SoCal’s most glorious gardens

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Spring is sprung… buds are budding and flowers are blooming. Some of the most beautiful gardens in the world are in Southern California.

The recent rains should make SoCal’s public gardens lush and abundant.

Spring is the perfect time to embrace nature and tiptoe through the tulips (and daffodils, too.) Remember, the flowers and plants are to be enjoyed by everyone, not to be picked or cut by visitors.

Descanso Gardens

1418 Descanso Drive, La Cañada Flintridge Open daily except Dec. 25. Hours: 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Free parking. Admission: General $9; Seniors 65 and over/Students with ID $6; Children (5 to 12 years) $4. Descanso members and children under 5 are free.  Info: www.descansogardens.org.

Tulips

Thousands, yes, thousands of tulips are ready to burst to colorful life at Descanso Gardens. Every year nearly 20,000 tulips are planted at Descanso Gardens so visitors can marvel at the spectacular blooms as they arrive in waves during the early spring. Yellow, red, orange, purple, pink and every shade in between will be represented as photographers gather to immortalize the amazing display.

Flowering Trees

Check on the status of your favorite flowering trees, including the magnificent cherry blossoms, by using this “bloom tracker” www.descansogardens.org/visit/blooming-trees.

Wander Freely

Descanso Gardens encourages visitors to wander through the lush gardens. Feel free to step off the paths and find the hidden places and secret spaces that exist. Find a quiet bench next to the soothing sounds of a small street, or a quiet pond, and let nature restore balance and calm to your life.

What to see

Among the beautiful blooms on display this spring will be camellias, magnolias, cherry trees, daffodils, tulips, irises and more.

The Japanese-style garden is one of my favorite places. The garden blends design elements from four classic garden styles. Cross an arched bridge and walk on shaded paths along a koi-filled stream to the teahouse, designed by architect Whitney Smith and built in 1966. The plants in this garden are all native to Asia and include camellias, azaleas, mondo grass and Japanese maples.

Descanso Gardens is home to North America’s largest camellia collection with both rare and familiar camellias. It is a camellia lover’s paradise. Newspaper publisher E. Manchester Boddy planted thousands of camellia plants in the 1930s and 1940’s to provide blooms for the cut-flower industry. After Boddy retired his estate was sold to the County of Los Angeles to become the Descanso Gardens we know today.

The best part of Descanso are the numerous trails that wind through the giants of the Descanso landscape, the Coast live oaks. The trees, some centuries old, are the remainder of a forest that once blanketed the region.

Be sure to find the Ancient Forest, the newest plant collection of cycads in Descanso Gardens.

Opened in 2015, the collection includes more than 180 plants representing 60 varieties including several endangered species. Virtually unchanged in form since the days of the dinosaurs, cycads provide a glimpse of the earliest types of flora on Earth.

The Huntington

1151 Oxford Road, San Marino, 91108. Info: www.huntington.org. Open: 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Closed Tuesdays. Admission: There are two price points at The Huntington, weekday rates and weekend/holiday rates. Adults: $$25/$29; Senior (65+) and student with ID: $21/$24; Youth (4-11) $13; Child (under 4) free. Free parking.

The Huntington is part library, part art collection and part botanical gardens. In the spring, the garden is where you want to direct your attention. Be sure to wear comfortable shoes, there is a lot of walking in this garden.

What to see

The Huntington Botanical Gardens encompasses approximately 120 acres with 16 themed garden areas and some 15,000 different varieties of plants.

My favorite spot in the gardens is the bamboo garden located on the way to the desert garden. There is something just powerfully beautiful about this stand of bamboo, how tall and straight the plants stand, that fills me with awe.

Other garden highlights

Orchid Collection: With more than 10,000 orchid plants, this is one of the largest orchid collections in the United States. The collection contains more than 3,600 unique varieties. The orchids and other tropical plants are maintained in three greenhouses and one public conservatory with more than 26,000 square feet of space.

Bonsai Collection: Visitors to the Bonsai collection are treated to an ever-changing display of one of the largest and finest public masterpiece bonsai collections in the United States. Started in 1968 with personal trees donated by the late Bob Watson, the bonsai holdings now number in the hundreds, representing many different species, styles and sizes, from centuries-old twisted junipers to majestic pines, stately elm forests, and more. Some bonsai in the Huntington collections are estimated to be more than 1,000 years old.

History

In 1903 Henry E. Huntington purchased the San Marino Ranch, a working ranch about 12 miles from downtown Los Angeles with citrus groves, nut and fruit orchards, alfalfa crops, a small herd of cows and poultry. His superintendent, William Hertrich, was instrumental in developing the various plant collections that comprise the foundation of The Huntington’s botanical gardens.

Chinse Garden

The final phase of construction is underway at The Huntington for its renowned Chinese Garden, known by the poetic name the Garden of Flowing Fragrance. The new features will increase the garden’s footprint from the initial 3.5 acres to 12 acres, making it one of the largest classical-style Chinese gardens in the world. Inspired by the centuries-old Chinese tradition of private scholars’ gardens, the garden opened in 2008 with eight tile-roofed pavilions situated around a one-acre lake. In 2014, two new pavilions and a rock grotto were added. The garden will remain open to visitors during construction, with the new sections anticipated to open in February 2020.

Los Angeles County Arboretum and Botanic Garden

301 North Baldwin Ave, Arcadia, 91007. Info: www.arboretum.org. Open daily 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Closed Dec. 25. Admission: Adults: $9; Students with ID and Seniors age 62 and older: $6; Children 5-12: $4 and children under 5, free. Parking is free.

A stroll through the Arboretum will take you through a variety of gardens and landscapes that you might not expect to see in Southern California. It is uniquely beautiful and offers a chance for children to run along the trails and explore and adults to savor the serenity of the plants, lake, peacocks and the natural beauty.

History

Encompassing 127 acres, the Arboretum is located on a remaining portion of the Rancho Santa Anita, one of the original Mexican land grants in Southern California.

In 1947, with urging from Dr. Samuel Ayres’ Arboretum Committee of the Southern California Horticultural Institute, the state of California and the county of Los Angeles jointly purchased 111 acres from Los Angeles Times publisher Harry Chandler’s Rancho Santa Anita, Inc. to create an arboretum. Additional acreage was purchased in 1949.

What to see

Magnolias: Among the Arboretum’s most spectacular late winter/early spring features, more than 60 magnolia cultivars reach peak bloom in March.

Plumerias: More than 70 fragrant, brilliantly colored plumerias, popularly associated with tropical vacations, are found in this collection on Tallac Knoll.

Canary Islands collection: Iconic dragon trees and aeoniums highlight this collection of outstanding garden plants originating from this small island group off the northwest coast of Africa.

Tropical Greenhouse. Treasures from the Arboretum’s tropical plant collections, which include several thousand orchids, can be found in this lush greenhouse display.

Aquatic Garden: A serene landscape of gentle pools, water lilies and shaded benches, the Aquatic Garden sits at the picturesque summit of Tallac Knoll, with the Meyberg Waterfall below.

Peacocks. Peacocks were introduced to the area in the 1800s. They thrived and now can be found throughout the Arboretum grounds.

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