Mrs. Hortense Miller, 99
A delightful human being
Wednesday, July 30, 2008
Hortense Miller dies at 99
She will be remembered for giving her garden to the city.
By FREDA FREEMAN, STAFF WRITER
LAGUNA BEACH Everything Hortense Mann Miller touched, she turned into a work of art – whether it was a withering flower or a piece of discarded string and wood.
"I remember one time she built a screen out of string and wood," said Marsha Bode, who has known Miller since 1990. "She never went down to the store and bought something."
Miller, founder of the Hortense Miller Garden in Laguna Beach, died Monday. She was 99.
Miller was known for her wide ranging knowledge of plants and animals, and especially for her generosity in giving her garden to the city of Laguna Beach.
"She has such a generous spirit. She did so much and shared so many of her interests and gifts," said Dorothea Yellott, president of the nonprofit Friends of the Hortense Miller Garden. (Continued below photos)
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Perhaps Miller's greatest strength was her character, according to those who knew her well.
"She'd make a decision and stick with it. She had a definite idea of right and wrong. She knew where she wanted to go in life and she went there, said Bode, former garden manager, who is now treasurer of the garden group."
Miller was born on Sept. 9, 1908 in St. Louis, Mo. to Manly Walter Mann and Anna Maull Mann. She had one older sister, Dorothy.
Miller attended St. Louis Teacher's College where she furthered her interest in biological sciences and history. Upon graduation in 1930, at the beginning of the Depression, there were no teaching jobs so she remained at home, and taught herself to draw by copying illustrations in books. After a few years, she landed a teaching job.
She married Oscar Miller, a Chicago lawyer, in 1942. In 1953, they bought a house in Laguna Beach, which they finished refurbishing in 1959. After her husband's death in 1959, Miller began to garden – first around the house, and then the grounds until the entire property was covered.
The Millers lived in a mid-century modern home. Described as having a wonderful sense of style, Miller complemented the home with her art. She painted murals inside and outside the house and created wood carvings to enhance its architecture.
"She painted the walls with murals," Bode said. "It was very much an indoor-outdoor house; her artwork flowed from indoor to outdoor."
The Hortense Miller Garden began to attract attention because it was one of few natural gardens in the area at that time.
"The style of her garden had a naturalistic quality," Yellott said. "She worked with nature instead of forcing nature to do what you want it to do."
Miller's garden has been written about in Sunset Magazine, House and Garden Magazine and local newspapers. In 2002, her book "A Garden in Laguna: the Garden Essays of Hortense Miller" was published by Casa Dana Books.
The Friends of the Hortense Miller Garden are planning a celebration of her life to be held in September.
Donations in her memory may be made to the Friends of the Hortense Miller Garden, P.O. Box 742, Laguna Beach, CA 92652.
One of Mrs. Miller’s essays:
HIPPOLYTA, Queen of the Amazons
by Hortense Miller
This plant has recently been renamed. It used to be a Tanacetum, a tansy, which you may remember for its flat-topped cluster of yellow buttons and its good color. This is an old-time garden plant that probably still exists in gardens in the east. We had it here many years ago for old time's sake.
Now here's this cousin of tansy who has received the name Hippolyta. Its variety name is "Beth Chatto" after the distinguished English gardener. The reasons behind the names of plants is generally interesting. Did Beth Chatto develop this plant and name it after the Queen of the Amazons, Hippolyta? They didn't use to name plants after women. A few titled and rich women did get plants named after them - Queen Victoria, Lady Clive, Lady Amherst, Princess of Strelitz, Josephine Lapagerie - and there's one exception, artemesia, although we don't know whether it's named for the goddess or the Queen. And then, a lone standout - The Furbish lousewort - named after Miss Furbish, a New England Botanist of the last century. It's not so poor a wildflower (although I know it only by a picture) and I'd guess it doesn't discourage or encourage lice, despite its name. Miss Furbish stands proudly alone.
Hippolyta's girdle was the ninth labor of Hercules. He was to steal it. She received him courteously and offered to give him the girdle. But Hera (how the Greeks hated Hera - she never gets a break) told the Amazons that Hercules would kidnap their Queen, so they started a fight and Hercules killed Hippolyta.
I hope her namesake makes it in the Garden. She has silvery leaves, very finely cut in beautiful little bunches; the entire plant could be covered with two hands. I have not yet had one strike.
Hippolyta is under the ashy eucalyptus, next to the path as you approach the house. I do not anticipate that she will grow up to be muscular, good at shooting arrows.