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History of Hortense


The Life of an Extraordinary Woman

“Plants are better than animals; animals are better than people; and women are as good as men.” - Hortense Miller


First-time visitors to the Hortense Miller home and garden are typically first taken by the beauty of the property’s natural landscape, the stories about Hortense’s vision for her vast, wandering garden, and the striking Modern Mid-Century home she designed along with her husband Oscar and architect Knowlton Fernald. However, they soon learn the story of what an extraordinary woman – an early feminist - Hortense really was: teacher, author, gardener, craftsperson, artist, avid reader, lifelong learner, lover of science and astute observer of nature. . .and so much more. Come visit and fall in love with Hortense Miller, her home and her garden.

The Legacy of Hortense



Hortense Mann is born on September 9 in St. Louis, Missouri, to parents Manly W. Mann and Anna Selma Maull Mann. She had one older sister, Dorothy.


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Her teaching and traveling continue, and on a riverboat trip down the Mississippi, Hortense meets Oscar Miller, a prosperous, older attorney from Chicago.



Oscar closes his law practice and retires. He and Hortense begin traveling, looking for a new place to call home, somewhere where she could finally grow her beloved bougainvillea.



Oscar and Hortense move into their new home. Oscar dies shortly afterwards. Hortense begins to lay out and build her garden, working in it daily. She lives alone in the house until 2005.



Hortense donates her home and property to the City of Laguna Beach. The Friends of Hortense Miller was formed to maintain the property.  In 1977 The Friends of the Hortense Miller Garden, Inc. is formed to help look after the home and garden.





Graduates from Harris Teachers College with a degree in science and history. When she begins teaching, she emphasizes the importance of science to her students. Frequently visits the nearby Missouri Botanical Gardens, now a National Historic Landmark and center for botanical research.

During the 1930's, Hortense lives with her parents, teaches school and begins to travel throughout the United States.



Hortense and Oscar marry and settle in Chicago. She studies drawing and painting at the Art Institute of Chicago. The newly-wed couple travel the world, visiting gardens in Europe, South America and Mexico.



After looking at several properties, in 1957 the Millers purchase a 2.5 acres on a steeply sloped property in North Laguna and retain Newport Beach architect Knowlton Fernald.



Hortense spends time traveling with her sister. Her garden continues grow and flourish along with her reputation as a feisty environmentalist. As she welcomes more and more people to her home, the press takes note and in 1969 her home is featured on the cover of Sunset magazine.



After surviving the major Boat Canyon fire in 1979, the house and garden survive a even more devastating citywide Laguna Beach fire that destroyed 550 homes, although large portions of the lower and dry garden are destroyed.

Hortense dies on August 7 at the age of 99, one month short of her 100th birthday.

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