Located 20 minutes from Palm Springs, Sunnylands Center & Gardens is a peaceful haven that celebrates the union of landscape and architecture. Spread over nine acres, the botanical gardens and interpretive center pays tribute to the cultural legacy of diplomat and philanthropist Walter Annenberg and his wife Leonore. For many years, the couple’s adjacent 200-acre estate was a retreat for U.S. presidents, foreign dignitaries, and celebrities.
In this serene property where nature prevails, visitors discover over 53,000 individual specimens representing 70 different species of native and arid-adapted plants from North and South America, Africa and the Mediterranean. OJB Landscape Architecture—led by Jim Burnett—worked closely with horticultural consultant Mary Irish to create these gardens, which are dedicated to contemplation and discovery.
Everything was designed to be an ode to the desert with more than 1.25 miles of walking trails that lead to a circular event lawn and labyrinth garden, among other interesting features. “We like desert plants for their beauty, sculptural habits, and color,” says Burnett. The Annenberg collection of Impressionist and Post-Impressionist paintings—bequeathed to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in 1991—was one of the most important sources of inspiration for the OJB Landscape Architecture team.
The edges of the gardens reflect a free flowing energy, while more geometric shapes prevail closer to the Sunnylands Center. Los Angeles architectural firm Frederick Fisher and Partners restored the building, originally designed by A. Quincy Jones, honoring its midcentury modern aesthetic and earning the 15,000-square-foot space a LEED Gold rating. It hosts an exhibition space, cafe, theater and gift shop. Whether inside or out, visitors enjoy views of the San Jacinto Mountains, which further complement the idyllic decor.
Always focused on creating emotions and transforming perspectives through creative projects, OJB Landscape Architecture aimed to conceive a quiet place where natural elements are the main protagonists in this splendid story. In addition to mirroring the desert sky, twin-reflecting basins provide the relaxing sound of water.
Beyond the careful consideration of the landscape design, efficiency and sustainability of the entire project was a priority. As explained by the OJB Landscape Architecture team, “cutting-edge water efficiency measures throughout the site allow the garden to thrive using only 20 percent of its water allocation from the Coachella Valley Water District.”
Peaceful and perfectly aligned with the surrounding environment, Sunnylands grounds prove the veracity of OJB Landscape Architecture’s belief that “landscapes have the power to heal and restore cities and their communities.” ojb.com
PHOTOGRAPHS: (CLOCKWISE FROM TOP) COURTESY OF MARION BRENNER, KEN HAYDEN AND DILLON DIERS