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Rancho Los Alamitos historic garden restored

May 20, 2009 |  1:54 pm

Photo of Steven Looman Painting

In restoring the Rancho Los Alamitos historic gardens in east Long Beach, the guiding principle was simple enough: Provide plant explorers with the same leafy, contemplative landscape of indigenous and imported species created in the 1920s by Florence Bixby.

But it wasn’t easy. Over the decades, the one-acre oasis with roots in the romance of California had deteriorated into a mix of Bixby’s original glades and myriad invasive plants. A pumping system that supplied a rocky brook -- and serenaded the grounds with the soothing sounds of running water -- quit working in the 1950s.

Now, after 17 years of restoration work based on historic photographs, Rancho Los Alamitos is preparing to celebrate the opening of the renewed gardens June 6 with seminars, guided tours, live jazz and a native plant sale.

During a recent tour of garden trails lined with sage, cactus, poppies and mahonia bushes laden with maroon berries, Rancho Los Alamitos Executive Director Pamela Seager said, “It was a very complicated effort, and it took a lot of time and patience to do it right.”

“Restoration work proceeded incrementally,” she added. “We took the stream system apart and put it back together again, rock by rock. Many of the species we planted were allowed to grow back into maturity.”

Then there is the 6-foot-tall example of Texas Ranger sage planted near the gardens’ entrance between 1921 and 1925 by the Rancho’s then-owners, Bixby and her husband, Fred.

“It’s gnarled, old and magnificent,” Seager said. “We’re babying it along, like a historical figure deserving of respect.”

Admission to the gardens and activities for adults and children on June 6  is free, but four seminars require pre-registration and fees. The fee for admission to all four seminars is $40. Individual seminars are $10 for Rancho Los Alamitos members and $12 for nonmembers.

There is limited ticket availability, and advance reservations can be made online at

Rancho Los Alamitos is owned by the City of Long Beach and operated by the nonprofit Rancho Los Alamitos Foundation.

-- Louis Sahagun

Photo: Steven Looman painting of Rancho Los Alamitos' historic garden. Credit: Cristina Salvador Klenz