Unlocking Three Arch Bay’s Secret Gardens

Gardens of Three Arch Bay are spotlighted in the Garden Club’s annual tour, which sets out May 4.

Magical gardens, the stuff of fairytales, exist in Laguna Beach if one knows where to look. Those with tickets to the Laguna Beach Garden Club tour on May 4 will need only follow the pixie dust between eight such gardens during the annual tour, which this time threads through the private community of Three Arch Bay.

The neighborhood divided by Coast Highway also hosted the club’s first tour in 2006, where visitors received a map and were on their own to drive to locations. Recent iterations have been on foot. So is this year’s, with a walking tour along a marked route, exclusively on the ocean side of the community, said Nancy Englund, a club board member and tour organizer.

Between 11 a.m. and 4 p.m, visitors will be shuttled by bus from Laguna Nursery and the compound, and club volunteers stationed in the gardens will answer questions along a walking route of less than a mile.

One of this year’s highlights is a garden designed by prolific resident landscape architect Fred Lang (1915-1996), who pioneered the use of succulent and drought resistant plants during the ‘50s. Lang also owned the Garden Shack nursery at Sleepy Hollow, which he used as headquarters for his landscaping business. “Fred was famous for his research and for introducing Mediterranean plants, including the aloe aborescens that are often mistaken as aloe vera plants into this area,” said Englund.

He also brought agave and jade plants, chosen for their interesting textures and shapes into the area, she said. Architecturally, he preferred gentle lines, pebbly patios, redwood accents and curvilinear shapes complimenting nature. His hand remains visible in many city parks, most prominently Main Beach and Heisler Park, she said.

Tour program notes include a brief history of each garden, for instance, a low-water use garden at the corner of Vista Del Sol has been designed by Ann Christoph, a longtime resident who worked with Lang for 25 years.

An old Eucalyptus tree, a point of interest on the route, is a remainder of how homesteaders could establish their land claims by improving their property by planting trees. Many chose the Australian Eucalyptus for its swift growth and shady canopies. The trees also provided inspiration to hordes of nature painters who descended upon Laguna’s environs.

Two abandoned houses with gardens gone to seed and since restored to their former glory are on the tour, Englund said. One couple revived their garden into a sanctuary distinguished by a “wave” of succulents. A Nantucket style cottage provides architectural reminders of their owner’s geographic roots. Some occupants resuscitated  “old” gardens and propagated new plants to share with neighbors.

Let’s also not forget “Ye Olde Potty Shack,” the only restroom on the route. It too is surrounded by drought resistant plants and distinguished by a Mermaid weather vane and mailbox decorated with shells.

The tour will introduce visitors to creative use of pools and fountains and some exotic plants such as a stately epiphyllum orchid cactus that, over time, has reportedly also been divided and shared.

Ruben Flores, proprietor of the Laguna Nursery and a 24-year landscape design veteran, created and maintains some of the featured gardens. His signature cliff top garden overlooks the bay’s namesake Three Arches and surrounds what he describes as a traditionally appointed, beautiful home. He installed California natives or plants able to thrive in a Mediterranean environment. “Elements are pretty harsh that close to the ocean. There is nothing that blocks strong winds and selected plants have to withstand the salt in the air without getting burned. It’s a challenge to find plants and accessories that will thrive and keep looking good in that environment,” he said.

Garden Club president Jeanne Yale describes organizing the tours as a labor of love shared by the club and homeowners. “Previous tours have been a big success and I look forward to exploring neighborhoods, especially usually gated communities, every year,” she said.

Tickets, $45 in advance and $50 at the door, provide financial support for the club’s environmental, educational and civic beautification and scholarships. They can be purchased at Laguna Drug, 239 Broadway St.; Laguna Nursery, 1370 S. Coast Highway; Dana Point Nursery, 34100 S. Coast Highway; by mailing to P.O. Box 362, Laguna Beach, CA 92652; or online www.lagunabeachgardenclub.org.


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