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The Mission Gardens of California

Updated on September 22, 2011
San Carlos de Borromeo de Carmelo Mission
San Carlos de Borromeo de Carmelo Mission | Source

California is an amazing state with extensive natural beauty. There is also a lot of manmade beauty in the state. The best of both worlds come together in the gardens that are located all the way up and down the length of this big state. There are many different types of gardens in California today but the history of gardens in the state is rooted in the Mission style that was represented in the very first gardens in the state.

17th Century California Missions

In the late seventeenth century, the Spanish came over to California and established their missions throughout the state. More than twenty Spanish missions dotted the landscape in both Southern California and Northern California. These missions were self-sustaining plots with their own agriculture. Although the things that were planted at these missions were planted with a purpose in mind, there was also a lot of beauty in the gardens of the missions. Although there are a lot of controversial things related to the missions (like the fact that their main purpose was to bring their religion to the Native Americans living in California) the gardens had to be a beautiful sight in the land at that time. The missions were really the only developed buildings at the time and the gardens must have made a great visual impression even though their main purpose was to provide food. In 1822 the missions were secularized and re-settled and the gardens were changed but the Mission style of gardens has remained popular in California to this day.

Andalusian Garden Features of the Missions

The gardens of the seventeenth and eighteenth century California missions were based on the gardens of Andalusia in the south of Spain, which makes sense because much of California has a climate similar to this region. Some of the features of these gardens include:

o Orange trees, grapes for wine and other fruit plants

o Olive trees and pepper trees providing not only food but also shade

o Decorative (and functional) walls around the vineyards and orchards

o Patios enclosed by walls and decorated with plant life surrounding them

o Functional fountains in the enclosed patios

o Simple, streamlined fruit and vegetable beds

o Axial pathways (pathways that run vertical and horizontal, similar to the shape of well-constructed city blocks or grids

o Decorative tiles or painted mud bricks in the Spanish tile style

A common garden would feature multiple enclosed patios attached to one another by axial pathways that might be lined with fruit trees and vegetable beds. Originally the vineyards, orchards and vegetable gardens were often kept separate with paths connecting them but each area walled off. Although some of the plants were flowering plants and therefore could be quite colorful, a majority of the plant life was greenery, not floral. The Mission style California garden is very neat and clean and organized and functional.

Mission La Purisima Concepcion

If you are interested in seeing what a traditional Mission Style garden looks like in California today then you might want to plan a visit to La Purisima Mission State Park in Lompoc, California. The state park is a 2000 acre state park with many hiking trails and people come here to enjoy the nature as well as to get a sense of what life was like in California in the early nineteenth century. The Mission here was originally founded in 1787 and although it was best known for its livestock raising and the hides that came from here, it also did have a large garden. The original garden was long gone by the time that this Mission became part of a state park but it has since been rebuilt. The rebuilt version is designed to be more pleasing to the eye than specifically historically accurate but a visit to this place will definitely give you a sense of the beauty of a Mission style California garden.

San Carlos de Borromeo de Carmelo Mission

Another option for visiting a Mission Style California garden today is to go to the San Carlos de Borromeo de Carmelo Mission, which is located in Carmel, a beautiful seaside location. This mission was also established in the eighteenth century and was also abandoned for a time before it was rebuilt and revived to celebrate the history of the area. It was restored before Mission La Purisima Concepcion, actually. This one was restored in the late nineteenth century whereas the Lompoc location wasn’t restored until the mid-twentieth century. However, there was additional restoration of this garden completed around the same time as that done to the other mission. As with the other mission, the design of the new garden isn’t necessarily historically accurate and has more attention to beauty than function but retains much of the simplicity and style of the Mission style garden.

Appropriateness of Mission Style Gardens Today

The Mission Style of garden has definitely seen a strong revival in the California of today. This makes sense for a lot of reasons. For one thing, it is a highly functional form of garden, which is something that a lot of people care about in today’s economy. Another reason that this style makes sense is because it is simple and purposeful, featuring plants that are easily grown in this region. Awareness of important ecological issues like water conservation makes this appealing to many Californians today. Additionally, this style of garden celebrates the Spanish history of the state and there are a segment of people who are interested in this celebration. Plus Mission style gardens are arguably quite beautiful! Today’s Mission style gardens often add to the original style with some more decorative plants and slightly more elaborate design although most stay true to the simplicity of the original style.


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