Celebrating 20 years at Virginia Robinson Gardens: Superintendent Timothy Lindsay
The Friends is very proud to honor Superintendent Timothy Lindsay for his extraordinary service to Virginia Robinson Gardens. By the end of February 2018, it will be Tim’s 20 year anniversary. We are happy to share the following interview with you:
How did you become interested in landscape architecture?
From the time I was a child, I learned to appreciate architecture while working with my grandfather in his wood shop. He built his own home, and we often had projects at relatives’ homes to make repairs. We also finished building a racing boat that had been started when my father was a boy, but which was never completed. The plans for the boat came from the magazine Popular Mechanics. Also, I had an aunt who was an antique collector; she had a dream of opening an antique shop. I would often find myself looking with her at potential buildings to purchase to serve as an antique store.
Where did you study?
Rock Valley College – A.A, Liberal Arts; Southern Illinois University — BS, Plant and Soil Science, MS, Forestry; University of Florida — Small Business Administration course series.
Maggie and David Gordon Scholar at the Attingham Summer School in England — subject matter studied included historic architectural styles and elements, decorative arts, collections care, restoration, and conservation of objects.
How did you come to work for Robinson Gardens?
I was promoted from the L.A. County Arboretum to Virginia Robinson Gardens.
In the 20 years that you have been here, how has the garden changed?
The garden had gone to sleep because no one was in charge for a few years. Plants, seeded in by birds and the wind, had grown into large shrubs and trees that corrupted the original design intent. A plan was made to clean out the opportunistic plants and to reveal the original beauty of the garden.
What did you decide to restore?
The first thing was to study the landscape to identify the original design elements, including plants. About 150 trees and shrubs species have been identified as planted by the Robinsons. There is a plant preservation program in place to reproduce the historic plants “asexually” allowing the exact genome (clone) to be replanted when the originals are gone. I also identified trees to be removed that were not original, which was determined by light patterns and levels of understory plants that were now struggling in the shade. I was able to identify tree species planted after the passing of Mrs. Robinson because they had come from the Arboretum as part of their plant experiment program. Obviously, the money had to be raised to do the tree removal, tree trimming and to purchase new plants. Simultaneously, the utility systems, such as roofs, plumbing and electrical had to be upgraded or replaced. Not one of the eleven water features worked. Retaining walls had fallen and had to be engineered and rebuilt. Garden statues and ornaments were distressed and had to be stabilized until funds were raised to restore them. The interior of the house was worn and tattered. Studies were then made to ascertain which artifacts should be restored first. We started with the silk draperies and worked with Scalamandre in New York who had many of her patterns stored in their extensive archives. Next, we cleaned and restored the antique Persian carpets. We then rewired the entire main house museum and in large part, the Pool Pavilion.
Under your dedicated and outstanding leadership, the Gardens have flourished, and the Friends of Robinson Gardens, as an organization, has also grown. What changes have you seen over the years with the Friends?
I have witnessed larger membership, more coherent organization, with evermore creativity to utilize the legendary property to educate and entertain the public, while raising funds to restore and conserve the architectural treasures of the Robinson estate. All this is done while having fun and bonding with other community members, which has resulted in lifelong friendships. Virginia Robinson Garden is a community resource, supported and utilized by the community it exists in. Docent training has expanded as has the children’s programs — so has the level of understanding on how to best approach restoration and interpretation of the buildings and the social history of the estate.
Would you share a favorite Virginia Robinson Gardens memory with us?
A favorite memory is my tutorials with Ivo Hadjiev. He was Mrs. Robinson’s last of three major domos and spent the last 10 years of her life working for her. He was very forthcoming in discussing with me the important historic aspects of the many significant social events that occurred in the house and in the community due to Mrs. Robinson’s philanthropic work and her generous hospitality. His many stories were in large part the basis of the book we published for our centennial celebration, Beverly Hills’ First Estate: The House and Gardens of Virginia & Harry Robinson.
What current project are you working on?
We are working on the Palm Forest Restoration project.
What is the history behind this project?
In the early 1930s, the two acre area east of the main house was in need of professional attention and the Robinsons retained Los Angeles renowned landscape architect Charles Gibbs Adams (1884 – 1953). He was retained by many of the Robinsons’ Hollywood friends including Charlie Chaplin, W.C. Fields and George Cukor. Mr. Adams strongly recommended a tropical themed garden to replace the languishing landscape in this area.
With the arrival of a large bag of King Palm seeds from tropical Queensland Australia, the seeds were planted by the Robinsons’ twelve gardeners on land previously cleared and prepared for planting. Once the trees grew and matured, they produced their own seeds, and a remarkable thing happened. The seeds fell to the heavy soils below and quickly sprouted. Over the ensuing eight decades, this resulted in the largest collection of King Palms outside of Queensland Australia! The palms are underplanted in large part with Clivia miniata (Kaffir Lily) plants imported from South Africa. They bloom from late February to early June, providing a sea of orange colored flowers to the delight of all our visitors, especially the children’s tours. The walking fig tree is a spectacle for the children’s tours as is the rare spotting of the horned owls that live in the King Palm Forest.
The irrigation system in this Palm forest is over 30 years old and is only partially functional. No longer repairable or reliable, it needs to be replaced with a more effective and efficient irrigation system. While the palms are thriving, many of the companion plants that bring color and provide habitat for a plethora of birds and even a red fox family, need to be replaced with fresh new plantings. Additionally, portions of the concrete pathway that thousands of annual visitors use to traverse this magnificent space needs some attention from a mason to make them safe again. With your financial help, it is our hope to raise $60,000.00 to make the improvements and restore the Palm Forest to its original design intent and return it to its deserved place on the international stage of botanical wonders for all those who wish to visit and enjoy and find inspiration!
If you would like to make a donation for the restoration of the Palm Forest, click the button below: