Our Garden Tour Star Marianne Yamaguchi

Each month, we are highlighting “Our Garden Tour Stars” -- landscape architects, florists, and interior designers who have participated in our annual Garden Tour and Showcase Estate at the Virginia Robinson Gardens. We want to let you know about these very talented designers, their inspirations, and their creations.

This month, we are featuring Marianne Yamaguchi, owner of Yamaguchi Bonsai Nursery, whose father was a famous bonsai specialist. Her nursery has very unique plants.

We asked her these four questions:

1. How did you decide to go into the nursery business?

After a long career in environmental policy and management, I decided it was time to pursue my latent interest in carrying on our family nursery business. I’ve always been interested in plants, gardening, and landscape design and felt that it was a good fit for my second career.

The nursery was founded in 1949 by my father after he returned from the Manzanar internment camp during World War II. In the “early days,” the nursery was primarily a source for basic plant material for the landscape trade— this was probably true for the many nurseries that were once located in the Sawtelle area. Japanese-style gardens were a big part of mid-century homes, and the nursery provided a lot of the Japanese black pines and other landscape materials that were utilized in those gardens. My father’s interest in bonsai was probably also related to this work, and bonsai remains a specialty at the nursery.

My father was an early pioneer of bonsai in the US, and we are very proud of the fact that one of his trees now resides at the National Bonsai and Penjing Museum, located at the National Arboretum in Washington DC. In addition, a garden within the museum honors him for his horticultural contributions to the US. For a non-English fluent, first-generation immigrant, I think he accomplished a lot! He is definitely an inspiration to me!

As a hobby gardener, I saw that many “plant explorers” were finding and cultivating many new shrubs, trees, flowers, and perennials from around the world that would fit well in our Southern California climate. Many more specialty producers began to grow these new plants as well. This fit well with my interest in providing a more diverse and eclectic range of plant materials to the gardening public at our nursery.

Like fashion, the public’s desire for new, improved and novel is constantly changing—some years, it’s drought-tolerant plants and California natives; some years, succulents; some years, all the new tomatoes and new roses; and most recently a houseplant craze. We’ve also seen a great interest in the proteas and leucospermums (pincushion flowers) this year, as well as an insatiable desire for English roses! Though it can be daunting to keep up with it all, constant change makes things more interesting and fun. I am always learning about something new that I had never known about before.

2. How do you select your plants?

I do try to keep up with what is going on in the trade, and look for advice from many of the wonderful growers that we have available to us in Southern California. They are always on the lookout for new things -- especially new breeding coming out of Europe which seems to always be ahead of what’s happening in the US. I find that “hunting” for new and interesting things for our customers is much of the enjoyment in owning a nursery.

3. Where do you find your inspiration?

As for plant inspiration, I think the primary sources are what I’ve seen in nature, in public gardens and national parks in California, and throughout the US and around the world. I find it is amazing to see familiar plants in such a wide range of places throughout the world -- Australia, Costa Rica, Japan, and Europe. I hope to make it to the African continent someday -- so many wonderful species to see there as well.

4. Can you please share some photos of your favorite floral/plant arrangements.

California wildflowers during one of the super blooms
At the 2019 VRG Garden Tour by the Lily Pond
At the 2019 VRG Garden Tour at the Boutique
One of my favorite bonsai—a satsuki azalea in bloom last year

Contact Information:

Yamaguchi Bonsai Nursery
1905 Sawtelle Blvd.
Los Angeles, CA 90025
Tel: 310-473-5444
[email protected]

2 Responses

  1. Kerstin Royce
    | Reply

    Happiness is visiting your wonderful nursery. That Bonsai is a true work of art!

  2. Shirley Gay Norris
    | Reply

    One of my best memories is of Marianne Yamaguchi letting me go with her to a Southern California grower. I felt like a kid in a candy store. Everything I’ve learned about landscaping, I learned from Marianne. She mentored a complete neophyte and turned me into a plant addict. She is a true artist…following in her father‘s footsteps.

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