A Place To Play In
"That's what a garden is for,"
says Edgar Rice Burroughs, famous author
Better Homes & Gardens - Margaret McOmie ~ August 1931
of Scallywag, greeted me first at Edgar Rice Burroughs'. He is a perfectly
charming greeter with a deep, rich friendly voice, a huge personable presence,
and a humorous playfulness that is remarkably well restrained, considering
the fact that he is a mammoth, shaggy, English sheepdog.
Bouncing merrily like a light-footed elephant in a natural, friendly
garden about an English cottage, Tarzan quite prepared me for his master
-- the six-foot, powerfully built, kindly man who came forward to meet
me as I stepped into his immense study. The room flavored distinctly of
"Tarzan," with tiger skins, bear rugs, colored pictures, books, and a huge
About Edgar Burroughs there is a lovable simplicity -- in his manner
that is easy and smiling -- in his keen face and tolerant eyes. From the
moment you shake hands with him he strikes you as the kind of man you would
like to know whether or not he had ever become famous. He had been deep
in Africa writing another episode of "Tarzan" when I entered, yet in an
instant he was a real garden-lover eager to talk about his own Tarzana
(the name of his estate).
"To Me," said Mr. Burroughs, "a garden is a place to enjoy living, not
just a place to rest in! It must be informal -- as big as possible, and
have pools and many trees. Include, if you can, as a sort of annex, a rolling
countryside -- you don't' have to own it -- where you may ride, explore,
and on which you may gaze with a far-away look. A garden is the greatest
sport in the world!"
When the Burroughs came out to California from Chicago to live some
twelve years ago, they acquired a large Spanish-type home on a hilltop
in the Santa Monica Mountains off Ventura Boulevard, at Reseda, a short
distance northwest of Los Angeles, and a good bit of the surrounding land.
They planted trees and more trees until the hillsides looked like a forest
dell. Then they added pools, five of them, one underneath the other , and
connected them by waterfalls. But eventually they sold the house and 120
acres of land to the El Caballero Country Club. And the Edgar Rice Burroughs
moved out to a delightful English cottage they built at the foot of the
"We intended it for a temporary place," he explained, "but we have stayed
about four years. The greatest thing about gardening and home building,
is that nothing is ever finished -- there is always something to plan."
We began our tour of the Burroughs' grounds at the English cottage.
It is of white-painted wood construction with a green-shingle roof and
pointed gables in good English fashion. Hollyhocks and red roses grow by
The house stands near the center of a green, velvety lawn interspersed
by trees, ponds, shrubs, and plots of flowers. On the one side a driveway
runs from the front wire gate to the barnyard gate. Opposite the entering
doorway, which is at the side of the house, and extending for about twenty-five
feet is an S-shape pool, rather two pools with a slender stream connecting
them. There are many waterlilies in the clear water.
"I'm sure you could safely drink that water," spoke Mr. Burroughs. "I
build all my pools so that the water runs in and out constantly."
On the four sides of the pool plants -- oddly, one is a desert century-plant
-- grow down to the water's edge. A few rocks are cunningly arranged both
in the water and on the banks. Trees pampas grass, and Japanese Papyrus
reflect their shimmering feathery leaves in the mirrored water. Frogs,
fish -- a host of varieties -- dance through the sunlight. At the one end
of the pool a large beach umbrella shades brilliantly striped canvas and
iron chairs, swings, and a tile-top coffee table.
"There should be a pool in every garden," said Mr. Burroughs. "I have
always had as many as space permitted. Children learn so much from pools.
The birds come for drinks, and the children learn to know them. Pollywogs
hatch and then turn into frogs. Water lilies bloom gorgeously. And the
ground around a pool lends itself to such interesting plant-growing."
We walked across the front lawn, with trees and roses growing in it
-- a lacy willow and slim cypress hugging the house, and purple iris and
shiny shrubs gay beneath the green-shuttered windows shaded by green-and-white-striped
awnings. Window boxes under all the windows were alive with geranium and
petunia blooms mingling with fern. The willow tree at the front has grown
to be about fifteen feet high in three years. Jack Burroughs got the slip
from a neighbor.
"Jack has a perfect talent for making things grow," exclaimed his father.
"He's a great boy -- freshman in college now."
The Edgar Rice Burroughs garden, I learned, is very much a family project.
For the noted novelist is intensely a family man; in fact, when one leaves
him after an interview, he is likely to have many notes about Joan and
her baby daughter (the first grandchild), Hulbert's writing and his love
of digging for archaeological treasures, Jack's art and his gardening ability,
Mrs. Burroughs' charm, but few about the father. Modest, sincere, with
a great love for his family, for all people, for gardens, and the great
out-of-doors, he looks at everything with a rare and wholesome sense of
humor. He is a real person!
We came to the side of the house where a rustic handmade log bench looks
out upon a bird aviary constructed of wire. Vivid birds -- finch (which
Burroughs says are much too prolific), parakeets, thrush, all made merry
here. But more gaily intriguing was the floor of the aviary, with its clear
lily pond and its banks of the brightest garden flowers in amazing variety
"Last year we had cosmos plants as tall as the aviary -- about 10 feet,"
the author said. "We had a natural pool base here -- 14 feet of adobe.
So after we had dug the pond we smoothed out the dirt and literally threw
in two packages of mixed garden seed; then we planted orange trees -- one
on either end -- and several water-willow trees for the birds to
roost on. The birds have a constant supply of water from the top of the
pool, and the flowers and trees are watered from its seepings. And in southern
California, as well as the world, it is water that makes a garden grow!"
exclaimed the man whose books have been translated into seventeen languages
and whose Tarzan stories are now syndicated on newspaper pages as a daily
feature that is positively essential to hundreds of thousands of boys and
girls in all parts of the country.
From the aviary we went on to another set of pools about thirty feet
north. These were practically hidden in a jungle of tropical plants --
bamboo, palm, banana, willow, water iris (one was 6 feet tall). Mr. Burroughs
said that he has had to cut away many branches of these shrubs every year
so that the sunlight can reach the water lilies.
Peter and Paul -- turkey gobblers -- and the neighbor's peacocks were
strutting through the back dooryard as we came to the stables. Stalls and
saddle rooms are arranged around a hardened dirt patio. Opposite this building
is an elongated shed which separates the rear garden of friendly grass,
trees, flower plots, and rose-covered pergola from the barnyard. The family
garage is immediately back of the house at a right angle. Outside the barnyard
gate at an angle from the shed and stable are barns for old cars, trucks,
tractor, road scraper, and other farm equipment. The Burroughs boys do
the road-grading, plowing, and odd jobs when they are home weekends or
"Senator," the famous author's favorite mount, and three other horses
were munching hay in the stable. The Edgar Rice Burroughs have always done
things together. So riding over the hills is a delightful pastime for them.
"We (Mr. and Mrs. Burroughs and Jack) saw a wild lion way up in the
mountains around here not so long ago," he related. "It was a great event!
For our only other encounters were in zoos."
Tarzan and his sturdy wild playmates may adventure in t eh AFrican
jungles, but his creator has never seen them. He frankly admits it.
"How did I happen to write "Tarzan?" he repeated my question. "Well,
I needed the money, so I sat down on Sundays and holidays -- I was working
for A.W. Shaw, of Chicago, at the time -- to write the kind of a book I
would like to read. I was 35 when I wrote it. It was my third attempt at
a novel. So I really wasn't as hopeful as I might have been.
"You see," he went on, "I had known what it was to be poor and almost
without hope -- though, I do not think anyone should entirely lose hope.
But when a man has tried eighteen jobs and failed in all of them, as I
had before "Tarzan" -- well, you can't understand until you've been that
He was born September 1, 1875 he son of Major and Mrs. George Tyler
Burroughs, in Chicago. Among the jobs he tried and failed, he told me were
gold-mining in Oregon, storekeeping and cow-poking in Idaho, policing in
Salt Lake City, West Point examinations, cavalry service, selling trinkets,
Our stroll through the barnyard and about the riding ring that extends
along the right side of the pool garden I mentioned at the outset was a
mingling of trees, plants, and thoughts. We talked of life and "breaks."
"I am convinced," Tarzan's creator said, "that what are commonly known
as breaks, good or bad, have fully as much to do with one's success or
failure as ability."
We stopped at the riding-ring fence to look across at the garden about
the charming white and green house. It was a matchless picture Ia motion-picture
company selected it as the setting for the English story "Daddy Long Legs")
- green trees, shrubberies, grass, splotches of vivid color: marigolds,
purple iris, pink hollyhocks, yellow lilies, blue stocks, and the water
of the pools glistening in the sun! This land was raw and undeveloped when
the Burroughs built the cottage. But they pitched in. Some trees were bought
full grown, but most of them -- the willows, the peppers, the elms -- were
small. They have grown remarkably.
"We all play here -- we have a lot of fun out of it -- and that's what
a garden is for," said Mr. Burroughs.
We walked down rough stone steps to view five pools, one underneath
each other, connected by waterfalls and shaded by a profuse growth of flowers
and trees. Along the fence we found two splendid Oregon Blue Cedars --
one looking, as Mrs. Burroughs expressed it, "like a wind-blown bob."
For about an hour we walked from the top to the bottom of the garden
slopes looking for particular trees which Edgar Rice Burroughs wanted us
to see because of their symmetry or their oddness. There were Monterey
Pine, junipers, dodars, Acacia, redwood, Bull Pine -- countless other varieties,
but most interesting were the Australian Beefwood Trees.
There were many tree pictures -- a rather small straight bull Pine,
the most perfect specimen I've ever seen -- old oaks and sycamores, probably
hundreds of years old, carefully preserved in their native habitat, and
underneath a spotted carpet of Canyon poppies (Matilleja-poppies), lupines,
mustard, California-poppies, larkspur; and baby-blue-eyes -- all breathlessly
beautiful on this early April morning. Birds were singing and rabbits darting
out from underfoot. To wander in the Burroughs arboretum is to know the
magic, the wonder, the sheer beauty, and the harmony of natural woods touched
gently and with understanding by a man who loves trees and plants!