dry season, and swell closed in winter with the mild rainy season. Long Live Bodger Park winter Nature and Culture in perfect harmony.