About the Museum » Sculpture Garden
The Norton Simon Museum Sculpture Garden is a delight for visitors of all ages. Its lush pond—decorated by several varieties of water lilies—stately trees, colorful shrubs and flowers and meandering paths provide a stunning setting for some of the Museum’s most important sculpture. The Garden Café, outdoor concerts, plein air drawing classes and family art-making activities make it one of the liveliest areas on the Museum campus.
The history of the garden extends long before the Museum opened in the 1960s. In fact, this area of Southern California was first inhabited by the Hahamongna (Tongva) tribe of Native Americans, then later was part of the Mission San Gabriel Arcángel. Following several owners, the tract on which the Museum now sits was purchased by the Carr family of Wisconsin in 1877. Matriarch Jeanne Carr transformed the property into a lush and verdant estate that she named “Carmelita” and was known as the most spectacular garden in the area. Having passed through several owners, the land was deeded to the city of Pasadena in 1941, with a proviso that part be preserved for the local art institute, later to become the Pasadena Art Museum (and finally the Norton Simon Museum). In the late 1960s, the Pasadena Art Museum, designed by local firm Ladd & Kelsey, was opened. Its sculpture garden reflected the sparse, minimalist style of the era—acres of turf, a handful of trees, and a long, rectilinear reflecting pool.
In the 1990s, the Norton Simon Museum underwent an extensive remodel; its interiors were redesigned by celebrated architect Frank O. Gehry, and its exteriors by landscape designer Nancy Goslee Power. Jennifer Jones Simon, widow of Norton Simon and then Chairman of the Museum’s Board of Trustees, asked Power to create a garden “just like Monet’s Giverny.”
While the garden is not an exact replica of Monet’s, the lush texture and rambling spirit of Giverny is evident. Power replaced the rectilinear concrete pool with a naturally shaped pond that is abutted by varieties of daylilies, bog plants and pond plants. To take advantage of Pasadena’s dry climate, Power set the weeping Montezuma cypress near the pond’s edge, a grove of tulip poplars in the Garden Café area and a grove of Mexican sycamores in the walkway to the main entrance. Certain trees, including the eucalyptus and the Moreton Bay fig near the rear of the pond, and the spectacular goldenrain trees heralding the main entrance, were preserved from the previous garden. With a special request from Mrs. Simon, attention was given to ensure that the flowering of plants and trees continued during all seasons of the year. Finally, in the fall of 1999, the reimagined garden opened, and it has grown more spectacular ever since.