Girl History Month – Julia Morgan, Visionary Architect Of The Hearst Castle

Hearst Castle

Julia Morgan, a pioneering woman architect, designed and built one of the most legendary private homes in the world, Hearst Castle.

Hearst Castle

Hearst Castle

Hearst Castle is a National and California Historical Landmark mansion located on the Central Coast of California, United States. It was designed by Ms.Morgan between 1919 and 1947 for newspaper magnate William Randolph Hearst, who died in 1951.

In 1957, the Hearst Corporation donated the property to the state of California. Since that time it has been maintained as a state historic park where the estate, and its considerable collection of art and antiques, is open for public tours. Despite its location far from any urban center, the site attracts about one million visitors per year.

Hearst formally named the estate “La Cuesta Encantada” (“The Enchanted Hill”), but usually called it “the ranch”.


Julia Morgan was born in San Francisco on January 20, 1872 and grew up in nearby Oakland. She was one of the first women to graduate from University of California at Berkeley with a degree in civil engineering.

During her tenure at Berkeley, Morgan developed a keen interest in architecture which is thought to have been fostered by her mother’s cousin, Pierre Le Brun, who designed the Metropolitan Life Insurance Tower in New York City. At Berkeley one of her instructors, Bernard Maybeck, encouraged her to pursue her architectural studies in Paris at the Ecole Nationale et Speciale des Beaux-Arts.

Julia the Student

Julia the Student

Arriving in Paris in 1896, she was initially refused admission because the Ecole had never before admitted a woman. After a two-year wait, Julia Morgan gained entrance to the prestigious program and became the first woman to receive a certificate in architecture.

Miss Morgan opened her own architectural firm in 1904, quickly establishing herself as a fine residential architect, and securing a number of commissions in the Piedmont, Claremont and Berkeley neighborhoods. Morgan’s style was characterized by her use of the California vernacular with distinct arts and crafts attributes, including exposed support beams, horizontal lines that blended with the landscape and extensive use of shingles, California Redwood and earth tones. One of her first independent projects was the bell tower on the campus of Mills College in Oakland, which withstood the great 1906 San Francisco earthquake.

The Fairmont

The Fairmont

Other notable projects included the rebuilding of the Fairmont Hotel after the 1906 quake, the Asilomar Conference Center in Pacific Grove, California and a series of YMCA buildings in California, Hawaii and Utah. Throughout her career she designed nearly 800 projects in California and Hawaii.

In 1919 William Randolph Hearst hired Julia to design a main building and guest houses for his ranch in San Simeon, California, which would later become the Hearst Castle. Mr. Hearst instructed her to build “something that would be more comfortable” than the platform tents which he previously used at the ranch. Morgan’s classical training in Paris, her background in engineering, and her use of reinforced concrete, suited her well for the project.

William Randolph Hearst and Julia

William Randolph Hearst and Julia

Over the course of the next 28 years, Morgan supervised nearly every aspect of construction at Hearst Castle including the purchase of everything from Spanish antiquities to Icelandic Moss to reindeer for the Castle’s zoo. She personally designed most of the structures, grounds, pools, animal shelters and workers’ camp down to the minutest detail. She also laid out the estate’s 127 acres of gardens.


Majestic Coastal Live Oaks and California Bays, native to the hilltop, are carefully integrated into the garden design. These and other large trees, such as Italian Cypress and Mexican Fan Palms, help to integrate the scale of the towering main house, Casa Grande, with the smaller scale of the surrounding gardens and guesthouses. William Randolph Hearst wanted a garden that displayed a profusion of blooms throughout the year. Plant species that bloom during each of the different California seasons were selected for the beds, and colors abound in the historic gardens throughout the year.

gardens2 gardens3 1422_1hearstcastle_garden5

Colorful flowers such as bougainvillea, tulips, hyacinths, gladiolus, lilies, dahlias, asters, geraniums, lantana, petunias, pansies, sweet peas, hollyhocks, marigolds and carnations were some of the many varieties grown throughout the gardens. Greenhouses were used to grow annuals from seed, to propagate shrubs, and to raise tuberous begonias and gloxinias. Additional flowers were purchased from nurseries to fill the garden landscape. Hundreds of thousands of annuals, bulbs and perennials were planted throughout the year to provide the color displays Hearst enjoyed in his gardens.

In the late 1930′s Mr. Hearst’s financial woes slowed the pace of her Hearst commissioned work to a crawl. However Miss Morgan had always maintained a sizable client list, working on other commissions in conjunction with the Hearst endeavors. In 1947, upon Hearst’s leaving the Castle for the last time, Julia Morgan’s work at San Simeon was finished although the Castle was never completed in its entirety.

Visionary Architect

Visionary Architect

Julia Morgan retired in the early 1950′s and led a quiet life until her death in 1957.

Last Of The Hosta Blossoms

Sadly, my hostas are almost finished blooming. The garden saved the best for last though.

This cultivar’s bloom looks like a beautiful lily. It looks like it has a few more blossoms to enjoy!

Peony Envy

Peonies can live and thrive for decades. And bees love them!

Peonies bloom in the late spring, but they do best when planted or transplanted in the fall. For the most part, planting peonies is pretty straightforward. However there are a few special needs peonies have that are best accommodated at planting time. In particular, the choice of where to plant peonies and how deep to plant them.

How to Plant Peonies

What to Plant:

Peonies can be transplanted as plants, but just as often you’ll be planting the tuberous roots. Either way, the peony root should contain at least 3 eyes. Peony eyes are small reddish buds, similar to the eyes of potatoes, that will eventually become stems.

The reason for the rule of thumb of 3 eyes on each transplant is so that the tuber is large and strong enough to survive and bloom within a couple of years. A root with only 1 or 2 eyes will still grow, but it will take longer to mature enough to flower.

Plant with the eyes facing upwards and the roots spread out.

When to Plant:

Peony growers dig their peonies in the fall and this is definitely the best time of year to plant them in your garden!

A peony planted in the early fall will have the opportunity to put out a good number of feeder roots before the following spring. I’ve noticed in my garden that fall planted divisions that have had several weeks of growing time before the ground freezes, do better the following year than those that have had less time to develop new roots. This is particularly important if the spring is hot and dry.

Peonies can however be planted right up until the ground freezes if necessary.

A word on spring planting….peonies purchased in the spring more than likely have been held over winter in cold chambers. Planting them in the spring without letting them have the benefit of fall feeder root growth puts the plants under severe stress. Peonies being the tough plants they are will usually recover, however they have suffered a set back and will likely not establish as quickly as those planted in the fall.

A few garden centres will pot up peonies in the fall for sale the following spring. Though containers are not ideal growing environments for the bulky roots of peonies, at least they have had the opportunity to put out some feeder roots in the fall. This is not the case for those peonies potted up in late winter or early spring.

If you are buying peonies from a garden centre, ask a) what size of plant is in the container i.e. a 2-3 eye or a 3-5 eye division for herbaceous and Itoh peonies and 1, 2, 3 or 4 year old plant in the case of a tree peony and b) when was it planted i.e. last fall or recently. Plant containerized plants as soon as you can get them into the ground.

Cooperate with nature and plant peonies in the fall!

Where to Plant:

Herbaceous and Itoh peonies generally prefer cooler climates and are easily grown from USDA Hardiness zone 3 through 8. Gardeners in zone 2 and 9 however have reported success with some peonies.

In general, herbaceous and intersectional peonies require a sunny, well drained location. They will however accept, and perhaps benefit, from some light shade in areas that have very hot dry summers. The rule of thumb is that 6 hours of direct sunlight a day will ensure maximum flower production.

Tree peonies have a slightly different growing range. They can be grown in USDA Hardiness Zones 4 through 8 or 9 but require winter protection in Zones 4 and 5 to bloom reliably. Tree peonies will also support more shade. Deep shade however will reduce flower production. The best shade is that provided by a high, light foliage canopy.

Standing water is the number one enemy of a peony!

If water is allowed to stand on the crown or around the roots, rot quickly sets in and the plant declines and can actually die. Peonies, like roses, are heavy feeders and enjoy a heavy fertile soil. They do well in heavy soils however the trick is to ensure that drainage is impeccable.

How to Plant:

Peonies are heavy feeders and do not appreciate being moved so it is important to ensure they are planted in good, fertile soil. If the soil needs to be amended it is best to use compost or very well rotted manure. Fresh manure is reputed to burn the plant and spread pathogens.

If you are opening up a new area for planting consider having soil tested for pH and nutrient levels before planting. I believe peonies prefer a pH of between neutral and slightly acidic (pH 6.0 to 7.0) but they seem to tolerate a wide variation. The soil testing facility will usually make recommendations as to fertilizer requirements to correct any imbalances. Though soil testing is not a necessity, it can be useful to know your exact growing conditions, not just for peonies, but for all your plants.

Since peonies can remain in the same spot for upwards of 70 years, taking the time to prepare the soil before planting is time well spent.


Peonies like a good chill in the winter. In order to set their flower buds, peony roots should be planted relatively close to the soil surface; only about 2-3 inches deep. It may feel odd to leave roots so exposed, but peonies actually need this chilling to attain dormancy and set buds.


Be sure you don’t start accidentally burying your peonies deeper when you add mulch to your garden. Keep the mulch away from the base of your peony plants.


Give each peony plant enough space to grow to maturity without being crowded. That means about a 3-4′ diameter for each plant. Peonies are especially prone to gray mold (botrytis) when planted too closely and denied air flow between plants.


Peonies need at least 6 hours of sun each day and a full day of sun is even better. Without sufficient sunlight, you’re going to get fewer blooms and smaller flowers. Plus, your plants stand an even greater chance of getting a fungus disease, like gray mold.

You shouldn’t need to divide your peonies for many years. In fact, peonies dislike being disturbed and often don’t bloom for 2 or 3 years after divisions. However, if your peonies are growing in good conditions and they still aren’t flowering well, it could mean that it’s time to lift and divide them. Use a sharp tool to divide the roots into sections with 3-5 eyes each and replant ASAP. Follow the same steps for transplanting as for planting.