Artist Leigh Adams Finds Magic in Her Garden

"What we can do together, no one of us can do alone."

Published : Tuesday, May 15, 2018 | 5:44 PM

Leigh Adams sits on her story tree and looks up at the branches. They extend this way and that, and intertwine like arms hugging. Her purple hair catches the light, as she points at the bark, “See the smiling faces?” she asks me.

Leigh has been the Artist-in-Residence and an Interpretive Horticulturalist at the Arboretum for the past ten years. She is a mosaic artist, activist, water harvester, educator, storyteller, longtime Altadena resident and all-around lovely soul. I feel very luck to have spent an afternoon talking and strolling with her through the gardens of the Arboretum–Leigh’s home away from home.

“Magic realism is a huge part of my life,” said Leigh, as we walked the grounds. This magic can be found in Leigh’s spirit. She buzzes with a warm electricity that brings you in and leaves you feeling open. It can also be found in her gardens. They are fertile and inviting places, places where you can set aside your daily burdens and daydream.

One of which is the Crescent Farm at the Arboretum. The farm is Leigh’s brainchild; it has continued to grow and be enhanced by the help of the community and the consistent TLC of John Latsko, an Interpretive Horticulturalist at the Arboretum and, as Leigh puts it, “the best garden husband I could ask for.”

At the entrance to the Crescent Farm, stands a mosaic mural that children like to trace with their fingers. Artists from Skid Row were commissioned to create it. For many years, Leigh has taught for and worked closely with Piece by Piece, a nonprofit organization that provides free mosaic art workshops to low income and formerly homeless populations.

Leigh incorporates mosaic into all of her gardens and continues to host free mosaic workshops, as well as gardening workshops at the Crescent Farm. Participants learn the process behind habitat gardening–working with the land instead of against it–and water harvesting, or water optimization, a key part of Leigh’s gardening practice.

Water harvesting captures rainwater and water runoff, and uses it in lieu of unnatural irrigation systems. Leigh has helped to expand the public’s knowledge of water harvesting, and is at the helm of the urban sustainable agriculture movement because of it.

“If you master the process, you can have any product you want,” Leigh said about her work in the garden, the studio, and the classroom. For decades, her work as a teaching artist has taken her into schools through out Los Angeles and Pasadena. She stresses the power of collaboration to her students and “do[ing] what you believe in and see[ing] what comes of it.”

Leigh’s upcoming project will be working with Metabolic Studios to implement water-cleansing processes for the LA River. She is exploring the possibilities of ancient weaving with willow, a natural cleanser that belongs in the river. We look forward to seeing the ripples she creates!

More information about the fabulous Leigh Adams can be found on her website here:

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