Descanso Gardens’ new exhibition challenges the botanical garden

Adam Schwerner has been in love with plants since he was little.

For the Laguna Beach resident and Director of Horticulture and Resort Improvement at the Disneyland Resort, working with soil and growing plants is a meditative, almost spiritual experience.

Thus, strolling through the 150-acre Descanso Gardens at La Cañada Flintridge, located at the western end of the San Gabriel Valley in Southern California, surrounded by its forest of oaks, flowers, fruit trees and of streams is like being in a cathedral for self-proclaimed horticultural guru’s.

But Schwerner is also a cutting-edge artist whose latest installation may uproot what people expect to see in a garden.

“Botanical gardens are rich botanical cathedrals and then you add art to it, it’s almost impossible for it to improve,” Schwerner said, days before the April 16 opening of his latest installation “Your ( Un)natural Garden,” at Descanso. It runs through January 8, 2023.

The exhibition is made up of eight immersive multimedia art installations located outside and in the Sturt Haaga Gallery and Boddy House.

While this is happening at Descanso, and Schwerner is an expert gardener, don’t expect anything wrapped in flowers or decorated with plants and other greenery.

Schwerner’s work is edgy, bright, and loud, with much of it made up of objects he found in a landfill, including such things as ladders, bicycle tires, old chairs, and wires.

Some of the installations include rooms full of feather boas and hanging bells, colorful sculptures and an area completely covered in fluffy pink fabric.

“Not everyone is going to like this. It’s not about making everyone happy; it’s about sparking a conversation, getting people to participate, observe and engage,” he said. he declared.

“It’s about challenging people’s expectations of what a botanical garden is and what art is,” Schwerner added.

  • Adam Schwerner walks through the boa room of the Boddy House at Descanso Gardens on Wednesday, April 7, 2022. Schwerner has created a new exhibit called “Your (Un)natural Garden” which will be shown at Descanso Gardens on April 16, 2022– Jan. 8. The work presents colorful and playful creations from found objects transformed into art. (Photo by David Crane, Los Angeles Daily News/SCNG)

  • A bicycle bench at the Boddy House in Descanso Gardens on Wednesday April 7, 2022. Adam Schwerner has created a new exhibit called ‘Your (Un)natural Garden’ which will be on view at Descanso Gardens from April 16, 2022 to January 1, 2022. 8. The work presents colorful and playful creations from found objects transformed into art. (Photo by David Crane, Los Angeles Daily News/SCNG)

  • The books were repurposed in the Boddy House at Descanso Gardens on Wednesday April 7, 2022. Adam Schwerner has created a new exhibit called ‘Your (Un)Natural Garden’ which will be on display at Descanso Gardens from April 16, 2022 to January 1, 2022 8. The work features colorful and playful creations from found objects turned into art. (Photo by David Crane, Los Angeles Daily News/SCNG)

  • An entry to the ‘Worms’ room of Boddy House at Descanso Gardens on Wednesday, April 7, 2022. Adam Schwerner has created a new exhibit called ‘Your (Un)natural Garden’ which will be on view at Descanso Gardens April 16, 2022–January 16, 2022. . 8. The work presents colorful and playful creations from found objects transformed into art. (Photo by David Crane, Los Angeles Daily News/SCNG)

  • A colorful venue in the Boddy House at Descanso Gardens on Wednesday April 7, 2022. Adam Schwerner has created a new exhibit titled “Your (Un)Natural Garden” which will be on view at Descanso Gardens from April 16, 2022 to January 1, 2022. 8. The his work presents colorful and playful creations from found objects transformed into art. (Photo by David Crane, Los Angeles Daily News/SCNG)

  • Art Chairs in the Boddy House at Descanso Gardens on Wednesday April 7, 2022. Adam Schwerner has created a new exhibit titled ‘Your (Un)Natural Garden’ which will be on view at Descanso Gardens from April 16, 2022 to January 1, 2022. 8. The work presents colorful and playful creations from found objects transformed into art. (Photo by David Crane, Los Angeles Daily News/SCNG)

  • Adam Schwerner enters the newly painted doorway of the Boddy House at Descanso Gardens on Wednesday, April 7, 2022. Schwerner has created a new exhibit titled “Your (Un)natural Garden” which will be on display at Descanso Gardens April 16, 2022– Jan. 8. The work presents colorful and playful creations from found objects transformed into art. (Photo by David Crane, Los Angeles Daily News/SCNG)

  • Adam Schwerner with some of his ‘snake’ creations in the Boddy House at Descanso Gardens on Wednesday April 7, 2022. Schwerner has created a new exhibit called ‘Your (Un)Natural Garden’ which will be on display at Descanso Gardens on April 16 , 2022–Jan. 8. The work presents colorful and playful creations from found objects transformed into art. (Photo by David Crane, Los Angeles Daily News/SCNG)

  • Old plant markers have been turned into art outside the Boddy House at Descanso Gardens on Wednesday, April 7, 2022. Adam Schwerner has created a new exhibit called ‘Your (Un)Natural Garden’ which will be on display at Descanso Gardens on April 16, 2022–Jan. 8. The work presents colorful and playful creations from found objects transformed into art. (Photo by David Crane, Los Angeles Daily News/SCNG)

  • Adam Schwerner hopes visitors will connect with their experiences outside the Boddy House at Descanso Gardens on Wednesday, April 7, 2022. Schwerner has created a new exhibit called ‘Your (Un)natural Garden’ which will be on display at Descanso Gardens on April 16, 2022–Jan. 8. The work presents colorful and playful creations from found objects transformed into art. (Photo by David Crane, Los Angeles Daily News/SCNG)

Schwerner began growing tomatoes at age 10 and turned his childhood passion into a career, earning a bachelor’s degree in ornamental horticulture from Rutgers University and a master’s degree in business administration from Chapman University.

In his current role at Disney, he leads a team responsible for planting, tending and caring for all the plants in the Anaheim parks.

Follow the Snakeaways

He also works privately as an artist, creating installations like his latest at Descanso, which begins with the six “Snakeaways”.

The Snakeaways sculptures are made up of found materials and pieces of wood that Schwerner painted all kinds of colors.

They look like psychedelic tree trunks that dot the Descanso walkways, leading visitors to the two galleries that house the majority of the works. They also set the tone for the whole exhibition.

“In a way they don’t belong, but in a way they kind of do. They are kind of natural, but they are not. They are made of this semi-natural material, they are painted in unnatural colors. So they’re not natural and they’re in your garden,” Schwerner said.

Follow the carvings and you’ll find the Sturt Haaga Gallery, where a room is adorned with dozens and dozens of brass bells hanging from red strings.

When the exhibition opens, the bells will ring and microphones will project the sound into the garden. The installation is called “All bells”.

Next to this is a room covered wall to wall in a pink material similar to a shag rug. The facility is called “The Uncomfy Room”.

It’s a place where people can relax, play, take selfies or do just about anything.

But yeah, don’t get too comfortable.

“It’s also a bit edited and a bit disturbing. There will be a soundtrack that will be uncomfortable and that’s the intention,” he said.

The garden’s historic Boddy House, built in the 1930s, has undergone a surreal transformation for this exhibit.

The dark wooden door has been painted bright pink and once people enter it will be a bit like entering the Mad Hatter’s summer house, if he liked feather boas instead of hats and he was planning an apocalyptic tea party.

A room in the house is filled with hanging feather boas. Obviously, it’s called “The Boa Room”, and it looks like some sort of wild kelp forest that you can walk through.

Adjacent is the dining room, which for the exhibition is dubbed “Agora: Sculptural Chairs and Meeting Table”.

It was there that Schwerner created dozens of weirdly colored chairs decorated with items he found in an Irvine dump.

Some chairs are wrapped in cables, one has a spring-mounted seat for people to bounce on, another has multiple bicycle tires that make it look like an all-terrain wheelchair.

There is also a large dining table with 13 red chairs around the table. Everything is decorated with handmade utensils while a bowl full of colorful golf balls is placed in the center for some reason.

Schwerner wants it to be a gathering place so the space will be available to rent once the exhibit opens.

“I hope people who come to visit here will collaborate with me to bring these things to life,” he said.

If you are going to

When: 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday to Friday; 10am-4pm Saturday and Sunday. April 16-January 18

Where: Descanso Gardens, 1418 Descanso Drive, La Cañada Flintridge

Tickets: $15 for adults, $11 for seniors (65 and over) and students, $5 for children (5 to 12) and children 4 and under, free admission

Information: www.descansogardens.org