Louise Peirson and her History-Making Garden in Ocean Beach

by on February 21, 2019 · 0 comments

in Ocean Beach

By Kathy Blavatt / February 19, 2019   ©Photos Kathy Blavatt Collection

“With every breeze I hear the name Louise”

What triggered the flood of sweet memories of my dear friend Louise Peirson (Brain) this time? Was it the scent of her garden? The whispering breeze through her trees? The pallet of vibrant floral colors etched in my memory?

Oh yes, I know what triggered these thoughts … it was the January 29, 2019, Architectural Lecture, “Rosecroft Garden, Masterwork of Alfred D. Robinson,” at the Point Loma Assembly.

Vonn Marie May presented “Rosecroft Garden, Masterwork of Alfred D. Robinson,” program.

The program featured a friend I admire, a former OBcean, Vonn Marie May.

Vonn has an impressive background as a renowned historian. She has a wonderful philosophy that is stated on her website:

“All land has a history. A ‘deep read’ of the cultural landscape will reveal its origins and intents.”

Vonn’s also specializes in histories of historical landscapes. She is recognized by the American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA).

I attended Vonn’s “Landscape History of Balboa Park” historical walking tour a few years ago and learned a great deal. She has wealth of knowledge. She highlighted many of the achievements of horticulturist Alfred D. Robinson and Kate Sessions and spoke of their extraordinary works at Balboa Park. The tour was truly a treat.

Louise’s in her lovely garden with family under her lath garden structure. Beautiful plants and trees filled the yards of the two homes Louise Peirson owned on Del Mar Ave. in Ocean Beach

As I learned the history of exotic plants species that reside in Balboa Park I realized that Louise’s yard was once packed full of many of these unique plants. She greatly admired Alfred D. Robinson who was heralded as building the largest open-lath botanical building of its type in the world, for the 1915 Panama-California Exposition, in Balboa Park.

Louise loved bromeliads, begonias, and ferns, so to protect them from harsh sunlight she created her own small lath structure inspired by Robinson’s designs.

Robinson was an inspiration to Louise even after his death. She worked at Point Loma’s Rosecroft Gardens in the 1960s.

Louise Brain (Peirson) at work at Point Loma’s Rosecroft Gardens in 1964.

Originally under Robinson, Rosecroft Gardens, a begonias garden, was a public garden and tourist destination. The garden, later owned by the Hunters, was turned into a nursery.

When Louise worked at the Rosecroft Gardens she also worked part-time as a musician.

Vonn’s presentation and photos of Rosecroft Gardens made me understand how its beauty inspired Louise, who in turn inspired me.

When my husband and I bought our house in Ocean Beach, the front and back yard was mostly grass. In the first couple years of owning our house, we dug out the grass and put in a garden with fruit trees.

Little did I know at the time, that an older lady in her eighties from across the street, was watching me carefully as I toiled in my front yard.

It turned out the lady was Louise.

Years later she told me, “she was plotting a way to meet me.” Then one day when, she was her yard, a neighbor introduced us. She later told me, “I finely had chance to get to know this girl who loved to garden.”

From the moment we met our friendship grew … literally and plant-wise! Soon we were trading plants and I was helping her in her garden. She would load me up with plants for my garden and stacks of gardening books to read.

Louise played the violin.

Louise played the bass (center) in a three-women trio.

Louise was s renaissance woman of many talents. She was a horticulturist, musician, artists, an avid reader, and restored fixer up properties.

Her maiden name “Brain” which was perfect in describing her brilliance! Her married name “Peirson,” also described her, for she was a bright sunray of “pure-sun!”

Louise had an enormous collection of horticulture books and magazines that she shared with me. She taught me many of her gardening techniques.

She would walk me through her garden giving me the common and Latin names of plants, where they came from, and how to care for them.

Many a tree trimmer didn’t trim her trees correctly, by her standards. She properly told them the right method and gave them detailed instructions!

Then there were the bromeliads. How would I have ever guessed that “Spanish Moss” was in the bromeliad family? I’d still be thinking it was moss! Air ferns, pineapples… all bromeliads! Who knew? Louise!

Louise also collected and propagated begonias starting back when she worked at Rosecroft Gardens. She also had many begonias species that Robinson had originally bred.

I exhibited two of Louise’s Robinson bred begonias at the “Rosecroft Garden, Masterwork of Alfred D. Robinson,” program.

I was so happy to show the two begonia plants. It was nice to share that piece of living history with the crowd.

As Louise aged, her lovely garden got a bit unruly. I helped out, as she would sit on her favorite bench under a shade tree and watch me.

One time after Louise had taken a fall, the neighbor and I decided the plants around her main path needed to be trimmed back for her own safety. We knew Louise would not want us to trim enough, so I planned a distraction. I invited my 6-year-old friend Claire to visit with Louise while we did the trimming.

Unfortunately, Louise wanted to sit on the garden bench with Claire as I trimmed. I had to go to “plan B.” I had Claire sit on the far side of the bench, so Louise would face away from me as they chatted.

I trimmed and tossed the cuttings ten feet away into a hidden pile so Louise wouldn’t see them. Several times she turned just after I had tossed the greenery.

Finally, the path was cleared and safe … and Louise never noticed. All she could talk about for days was her wonderful afternoon with Claire.


After twelve years I was a bit overwhelmed with my own yard. I had less time to spend on Louise’s garden. Drought, weeds and bugs took their toll, but a good rain would bring her garden back to life.

Friends celebrate Louise’s 96th party with lots of flowers and cake.

Amazingly, in many ways, her yard was an unplanned permaculture garden on the edge of being a miniature forest. Thick layers of dead leaves from her large trees mulched her soil and held in moisture. Some of her lath wood structures had fallen apart, rotted, and created composts. Her plants would seed themselves and sprout up in other parts of the yard filling in gaps where other plants had died.


Kathy Blavatt and Louise

n spring of 2016, neighbors and friends threw a 96th birthday party for Louise.

Sadly, that summer Louise passed away. I had said my goodbyes, and listened to her last words to me, “Take care of my Garden.”

Within a year, most of Louise’s trees and colorful plants had been cut, scrapped and loaded into a huge dumpster. Unlike the rain, my tears could not bring back Louise yard. But in my garden lives Louise’s survivors that she had gifted me. Louise beloved bromeliads and historic Robinson’s begonias still live on.

Louise’s bromeliads in bloom in my yard.

My garden is now home to many of her plants.


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