Make a socially distanced day trip to this dreamy botanical garden in Corona del Mar

NEWPORT BEACH, CA - MAY 28: Landscape and ceramics designer Dustin Gimbel holds "pollen grain", part of his "Sculptura Botanica" art exhibition which explores and celebrates plants/plant structures through ceramic sculpture at Sherman Library and Gardens Thursday, May 28, 2020 in Newport Beach, CA. (Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)
Landscape designer and ceramist Dustin Gimbel holds a pollen grain created for his "Sculptura Botanica" exhibition at the Sherman Library & Gardens. (Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

If you’re looking for a good excuse to get outdoors and forget about the coronavirus this summer, artist Dustin Gimbel’s sculpture show “Sculptura Botanica” at the Sherman Library & Gardens in Corona del Mar is hard to beat.

“There’s nothing less stressful than going to a garden and looking at beautiful plants,” said Gimbel, a landscape designer and ceramist who created the works of art at his home studio in Long Beach. “For me, Sherman Gardens is a hidden gem, a jewel-box garden where there is something interesting for every gardener.”

With ceramic blue agave and euphorbia towering over the succulent garden, turquoise equisetum rising above a bed of artichokes, and the soothing sounds of a ceramics-filled bubbling lily pond, the intimate setting is a welcome dose of beauty and calm during troubling times.

“I think it is what we need right now,” Gimbel said. “It’s been such a crazy year.”

The garden is following strict COVID-19 protocols: All guests, with the exception of members, must purchase tickets beforehand, sanitize hands upon entering the gardens, maintain social distancing of at least six feet, and wear a face mask. On a recent visit, it was easy to explore the 2-acre gardens on wide brick paths without bumping into other visitors.

Sherman Library's director, Scott LaFleur, contacted Gimbel last year after seeing his sculptures in a garden he designed in Long Beach. After Gimbel consulted with the on-site horticulturists, LaFleur's request for 15 botanical-themed art installations blossomed to 176 sculptures or, as Gimbel noted, 700 segments of clay.

"Sculptura Botanica" at Sherman Library & Gardens
Pollen sculptures at Sherman Library & Gardens. (Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

Gimbel said he wanted to showcase plants that aren’t always appreciated, such as horsetail or grass. “We look at grass as a whole thing," he says. "But what if we looked at grass blade by blade? Lily anthers are another one. The way they are filled with pollen is interesting and beautiful”

He credits the exceptional mix of plants at Sherman Gardens — rare begonias, orchids, bromeliads and carnivorous plants — for inspiring his sculptures.

“It’s a gardening enthusiast’s backyard on steroids,” Gimbel says. “There is a staggering amount of variety. They pack in so many interesting plants. It’s a great place for visitors to get ideas for their own gardens.”

"Sculptura Botanica"
The sculptures at left are inspired by native sages. (Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

Worried that no one would see his show following Orange County's first stay-at-home order, Gimbel is happy his works can offer a reprieve for people quarantining at home.

“I hope my show inspires people to look at plants more closely the next time they are on a hike,” he said. “It’s magical that when you turn a fern over, you can see a different pattern. Interesting things can happen in the tiny world of a 10-inch fern.”

"Sculptura Botanica" continues through Sept. 15.
"Sculptura Botanica" continues through Sept. 15. (Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)