Musings » The Huntington Botanical Gardens 1905-1949: personal recollections of William Hertrich, Curator Emeritus
San Marino, California
The Huntington Library 1949
William Hertrich was born in Germany but brought up in the Eastern United States. After almost ten years as an apprentice in agriculture and horticulture he went to California. In 1904 he became H E Huntington’s landscape gardener. He rose to become Huntington’s right hand man, staying with the family for forty five years. Working for Henry Huntington was not easy.
Hertrich’s first move on taking up his position was to develop a nursery for the mass plantings he knew would be needed. The great ranch at San Marino swallowed up trees and shrubs in their hundreds. The nursery was followed by the irrigation system. Before Huntington finally decided what kind of gardens he wanted, Hertrich was ready for anything he might request.
Huntington led off with the Palm Garden. He had already planted a very large citrus orchard which earned its keep commercially from the very earliest days. People forget that San Marino was a working ranch for many years.
As they landscaped the property, Hertrich realized that certain gravelly hillsides near the house would be hard to maintain. He recommended covering these hills with cactus.
Huntington exploded. He had had dreadful encounters with cactus spines when he ran his railroad lines through the deserts, and wanted no part of this idea. Somehow Hertrich prevailed and today the cactus gardens are one of the finest features of the estate.
Once Huntington was convinced to go ahead, he entered into the spirit of things very quickly. Cactus collecting was still new and one merchant colossus competed against another in getting the largest, rarest and choicest specimens he could. Hertrich knew his man and could basically have anything he wanted by presenting it in these terms.
There is one aspect of his tenure which does not appear in this book.. Professor Max Farrand, a noted historian from Harvard, was the curator of the Huntington library and museum for many years. Mrs Farrand was none other than Beatrix Jones Farrand, one of the most impressive of America’s landscape architects between the wars and Edith Wharton’s niece. She had designed the renowned gardens of Dumbarton Oaks in Washington.
Hertrich wanted no part of her, and dared her silently to interfere with his bailiwick. She was much too canny to fall into this trap, but relieved her feelings by referring to him drily as “that rigid German”. It must have been amusing to observe these two talented and assertive people sparring in this fashion.
Hertrich became overall Superintendent of the property. Huntington also entrusted him with other responsibilities. No matter what the challenge was, he overcame it handily. He writes about himself in a quiet old fashioned way without any bragging but it is clear that Hertrich was a remarkable man.