Gardens of Mission San Juan Capistrano

– Posted in: Garden Design

California is relatively new, historically speaking, but that doesn’t mean we don’t love antiquities.


Designers of restaurants and hotels must know this, because when they do a Spanish colonial-style establishment, they knock stucco off of the walls to make them look old. So where did they get the idea that this lent (at least the suggestion of) authenticity? Doubtless from 200-year-old California missions, which date to when the region was owned by Spain and sent Catholic priests (“padres“) to convert the natives.


Recently, I visited Mission San Juan Capistrano to view the gardens, but it was the walls that enthralled me.

Btw, San Juan Capistrano is hosting the Eco-Expo, a festival dedicated to all things green, May 17-18. I’ll be speaking and signing my books both days.

And now, here’s my ode to old walls, plus some pretty (but unhistoric and nonindigenous) flowers.

OK, I take that back. Those orange flowers in the foreground are California poppies. And the cactus beyond the wall is native to Mexico, so I suppose that counts.


Dasylirions (left) and the agave in bloom at right also are native to the Southwest. In the background is what remains of a cathedral-like church that collapsed in 1812, six years after it was built, due to a massive earthquake. Forty parishioners died.


Above: Trumpet vine and Agave desmettiana ‘Variegata’.


The bougainvillea (from South America) is lovely, but oh! That mottled wall!


An old courtyard includes what appear to be cacti from the Americas but are in fact euphorbias from Africa.


An aeonium (from Madagascar) looks great in front of an adobe wall. I have pockets of adobe clay in my garden. Water won’t drain through it, and when wet it sticks to my shoes, staining them reddish brown.


Do you see the little beady eyes and pointed noses decorating this metal door hardware? I suspect they depict possums. Maybe rats. Either way, there’s a story there.


Great doorway. As for clivia…meh. Snail chow (from S. Africa).


If 21st-century builders want to create authentic-looking colonial CA buildings, they need to take pains to lay pavers somewhat irregularly. I.e., think like Disney imagineers.


Above is a guava tree, native to Mexico and Central America.


Koi. Aren’t they from China?


Lavender and statice.

IMG_0826And hybrid tea roses!

My own mission is to share the beauty of waterwise, easy-care succulents in gardens, containers and landscapes via blog postsnewsletterspublic speaking and workshopsphotosvideosmerchandise, and social media (Facebook and Pinterest). My books: Designing with Succulents, Succulent Container Gardensand Succulents Simplified. 
Debra Lee Baldwin
Award-winning garden photojournalist Debra Lee Baldwin authored Designing with Succulents, Succulent Container Gardens, and Succulents Simplified, all Timber Press bestsellers. Her goal is to enhance others' enjoyment and awareness of waterwise plants and gardens by showcasing the beauty and design potential of succulents via books, articles, newsletters, photos, videos, social media and more. Debra and husband Jeff live in the foothills north of San Diego. She grew up in Southern California on an avocado ranch, speaks conversational Spanish, and at age 18 graduated magna cum laude from USIU with a degree in English Literature. Her hobbies include thrifting, birding and watercolor painting. Debra's YouTube channel has had over 3,000,000 views.
Debra Lee Baldwin
Debra Lee Baldwin
9 comments… add one

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Robín May 6, 2014, 3:36 am

Though i am a spaniard it is the first time i hear of San Juan Capistrano; he was Italian. Stones do not need to be “knocked stucco” to look old; they look old by themselves like in old castels and towers. If done so they look like a ruin which is worse than old. In France and Spain old castles and towers still well conserved look old for their syle , peculiar arquitecture and stony -sometimes new, though- aspect.

Lydia Plunk May 6, 2014, 8:22 am

Thank you for taking pictures. Your post reminds me- our gardens reflect the immigrant status of this state.

Peggy Herrman - aka Orchid Ladies May 6, 2014, 1:38 pm

Dear Deborah, a feast for the eyes. Thanks. Makes me want to head for S. California.

Jackson Dumbbelle May 6, 2014, 9:48 pm

I love these pictures! They are gorgeous. I can’t wait to get a chance to go there!

Bonnie Wagner May 8, 2014, 8:11 am

Debra,wonderful pictures. It’s good to look at the beauty of the construction.
I’m collecting pictures of old gates.


Linda Fleigner May 8, 2014, 12:41 pm

I love the old Spanish architecture. It is a beautiful inheritance we immigrants inherited from the early Spanish settlers.

Pukh Payasong May 9, 2014, 6:13 am

Hey Deborah,

you have posted absolutely amazing pictures! The old spanisch architecture is soooo beautiful!!!

Please keep the good work up 🙂

Cheers Pukh

Garden Services May 21, 2014, 1:42 am

Nice spanish architecture pictures beautiful. It’s good to looking at the beauty of the construction. Thank you for sharing pictures.

Debra Lee Baldwin July 7, 2014, 1:52 am

Thank you all for commenting. Lydia, yes, we Californians are pretty much all immigrants or descended from them. It’s interesting that some of you compared the mission to similar buildings in Spain, where the friars who built them came from.

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