The white-walled exterior of the historical Casa Romantica is framed by a terra-cotta red tiled roof and a winding mass of greenery, as the immensity of a large Coral Tree stands as guardian, looming over the Casa since the building’s establishment. Set in this desert oasis, giant palm trees and prickly succulents stand resolute, beckoning people forth into this historic cultural center. Built in 1927, as San Clemente founder, Ole Hanson’s family home, Casa Romantica now serves as an institution which lives to educate the community about the history, ecology and culture of the Southern California region. Southern California is in a unique position, as the coastal region, though flanked by a seemingly endless open ocean, has been struck by years of drought, transforming our desert landscape as well as our minds, as we endeavor to change our habits to adapt to the current state of our land. With 2.5 acres of coastal gardens, Casa Romantica is working to further educate the community about sustainable and responsible gardening including how to be “water-wise” in the midst of this drought.
From the Cactus Patio to the Butterfly Garden, Casa Romantica showcases a number of native and sustainable plants that often serve valuable purposes such as attracting wildlife or being water-wise, while also contributing to the overwhelming beauty of the estate. The Butterfly Garden is one of the more unique gardens that cover the grounds because of the nature of its plants. While the other gardens serve to be more water-wise and sustainable, the Butterfly Garden includes more water-hungry plants that serve more of a purpose of attracting wildlife than anything else. In order to attract Monarch or Swallowtail butterflies, one needs to incorporate plants that carry a sufficient amount of nectar; these often need more water than others on the garden list. Butterflies and honeybees, however, while they do add to the beauty of a garden, also serve the valuable purpose of pollinating many of our plants and crops so it would be prudent to incorporate these types of plants into your own garden if you so wish to bring these critters to your backdoor. For this purpose, milkweed and fennel are perfect for playing host to beautiful butterflies.
The rest of the Casa Romantica gardens are brimming with water-wise and California native plants that work to exhibit the natural beauty and sustainability of much of the flora we could encounter along our very coast. Many of the plants that the Casa’s Garden Director suggests for home gardens are of this variety, plants that will not only help you lower your water bill, but will contribute to the responsibility that we all have in water conservation and helping California get through this drought. If you are looking for trees to shade your backyard, of course, palm trees are always a good bet when it comes to water usage and showcasing the Southern California look. Though native to southeastern Brazil, the Cassia or “gold medallion” tree also does very well in the Southern California climate and has beautiful yellow-gold blooms that will add the perfect touch of color to any yard. Another of Lisa’s suggestions is the Catalina Cherry tree which produces red cherries, that, albeit, don’t have much edible flesh surrounding the pit but can be left to the birds, nonetheless. Native to the chaparral regions of the California coast, Catalina Cherry trees do very well in our climate and even attract hummingbirds and butterflies to your yard or garden.
For so long, the image we conjured for the “perfect” suburban home is one of a house surrounded by an expansive and well groomed, overtly green lawn. What was once an old standby, a grass covered lawn is no longer a responsible and sustainable element in our Southern Californian environment. However, there are so many other options when it comes to incorporating sufficient and attractive ground cover. Two picks for ground cover are the Ceanothus or the “California lilac,” and the Erigeron Karvinskianus, the “Santa Barbara Daisy,” which are both native to California and are easily spread throughout your grounds with minimal water needed. Both bloom white flowers, with the Ceanothus variety able to also bloom in vibrant blue and purple hues. Ceanothus is also effective in combating erosion, to which many of our hillsides are prone to in the hilly terrain of Southern California. So let’s try to lay the grass lawn to rest, and try something a little more dynamic instead.
When strolling the expansive grounds of Casa Romantica, one of the consistencies you will begin to see throughout all of the gardens is the use of a multitude of different succulent varieties. From vibrant blues and reds, to softer greens and grays, from small vignettes to full hillsides, succulents can be seen in even the farthest reaches of the estate grounds. Over the past year, Casa Romantica has greatly increased the amount of succulents on the grounds in the hopes that it will show people that, not only can succulents be beautiful, but that responsible gardening can be beautiful, a feat that some may not believe to be achievable. One of the most important reasons to look for succulents when landscaping is that they are very self-sufficient. In fact, all of the gardens, save for the Butterfly Garden, are all fairly self-sufficient, meaning that they don’t need to be fed and can survive almost wholly off the moisture rich air we have here on the coast. Another reason to love succulent plants is that they are very easy to reproduce; by placing one of the leaves onto the soil, you can have a full plant in no time, just remember to not stick it straight into the ground and to just lay it flat. In November, Casa Romantica will also be leading a succulent wreath making event that will show participants how to make a living wreath with the beauty of succulents. Every year, Casa Romantica buys the succulents needed for the project, this year, however, they are aiming to propagate enough succulents from the garden grounds to use for the event.
As part of the Casa’s mission to educate the community on the practices of sustainable gardening, it will be preparing all year for the Rebecca Louise Law art installation coming in June 2017. Rebecca Louise Law is a floral artist from London who uses the life and death of flowers in her exhibitions, finding beauty in their transformation. In her most recent exhibition at San Fransisco’s Chandran Gallery, the artist suspended 8,000 flowers from the twenty foot ceilings. Casa Romantica’s Program Coordinator hopes to have the same scale of an exhibit in the estate’s gallery. This exhibit will truly be unique because it will only showcase flowers that are either native to California or drought tolerant. In order to spread the word to the community, Casa Romantica will hold classes that will educate patrons on acceptable plants for the installation as well as show them how to grow them on their own. In doing so, Casa Romantica will further educate the community on sustainable gardening as well as showcase the beauty in our native, water-wise flora.
It is almost hard to believe that anything could rival the beauty of Casa Romantica’s stunning ocean views, but its gardens do so. With a dedication to keeping the majority of its grounds native and drought tolerant, Casa Romantica is a living example of the responsibility we all have to being water-wise in a drought stricken California. So whether you have a green thumb or have absolutely no idea where to start, Casa Romantica will help you become the responsible gardener we all should be.
For more information about Casa Romantica, located at 415 Avenida Granada, San Clemente, please visit their website.