Casa Amesti in Monterey is a perfect example of a garden that has not changed substantially since its original design, because when owner Francis Elkins died the property was donated to the National Trust for Historic Preservation. My firm, PGAdesign was asked to restore this garden a few years ago, and when we started we found that the current garden was essentially the same as the garden depicted in photographs from the 1930s – it had deteriorated but the original design and most of the original plantings remained.
Realistically though all gardens change and they change quickly because plants grow and as they grow they transform the landscape profoundly. Other things change as well – wooden fences and gates deteriorate, stone walls crumble, and sometimes modifications occur when a new owner simply wants their garden to look different or to accommodate a new use. The Monterey Art Museum at La Mirada is such an example. The original Castro Adobe has been restored and over time several buildings have been added. At this point it is impossible to tell, just by looking at the complex, what is historic and what has been added, and certainly some additions are now old enough in their own right to qualify as “historic”. 50 years is the general rule for HALS, which I find a bit disconcerting considering I passed that milestone some while ago.
The garden at La Mirada is enclosed by a chalk rock stone wall that is an extension off the back of the Antonio Mario Castro Adobe. The stones are rough and irregularly-shaped, nearly white in color except where they are covered by lichens. The height of the wall varies from about 30” to 7’ where it has buttresses. There are two wooden gates into the garden – one a simple board fence with a round, bronze knocker, and the other more elaborate and set in a classical stone peaked arch, which is in poor condition. I presume these gates are replacements for the originals.
Garden beds occur on three levels and are edged with brick set on end and half buried. Beds are separated by brick paths about 4’ wide in a basket weave pattern. One bed is terraced with a chalk rock stone wall about 20” high, and is in poor condition which leads me to believe it is original. The beds are bordered with hens and chick succulents and planted almost exclusively with roses.
The Antonio Mario Castro Adobe was built in the early 1800s. It is one of three buildings that appear on an 1849 map of Monterey. Castro was a soldier in California from 1780 to 1809. The home remained in the Castro family for a few generations until 1919. For a time the John C. Fremont family rented two rooms in the adobe from Modesto Castro, until Fremont was elected to the U.S. Senate and they moved to Washington.
Gouverneu Morris purchased the adobe in 1920. He restored the adobe, added other buildings and built the wall around the garden for privacy. So, the garden wall is nearly 90 years old and clearly meets the 50 year criteria for HALS.
Thomas Albert Work, Sr. purchased the property in 1936. He made his fortune in land and real estate. Work planted the cypress, pine and other trees surrounding the property. Work’s wife, Maude Porter created the rose garden before her death in 1949. The rose garden was rehabilitated in 1989 when many new roses were added and some of the original roses were retained. One Cecile Brunner rose with a mass of knotty root stock was labeled 1881/1894.
Thomas and Maude’s son Frank Work inherited the property and maintained the garden until he deeded it to the museum in 1983.
So, this is a garden has had several owners since the early 1800s and it has changed substantially. There are clues to what is old and what has been added, but the lines are blurred and only extensive research would tell us more.