the children’s garden at the Huntington


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The last time I visited the Huntington Botanical Garden a few weeks ago, the prevailing theme for the day was kids in the garden. Moms with toddlers and strollers were everywhere. Field-trip kids in the cactus garden trudged along the paths like it was the Bataan Death March. I couldn’t tell if these young elementary school kids were being sarcastic or not, but they were pleading, “Water! Water!” as they shuffled chain-gang style past barrel cactus, and I also heard a lot of, “Where’s the bus?!” Their teachers always maintained that amazingly chipper tone of encouragement, “Just a bit further! Look, here’s a bench where we can rest.” I know that relentlessly chipper tone well, having used it myself with my kids when visiting public gardens.

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As I was coming up a steep path out of the Australian garden, a young mother with a toddler in one hand and pushing a stroller in the other was heading down the path, which immediately aroused deep sympathy. She looked lost, and sure enough, as we passed each other, she asked, “Where’s the Children’s Garden?” I pointed her in the general direction, which was quite a distance away, but told her the trek would be worth it, that it shouldn’t be missed. As soon as I spoke those words, an older woman marched up to us and demanded to know what’s not to be missed. Possibly she thought the amorphophallus was in bloom or some other momentous botanical happening. I told her we were talking about the Children’s Garden, at which point she said witheringly, “Oh, the Children’s Garden,” waved her hand dismissively, and marched off in search of more rarified botanical pursuits. Which is a shame, because the Children’s Garden is a marvelously enjoyable, fairly new addition to the Huntington. Watching people and especially families explore this garden has become a not-to-be-missed part of my trips to the Huntington.

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On this last visit, I spent a lot of time peering through the windows of the teaching greenhouse that anchors one side of the Children’s Garden. Aside from being naturally drawn to any greenhouse, the space was unusually animated with personal touches and vignettes, like in this photo from The Los Angeles Times. There was a strong, idiosyncratic presence that animated the greenhouse.

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I have since learned that the animating force in the teaching greenhouse and creator of those vignettes was Jeff Karsner, the director of the Children’s Garden, who passed away on January 30, 2012.

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Past vice president of the Los Angeles Cactus & Succulent Society, board member of the Los Angeles Guild of Puppetry, Mr. Karsner’s legacy includes one of the busiest, noisiest gardens at the Huntington, well worth a visit by all who attend the HBG, whatever their age.

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8 Responses to the children’s garden at the Huntington

  1. hb says:

    What a loss. I think I’ll drape some Mardi Gras beads on a succulent or two in Mr. Karsner’s honor. His work was delightful.

    I do have to admit, I enjoy the Huntington Children’s Garden the most when it is free of children.

  2. laguna dirt says:

    I also read about Mr. Karsner’s untimely death. He sounded like such a creative, dedicated force behind the Huntington’s boisterous children’s garden. Thanks for the tribute!

  3. Lea says:

    I usually make a stop at the children’s garden while at our local botanical garden. They have made it sort of a world gardening theme and the place is grouped by region of the world. I am particularly drawn to what they grow from Africa and Australia. Problem is, my son is old enough to not want to have anything to do with it and I am sure some of the moms must think it creepy to see a man unaccompanied by a child in the garden. Maybe I need to get a t-shirt blazened with “plant geek” on the front and back.

  4. Scott says:

    So sad to hear of Mr. Karner’s passing…seems the horticultural field has lost so many people this past year 🙁

  5. Denise says:

    Hoov, Janine, Lea & Scott — I wish I’d been aware of Jeff as director of the CG, puppeteer, before his untimely death. A huge loss.

  6. Leslie Karsner Dasch, sister says:

    Enjoyed your wonderful piece, the Children’s Garden is truly a magical place…I see my brother, Jeff Karsner, in so many of the details. His vignettes are worthy of pause. Be sure to notice the ‘duck rocks’ – on the ground outside of the Teaching Greenhouse. An amazing force he was, leaving much for us to continue to enjoy. Our family is grateful for your sharing of his work.

  7. Denise says:

    Leslie, so glad you wrote so I can explore this special place with even more details to remember your dear brother by. I’ll check out the “duck rocks” at my next visit!

  8. Leigh Adams says:

    Jeff’s work created a legacy that will outlive all of us. I cherish the times I had with him in the children’s garden, his generosity of spirit, his love of the garden and his never ending gift to the child/ren in all of us.

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