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Nature’s Art at Venice Sculpture Garden:

Hidden behind a restaurant on Abbot Kinney is a refuge from urban tensions, a garden with paths, waterfalls, exotic plants, and yes, sculptures. The Venice Sculpture Garden is the vision of Dr. Jerry Rowitch, a practicing psychiatrist whose life interest in plants led to his creation of the Sculpture Garden in 1968.

Rowitch built the garden with the help of his son (“I did the waterfalls myself,” he adds). The current configuration of the garden is different from the original layout – the trees were planted and the central pond built in 1972. Rowitch used to own the property, but sold it so that he could concentrate more on developing the garden and also on developing hybrid plants, a number of which are on display in the garden’s narrow entrance.

A walk around the winding garden path (yes, it is a cliché come true) is a walk through a forest of many plants that vary in size, color, and locale of origin.

There’s a huge plant with leaves the size of place mats that looks vaguely familiar. It’s a banana tree, says Rowitch. “But the bananas are not edible.”

The King Palm, on the other hand, isn’t a very big palm tree – it’s about five and a half feet tall, not really exciting. More interesting is the spiky-leaved Dragon Tree, which can be found in the Cactus section. Here too, are aloe vera plants, the Madagascar Palm with its prickly trunk, and a Mexican grass plant. “The juice extracted from the leaves of this plant is mixed with the juice from the blue agave,” says Rowitch. “It makes the Mexican drink, pulque.”

Other intriguing plants include the Aluadia, a cactus that loses all its leaves in the winter, the Pelican Beak, possessing a mysterious sack fertilized by insects who crawl inside it, and the Callisteron, better known as the Bottle Brush for its red brush-like blooms.

The “Citrus Salad” is a bestseller at the Venice Sculpture Garden. It’s a bush that grows five citrus fruits on the same tree – limes, Myer lemons, navel oranges, Valencia oranges, and tangerines. The secret? It’s done with grafts – the five varieties of fruit tree have been grafted together. You might not be able to make a salad from it, though. Rowitch notes that the fruits bloom at different times of year.

There’s also the Retrofractus, an asparagus tree that looks like a pine tree. “It’s seldom seen but I grow it,” says Rowitch. No, it doesn’t bear edible asparagus either.

Other areas of the garden feature flowers – orchids, orange pagoda flowers, and bougainvillea.

Rowitch says that he only works now with “hardy” plants.

“If I have trouble keeping them going, everyone else will have trouble too.” But he proudly shows off the hybrids, his personal hobby, some of them named for his grandchildren.

The shapes of the plants are certainly art from nature, but true to its name, the Venice Sculpture Garden features some real sculptures among the plants. Some of them are Rowitch’s own, and some are by noted sculptor Robert Toll, who works with strands of twisted metal to create works like the seated figure, “Mystified Lady.”

Prices at the Venice Sculpture Garden run the gamut. The big potted banana is $350. At the other end, some potted flowers are only $20. Dr. Rowitch says he will be having a sale soon, with some items selling for only one dollar.

The Venice Sculpture Garden is located at 1029 1/2 Abbot Kinney Boulevard in Venice. 310.399.0321.

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