Even though the hardscape and planting areas were defined early on, the landscape continued to evolve during Charles and Ray’s lives. The couple nurtured the site in a delicate balance of design and an honoring of nature.
Landscapes are living entities: certain favored plants are no longer available due to diseases (such as the delicate pink and white fuchsias beloved by Ray), and trees have grown significantly (below left to right: early 1950s, early 1990s, 2013).
A primary focus of the 250 Year Project is the landscape: how to retain the Eameses’ original intent for the site, while managing a number of significant risks. Fire, drought and mudslides have been ever-present risks. However, in recent years, they have occurred more frequently, and often more intensely.
- During the recent drought (2012-2018), we stop reseeding and watering the meadow in response to the dire water shortage. Despite the resulting reduction in grass, the drought along with habitat restrictions drove deer to the site, eating and killing a number of bushes.
- In 2019, the Eames House was on the edge of a mandatory fire evacuation zone, during which we closed for visitor and staff safety, as well as to keep roads open for first responders.
Although spared from any damage, we have prioritized addressing these drought and fire events in our upcoming Master Plan of Work. Given that since 1999, 2/3 of the years have had below-average rainfall, droughts and fire are becoming the very-threatening new norm for Los Angeles.
Meadow and Hills
The meadow moves between green and sere as the winter rain falls or the summer sun blazes. Typically, it is reseeded in advance of the winter rains, but in years of extended drought, we stop reseeding and watering the meadow. Water must be reserved to keep the trees healthy.
Hillside stability is one of our top priorities of our landscape management plan. We have addressed slope erosion behind the south court planter through the use of bamboo and railroad ties, but will be addressing the hillside stability of the hill above the Eames House as well as the bluff itself in the Master Plan of Work, for which the Foundation is currently fundraising.
During Charles and Ray’s lifetimes, volunteer trees (not planted by human hands) were allowed to grow. They were replacements for the future, ready to take over for the trees first planted in the 1880’s by Abbot Kinney. Over 60+ years, the on-site tree density has increased significantly. While the above left photo was clearly taken during the 1949 construction, the photo on the right was taken in 2013. The Foundation is currently examining and sequencing historic photographs in order to better understand the original plan for the site.
Every two to three years, the eucalyptus trees around the house and meadow are pruned for house and visitor safety. They are pruned to build structural strength as well as beauty. Other significant trees (whether significant due to their provenance or design) are being considered for grafting. In 2014, funded by the Getty Conservation Institute, an arborist examined the trees on site and identified their Safe Useful Life Expectancy (SULE). Certain trees were found to be reaching the end of their life spans, and their removal was recommended for staff and visitor safety. We have begun with the removal of several of these older trees, and plan to remove the remainder over the next few cycles. In addition, thanks to a generous donor, we were able to remove roughly 80 trees, primarily volunteers, that were structurally unsound. (They were growing on steep hillsides, heavily leaning towards the sun.) A happy benefit of this work was the increased light on site, a return to that of the 80’s. Importantly, this work is also the beginning of our fire risk mitigation planning.
The decision to remove trees on site was made easier by a collaboration between founding sponsors Herman Miller, Vitra and the Eames Office to repurpose the wood. Revealed in Summer of 2019, the collaborators produced a limited-run LTR, showcasing eucalyptus wood tops from two trees harvested on site. In order to help the Foundation fundraise to support its conservation work, Herman Miller and Vitra contributed LTRs to the Foundation. By joining as a special Eucalyptus Member, the public has not only supported this important conservation work but also has been able to bring an Eames eucalyptus LTR to their home.
Ray created lists of preferred plants and drew planting plans of the raised bed by the South Court. When Ray would go plant shopping with her gardner, she would constantly seek out new plants to try… beautiful, precisely detailed plants, often as replacements for failed or unavailable plants. The above photos are contemporary. While the look of the specific flowers and arrangements are appropriate; the orange-red geraniums were on Ray’s plant list and the Santa Barbara daisies were not.
Which is more important: the look of the plantings or their genetic accuracy (based on a shrinking availability of approved plant list flowers)? We look forward to exploring this question further when we begin our conservation plan for our landscape. For now, we continue to collect data and seek alternative sources for heirloom and other plants.
In order to understand the landscape more deeply we continue to analyze photographs taken by the Eameses and Ray’s records of plantings as well as conducting oral histories with our long-time gardner, Bob Newman, and others. Here he talks about one of the planting beds.