One of Southern California's most beloved public gardens is rethinking and rewriting part of its rich history. Descanso Gardens' collection of world-renowned camellias can now be traced back to Japanese-American growers who interned during World War II.
"Japanese-American flower growers right before the war made up 50% of the LA flower market. They were really instrumental in bringing those varieties to Southern California and really transforming the landscape into the beautiful landscape that we know today," Wendy Cheng, Associate professor of American Studies at Claremont's Scripps College explained.
Cheng’s research reveals a Japanese-immigrant cultivar, F.M. Uyematsu, was the first to import dozens of the most beautiful varieties of camellias to the area. But as Japanese-Americans were being sent to internment camps during World War II, the Uyematsus and another grower family, the Yoshimuras, were forced to quickly liquidate their life’s work.
E. Manchester Boddy, the owner of the La Cañada Flintridge Estate at the time, purchased their nursery stocks before they were imprisoned. For decades, Descanso Gardens had been told the rare camellias were sold at a "fair price." Cheng says in reality, Boddy had paid about a fifth to a quarter of its estimated value.
"I think one important thing that I want to emphasize is that Manchester Boddy is not the villain of this. He was a man of his time and he was genuinely a friend to the Japanese American community as many people have said, however, he was also a businessman and what he paid the families was still a fraction of the value they would have gotten if they had not been forced to sell due to internment," Cheng says.
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