North Laguna Horticultural Wonderland to Host Open House with Local Artist

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Works by Laguna Beach artist Sharon Hardy will be on display at the Hortense Miller Garden Open House on March 26, photo by Barbara McMurray

By Barbara McMurray, special for the independent

Nestled at the end of a private road, the Hortense Miller Garden spans two and a half steep acres above Boat Canyon. On March 26, the grounds will open for a free open house from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Guests are invited to hike the dozens of hillside trails and tour the mid-century modern home designed by architect Knowlton Fernald, Jr., built in 1958. The event will include an art exhibit by Sharon Hardy, whose ceramics and drawings will be exhibited.

The Hortense Miller Garden is a nonprofit organization with a board of directors—few are from Laguna Beach—and dozens of volunteers. The property belongs to Laguna Beach. Gardeners and horticulturists everywhere make the pilgrimage to the gardens because they inspire their own efforts and demonstrate the range of plants that can be grown in the coastal areas of Southern California. Minimal use of fertilizers and chemicals encourages a diversity of plant and wildlife species.

“As a longtime resident of Laguna Beach, I find inspiration in the unique beauty of our open spaces,” Hardy said. “I had the chance to spend time drawing in the garden. Through my ceramics and drawings, I hope to inspire the sense of spiritual connection that many find in the natural world.

The horticultural wonderland is dotted with towering Canary Island and Torrey pines planted from gallon saplings in 1959 and more than 500 species of plants, about 150 of which are native to California. The house’s glass walls offer sweeping views of the ocean and hills, per Miller’s instructions to Fernald to design every room with a view. Miller’s whimsical eye for art and clean design is evident in each room’s original furnishings – murals she painted, some only halfway through, her tiny soap sculptures, collections art objects from his travels, including clean-lined Danish furniture.

A resolutely original artist and naturalist, Miller began planting and designing his magical mid-century estate at the age of 50. She and her husband Oscar chose Fernald for its aesthetic design – open post and beam construction with floating walls and unobstructed sight lines from floor to ceiling windows in all directions. Oscar died a year after the house was completed, but Hortense remained in the house until her death in 2008.
She created a hilltop retreat surrounded by plants and trees, some native, many gifts from visitors around the world who came to call. Miller wrote extensively, documenting his daily life among the plants and animals on the hill. She adored Dody, her cockatoo. Doty occupied the house’s aviary and slept in her own stunning work of art, a Brutalist-style bronze cage that Miller commissioned from his friend, artist Dextra Frankel.

The house and grounds were scorched but survived the 1979 Boat Canyon fire, which Miller lived through with bloodthirsty calm. As hell unfolded, Miller told frantic friends who insisted on saving her that because the house was part of the land, “if it’s okay, it’s okay.”

During the open house on March 26, volunteers will offer free art workshops for children and tours of the garden every hour. A beekeeper will give a lecture at noon. Free shuttles will take visitors to and from the First Church of Christ Scientist House and Garden at 635 High Dr.

In addition to this annual event, the garden offers meditation workshops with Lori Kahn of OM Laguna Beach, monthly birding tours, craft workshops, and Laguna Plein Air Painters outings. Sign up for these at lagunabeachcity.net. Call 949-464-6645 to book a docent-led tour most Saturdays and Thursdays of each month. Learn more about the gardens at hortensemillergarden.org or call 949-374-2696.

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