The Huntington Botanical Gardens

Designers: Henry E. Huntington, William Hertrich | City: San Marino, CA | Project Type: botanical gardens
Date Visited: 12.08.12

Locations: 1151 Oxford Road San Marino, CA 91108
Size: 207 acres
Official Opening Date: 1928 (to public)


The Huntington is a private, non-profit institution that brands itself as one of the world’s great cultural, research, and educational centers. Founded in 1919 by Henry E. Huntington, the Huntington became the culmination of his search to amass the largest and finest collections of books, art, and botanical plants from around the globe.

The Huntington Botanical Gardens that have become a result of Huntington’s efforts are an “ever-changing exhibition of color and a constant delight” that cover over 120 acres and feature over a dozen of individually designed gardens. More than 14,000 different varieties of plants are on display in the gardens and forty gardeners, a curatorial staff of seven, and more than 100 volunteers maintain these botanical collections. These gardens are a gem and my visit here definitely top the list not only for the best gardens I have ever visited, but ranks as my most memorable Los Angeles experience as well.

Though The Huntington features a library and famous rotating art collections, I have to admit that in the four-and-a-half hours that I was there, I spent nearly all of that time outside in the botanical gardens. I started my visit with a free guided garden tour and was incredibly fortunate to have had an exceptionally knowledgeable docent–the tour, which normally lasts an hour, ended up being two and a half hours long and worth every minute of it.

The most popular and striking of the many Huntington Gardens is the Desert Garden, one of the world’s largest and oldest collections of cacti, succulents and other desert plants collected from regions around the world, which is also where we began our tour. Since the visiting group I joined were more knowledgeable about plants than most–several horticulturists were on the tour–the docent took the opportunity to make the tour much more educational, rather than a show-and-tell. As he led us through the various gardens, from the Desert Garden to the Rose Garden and finally to the Japanese and Chinese gardens, he would take pause to explain the evolutionary backgrounds of certain plants, such as those behind windowed succulents and the process for girdling bonsai.

California sunlight looks particularly stunning during the winter months, hanging low in the sky and bathing the gardens for hours in light honeyed hue more closely resembling morning daybreak. Every garden experience was wonderfully textured, from descending into the peaceful and precisely laid out Japanese gardens to smelling the multicolored roses in the award-winning rose gardens.

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