Established in 1960, Theodore Payne Foundation (TPF) carries on the work of horticulturist and conservationist Theodore Payne (1872-1963). This English immigrant fell in love with California’s flora, especially its wild flowers, and recognized early on that this flora was threatened by urban development.
Since its founding, the Foundation has evolved from a small native plant nursery and seed source into the premier center for California native plants, seeds, and education about native plants in the region. Seed collecting (1962) was TPF’s first program, followed by a propagation class (1976) that laid the ground for the educational activities offered today. Starting with the publication of The Poppy Print newsletter (1978), outreach activities grew to include the Wild Flower Hotline (1983), on- and off-site events, Native Plant Garden Tour (2003), and TPF website. The bulb program (1990s), Local Source Initiative (2012), and Long Live LA seed bank (2018) added to the retail aspect of horticultural services. Educational programs developed to include school garden consulting (2010), the Landscaping for Resilience Program (2014), and teacher training (2017). Capital improvements (2017) provided new classrooms and support facilities.
Over the years, TPF has expanded its activities and services but not deviated from the promotion and preservation of California’s rich flora.
Theodore Payne Foundation Chronology
March 30, 1960 Theodore Payne Foundation for Wild Flowers & Native Plants, Inc. established to carry on the work and preserve the legacy of nurseryman, horticulturist, and conservationist Theodore Payne. The Foundation’s first Board of Directors includes 11 members with Burnell Yarick serving as President.
1961 Donation of 100 botanical watercolor paintings by Jane Pinheiro, arranged by Tasker and Beuhla Edmiston and Bonnie Templeton, in association with The Nature Conservancy.
1962 Botanist and Hollywood native Ed Peterson (pictured right) begins the first seed collecting program at TPF. Hear a 1998 NPR interview with Mr. Peterson.
January 19, 1963 Dedication ceremony of Whittier Narrows site for continuing Theodore Payne’s work and a Foundation nursery, with Mr. Payne speaking to a gathering of distinguished guests. The site was owned by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, who shortly after the dedication withdrew the rights to use the land because the Foundation would be selling plants.
May 6, 1963 Theodore Payne dies at age 91.
1966 Nurseryman Eddie Merrill, a colleague and friend of Theodore Payne, donates 20-acre site in Sun Valley to the Foundation.
1969 Adjacent two-acre property acquired for Foundation offices.
1971 California Garden Clubs declares Sun Valley headquarters and nursery to be a bird sanctuary with more than 60 different species identified on the property.
1972 Trail built on Wild Flower Hill. Ten western sycamore trees planted in the new picnic area.
1976 Propagation class taught by Burnell Yarick deemed a success and (per the Board minutes) “May be the start of increased educational activity at TPF.”
1978 TPF donates 200 redwood saplings to Descanso Gardens for the planting of a redwood grove. The Poppy Print newsletter (then edited by Ysabel Fetterman) published on regular quarterly schedule.
1980 Fire in La Tuna Canyon reaches parts of upper Foundation property; shrubs and trees burned or scorched (burn marks are still visible on the old oak at the base of Wild Flower Hill); plant stock lost or seriously singed. Subsequent rainy season saw significant flooding and debris flow along the road, as well as a resurgence of non-native plants, such as mustard and wild oats.
1983 First Wild Flower Hotline, a recorded phone message offering free weekly updates on where to find the best spring wild flowers. (Today’s hotline is available on-line and as a recorded message.)
1986 Poppy Day — now a spring tradition — first observed at TPF.
1989 Four new wildflower seed mixes created — Perennial, Mountain, Hummingbird and Butterfly — to augment our selection of vintage mixtures developed by Mr. Payne.
1991 TPF publishes the book Gardener’s Guide to California Wildflowers by Kevin Connelly. Shade structure erected in East Sales Yard, expanding space for retail nursery offerings.
1993 One hundred years ago, Theodore Payne arrived in Southern California.
1996 We’ve got e-mail.
1999 Website at www.theodorepayne.org matures to include plant library with photos. Inaugural Fall Festival — then and now, our biggest plant sale of the year.
2000 Plant of the Month program begins with special discount to members. First offering: Quercus lobata, Valley Oak
2002 Automatic irrigation installed in growing areas. (To this day, the sales yard is still watered by hand.)
2004 First Annual Theodore Payne Native Plant Garden Tour features 21 gardens in the Los Angeles area. Theodore Payne In His Own Words: A Voice for California Native Plants, co-published with Many Moons Press. Donation of native bulb collection from the estate of Fred Smith, a volunteer who created our bulb program in the 1990s. Dedication of the Fred Smith Bulb House for preservation, study and propagation of California geophytes.
2005 Education Program grows with expansion of classes, outreach to schools, and addition of full-time staff.
2006 Opening of Theodore Payne Gallery to house exhibitions of work focused on California flora and natural history. First posting of the TPF e-newsletter.
2007 Nursery growing area expands with construction of “4-inch Upper” and “1-gallon Upper” shade houses. Larger highly detailed placards created for the Sales Yard. Weekly nursery inventory posted on the website each Thursday.
2008 TPF receives a space for plant sales and outreach at the Sunday Hollywood Farmers’ Market.
2009 California Native Plant Library goes live on the website and includes more than 1000 entries with detailed horticultural information, plant guides, hundreds of images, and more.
2010 Theodore Payne Foundation celebrates its 50th anniversary. Nursery growing area expands with construction of two new terraces for 1-gallon plants.
2011 TPF receives $930,000 grant from the State of California for the construction of new nature education facilities.
2012 Inception of the TPF Local Source Initiative kicks off local conservation efforts.
2013 More than 250 active volunteers contribute nearly 4700 hours of service to the Foundation. TPF staff and volunteers participate in more than 100 local outreach events. Satellite Theodore Payne Nursery set up at the Los Angeles Arboretum & Botanic Garden in Arcadia. Bench-warming system installed to improve plant propagation.
2014 Launch of new TPF website. Landscaping for Resilience program begun.
2015 Introduction of TPF Garden Share Network, a horticulture program involving home gardeners in the evaluation of native species and cultivars.
2017 Completion of La Fetra Nature Education Center with private donations and grant from the State of California. Project includes two classrooms, a student orientation amphitheater, expanded parking and restrooms, improved traffic circulation, replanted demonstration gardens, and interpretive signage. Teacher training begun.
2018 The La Tuna Canyon and Creek fires threaten the Foundation and force two evacuations. Subsequent flooding and debris flows closed La Tuna Canyon Road numerous times. Long Live LA Seed Bank collections begin in partnership with public areas in Los Angeles County.