MR. HUNTINGTON'S GARDEN | A is for Avocado

Posted on Fri., April 29, 2011 by James Folsom
Group of people in orchard
Brokaw, Rodriguez, and Shepherd family members celebrate the successful establishment of Shepherd-Brokaw Orchard.

Thursday was a green-letter day. A simple idea planted more than 10 years ago came to life when board members of the California Avocado Society welcomed Brokaw, Rodriguez, and Shepherd family members to celebrate the successful establishment of Shepherd-Brokaw Orchard, the heart of a new Huntington Avocado Collection. Three rows of young avocado trees have been successfully grafted with 33 different avocado cultivars, clones that were selected due to their importance in the history of the avocado industry in California.

Of course, this is also a milestone for our own rededication to the meaningful lessons of San Marino Ranch, the agricultural landscape that so attracted Mr. Huntington to the Pasadena area. His purchase of the Shorb property was not the end of the story for The Ranch, and indeed Huntington is credited with his own innovation through establishing one of California's earliest commercial avocado groves right here, where visitors now park their cars. In a contemporary world, the 500 acres of San Marino Ranch may have dwindled, but there is still much to be gained through exploring old crops and new ideas that make us more self-reliant and our gardens more sustainable.

Shepherd-Brokaw Orchard sign

A lot of people love the work of growing avocados, and helped make this project happen. Carl Stucky really spearheaded the entire effort, coordinating shipments of understock (donated by Brokaw Nursery) and scheduling the grafting program, and he was supported fully by other members of the board. Huntington's Fred Brandt and his crew cleared the site of declining orange trees, installed irrigation, planted the understock, and have kept plants healthy and growing for several years. Last year grafting material of historical cultivars was provided through Brokaw Nursery and the University of California South Coast Field Station. In late spring, Pablo Rodriguez and his family spent a full Saturday grafting the new clones to understock, and have returned several times to ensure good training. Gardens curator Tim Thibault made certain the trees were all properly accessioned and mapped, and labeled. Andrew Mitchell designed and constructed the new sign. Scott Kleinrock, Cynthia Dickey, Melanie Thorpe, and Danielle Rudeen helped in many ways to coordinate, organize, and get things done, for the collection as well as for yesterday's event. And, of course, the project would never have taken root without the support and encouragement of Jack Shepherd and Hank Brokaw, whose many contributions to this industry we recognize through the orchard name.

Board, families, and Garden staff gathered for a barbeque lunch, during which we thanked the many people who helped move this project ahead and unveiled the new orchard sign that will mark the site. Following lunch we hiked up Palm Drive to walk among the trees, discuss the history and merits of the differing cultivars, worry about some of the greatest perils, from root rot to voracious gophers, and dream of guacamole. I sense the need for several lime trees in the immediate area.

Jim Folsom is the Telleen/Jorgensen Director of the Botanical Gardens at The Huntington.