The other day I was looking at a reproduction of Claude Monet’s beautiful masterpiece, Banks of the Seine. His painting reminded me of something I often forget. Los Angeles has an outstanding selection of botanic gardens. Here are four worth a special trip.
Huntington Library, Art Collections and Botanical Gardens
1151 Oxford Road
San Marino, CA 91108
The Huntington’s gardens are a worthy compliment to its library and its gallery. The Huntington library includes the complete Guttenberg Bible on vellum, the Ellesmere manuscript of Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales and an unsurpassed assemblage of the early editions of Shakespeare’s works. Its art gallery contains Gainsborough’s Blue Boy and seminal works by Joshua Reynolds and John Constable.
The library and gallery buildings are surrounded by 120 acres of landscaped grounds that include fourteen different gardens (including a garden for children) and more that 14,000 varieties of plants.
In 1903 Henry Huntington, who owned one of America’s finest private book collections, purchased the grounds on which the Huntington is located. Henry was the nephew of Collis P. Huntington. Collis was one of the four men instrumental in creating the Central Pacific Railroad. The Central Pacific was one of the two railroad companies that built America’s first transcontinental railway. Collis was Henry’s mentor and one of the richest men in America.
Henry Huntington was a pioneer business force in Los Angeles and southern California. In addition to being a land developer he built and operated the Pacific Electric Railway (the Los Angeles “red cars”) that at one time was the world’s largest urban rail system.
Los Angeles County Arboretum and Botanic Garden
301 N Baldwin Ave
Arcadia, CA 91007
Often referred to simply as The Arboretum, its 127 acres of gardens surround a lake in which Johnny Weissmuller’s Tarzan fought crocodiles and on which cavalier peacocks ignore curious visitors.
After making a fortune in numerous business ventures and in the Comstock, Nevada silver mines Elias Jackson (“Lucky”) Baldwin moved to southern California in 1875 and bought the Rancho Santa Anita. While contributing to local and national gossip by being named as a defendant in a number of sensational lawsuits involving extramarital affairs, he also developed Santa Anita Race Track, established the city of Arcadia with the hope of making it Western America’s Monte Carlo and subdivided and sold a portion of the land he had bought with the comment, “Hell, we’re giving away the land. We’re selling the climate.”
On his remaining land, Baldwin converted an adobe into his own home and cultivated vineyards and an extensive garden. He built a fanciful, still existent Queen Ann-style guesthouse near his converted adobe house.
Lucky Baldwin’s guesthouse and gardens are now part of the Arboretum. Many movies and television shows have been shot here. Stars such as Bob Hope, Bing Crosby, Spencer Tracy, James Stewart, Humphrey Bogart, Ingrid Bergman, Cary Grant, John Wayne and Shirley Temple have all been on the grounds.
Taking advantage of the Arboretum’s idyllic setting, the Pasadena Symphony and POPS orchestra perform here once a month during the summer. Check the Arboretum’s calendar for times.
1418 Descanso Drive
La Cañada Flintridge, CA 91011
Within the 160-acre Descanso Gardens, North America’s largest camellia collection grows under the canopy of a 25-acre oak forest. While the camellias and the oak forest are the focus for any visit, the Rose Garden and the garden of California Natives are expansive and worth the additional walking.
Nestled on a hillside in the far southeast corner of the property is a 22-room mansion built in 1937 that serves as an interpretive center and showcases highlights from the history of the property. The mansion’s garage has been doubled in size and is now the site of the Sturt Haaga Gallery, which presents three exhibitions per year of contemporary artists’ works that responds to and elucidate nature, natural processes and communities.
The Descanso Gardens complement rather than compete with its neighbors, the Huntington and the Arboretum.
6100 Woodley Avenue
Van Nuys, CA 91406
The Journal of Japanese Gardening asked 41 Japanese Garden experts to identify the “highest quality public Japanese gardens located in North America.” Of the more than 300 gardens considered, the Japanese Garden in Van Nuys ranked 10th.
This six and a half acre garden landscapes the Donald C. Tillman Water Reclamation Plant. Experts tell me that the garden is accurate in every detail yet it is also compatible with the reclamation plant’s adjacent Administration Building.
A few of the many more noteworthy Los Angeles area gardens, especially if you happen to be in their area:
South Coast Botanic Garden
26300 Crenshaw Boulevard
Palos Verdes Peninsula, CA 90274
Developed on a sanitary landfill the garden is a public – private partnership and reflects the wealth that exists in the Palos Verdes area.
Exposition Park Rose Garden
701 State Drive
Los Angeles, CA 90037
A sunken, seven acre rose garden adjacent to the University of Southern California and the museums of Exposition Park.
James Irvine Japanese Garden
244 South San Pedro Street
Los Angeles, CA 90012
Downtown Los Angeles has many hidden gems but this is one of the best. This exquisite garden is located within the Japanese American Cultural & Community Center. Sign in at the information counter, take the elevator to the basement level, then exit the building and enter a world of color and wonder.
Antelope Valley California Poppy Reserve
15101 Lancaster Road
Lancaster, CA 93536
The Poppy Reserve is well worth a special trip. Unfortunately, the season just ended. The poppy field in bloom is an unforgettable experience. Calendar it for next year.
Jaak Treiman is author of A Diplomatic Guide to Los Angeles: Discovering its Sites and Character. He is also the Honorary Consul for Estonia and a member of the Los Angeles Consular Corps. This blog is written in his personal capacity for members of the Los Angeles Consular Corps and does not necessarily reflect the views of the Estonian government or foreign ministry or the views of the Los Angeles Consular Corps. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.