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Remembering Jeff Karsner of Huntington children's garden

February 13, 2012 |  5:24 pm

Jeff Karsner

Jeffrey Karsner, the head gardener of the children's garden at the Huntington Botanical Gardens in San Marino, was memorialized Saturday as the man whose whimsical installations and educational displays delighted patrons of all ages.

Karsner, who died in an accidental fall at his home in North Hollywood on Jan. 30, had worked at the Huntington since 2006. Colleagues, friends and family were on hand Saturday for the dedication of a park bench with a plaque that reads, "in loving memory of Jeff Karsner for his creativity and energy."

"Jeff brought a special kind of magic to the children’s garden through his imaginative use of plants, and young visitors responded to it joyfully,” said James Folsom, the Huntington's director of the botanical gardens.

Jeff Karsner corpse flowerKarsner, formerly president of the Los Angeles Cactus and Succulent Society, designed low-water gardens for private clients throughout Los Angeles. His work was featured in the Los Angeles Times Home section in a story about succulent wreaths during the 2006 holiday season.

The inventive gardener was a natural performer and was photographed by The Times wearing a headdress replicating the Huntington's legendarily odoriferous corpse flower in 2009, right. 

Karsner was born in Baltimore in 1961 and worked in children’s television at PBS in New York before moving to Los Angeles, where he was a story editor for Warner Bros. and CBS.

His lifelong passion was puppetry, and his ability to build marionettes from found objects blossomed at the Huntington. One of his characters, Sen the Centennial Senecio, was made of nine varieties of senecio and heralded the 100th anniversary of the Huntington’s desert garden.

Karsner used botanicals to create memorable tableaux outside and in the teaching greenhouse. In one such installation currently on display, below, he used jade plants and other succulents and tropicals to emulate an underwater fantasy, complete with beaded sea creatures and bauble bubbles.

Jeff Karsner children's garden
"This garden speaks to his magnificent vision, his acute sense of animation and, of course, his commitment to perfection," his sister, Leslie Karsner Dasch, said at the dedication. "His gardens will live on and evolve in ways which we hope he dreamed."

Karsner is survived by his sister and parents, Peter and Carol Karsner. Donations in his name may be made to the International Puppetry Museum in Pasadena. 

-- David A. Keeps

Corrected: An earlier version of this post incorrectly gave Karnser's title as designer and director of the children's garden.

Photo credits, from top: Karen Zimmerman, Jake Stevens and David A. Keeps

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