Hearst Castle and Landscape Maintenance

As Maintenance Manager at Lazar Landscape for the past year, I have come to view gardens differently.  I now have more respect and understanding for what goes on “behind the scenes” of a beautiful garden.  It’s easy to view and experience a beautiful garden and forget how much effort and planning it takes to keep it looking its best.  All gardeners feel a certain amount of pressure to create and maintain a garden that will impress family and friends.  I can only imagine what it must be like to oversee and maintain a garden that is viewed by almost a million people per year.

One such garden is the beautifully landscaped grounds of Hearst Castle.  The architect Julia Morgan designed Hearst Castle and the garden between 1919 and 1947 for the newspaper magnate William Randolph Hearst.  Hearst died in 1951 and the Hearst Corporation donated the property to the state of California in 1957.

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When the state of California began the stewardship of Hearst Castle in 1957 the head gardener was Norman Rotanzi.  Rotanzi maintained Hearst’s original design intent and created a legacy of preservation that today’s garden staff is still striving to fulfill.

On a recent visit to Hearst Castle, I noted both the wide variety of plant species and the healthy appearance of the garden.  Being familiar with landscape maintenance, I realized that what I was experiencing was the culmination of years of both planning and study.

As with most gardens, plant maturation and mortality pose major challenges to the gardener.  Over the years, the staff at Hearst Castle has witnessed both the drama of storms blowing down old trees as well as the inevitable conversion of sunny areas to shade gardens.  Most of us can relate to this, even in our own small and modest gardens.

Complicating the effects of nature and time upon the gardens of Hearst Castle was its designation as a National Historic Landscape in 1976.  This further challenged the garden maintenance, as now the garden staff had to be in accordance with the standards imposed by the landmark status.

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Just as Lazar Landscape does with a new garden maintenance client, a thorough study of Hearst Castle garden was completed.  This 1994 study identified the preservation and maintenance requirements of the Hearst Castle garden.  Plants, terraces, walkways, roads and buildings were surveyed and accurately mapped during this study.  Plants were identified and their conditions evaluated.  Following this study, a team of consultants developed a detailed plan for on-going landscape preservation.

The detailed research carried out by the Hearst Castle garden staff used old photographs, historical records, and letters written by William Randolph Hearst and Julia Morgan.

In addition to the Landscape Preservation Plan, a Landscape Management Plan was established to define proper procedures for fertilization, irrigation, pruning and the control of disease and pests.  All gardeners have their own methods for addressing the above procedures insuring that they have a beautiful and healthy garden.  Even if your own garden is not visited by a million people per year, you still want to have a maintenance plan in place so, at the very least, you are impressed with your own “castle grounds”.