A Place To Play In
"That's what a garden is for,"
says Edgar Rice Burroughs, famous author
Better Homes & Gardens - Margaret McOmie ~ August
son 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 stone fireplace.
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 hill.
"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 its door!
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
"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 Mr. 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 and profusion.
"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 on vacations.
"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
"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 way yourself."
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
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
"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
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!