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Belle Sumner Angier Burn (1870-1948) Early Garden Journalist and Designer of San Diego and Los Angeles

March 17, 2020 12:18 PM | David Laws

By Nancy Carol Carter (March 17, 2020)

Belle Sumner Angier moved with her family from Illinois to a farm on the San Diego north coast in 1884. Her interest in botany was stimulated by visits to the endemic forest of Torrey pine trees near La Jolla. Encouraged by a distant family relative, Charles Sprague Sargent of Harvard’s Arnold Arboretum, Angier conducted the first inventory of the rare trees. She joined advocacy efforts resulting in ordinances extending protection to the endangered groves and wrote about San Diego’s Torrey pines in the Overland Monthly (June 1900).

Angier operated a downtown secretarial bureau and the Angier Agency, one of San Diego’s early advertising businesses. While still living and working in San Diego, she took charge in 1903 of “The House Beautiful—its Flower Garden and Grounds,” a new feature in the Los Angeles Times. San Diego gardens were included in her coverage. In 1904 she placed two articles in Floral Life (February and March 1904).

By 1905 Belle Sumner Angier was residing in Los Angeles and finishing The Garden Book of California (San Francisco: Paul Elder and Co., 1906). The work was well received and its expressive writing on gardens and the making of a California home is still quoted. Angier took a staff position with West Coast Magazine in 1907 and, at age 36, married artist and photographer Walter Lewis Burn. She wrote for House Beautiful and placed another article in the Overland Monthly (October 1916).

Advertising as Mrs. Walter Lewis Burn, she offered service as a “consulting landscape gardener.” Little is known of her landscape work beyond the elaborate gardens created in 1907 for the Hotel Virginia in Long Beach. (Mullio and Vollard, Long Beach Architecture. Santa Monica: Hennessey + Ingalls, 2004.) 

Angier reportedly worked on projects in the Central Valley as the railway expanded, but documentation has not been located. There also are mentions of a multivolume collaboration on California gardens by Angier and Burn, but the work is unrecorded in library records and may not have been published. Possibly, that collaboration was the more modest endeavor for which Burn is the photographer of record:  a presentation album created around 1910 for the Los Angeles architects Sumner Hunt and A. W. Eager.             

Note: The author is seeking a photograph of Belle Sumner Angier (Mrs. Walter Lewis Burn) and information on other landscape projects attributed to her, with the aim of more completely documenting the work of this relatively unknown early woman garden journalist and landscaper.  Information to:   

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