My birthday greeted me with warm sunshine and blue skies. The perfect day to wander through the vast and beautiful Descanso Gardens.
It’s been years since I last visited Descanso Gardens in La Cañada. What’s interesting about returning to this place is that since it is a museum of living collections, it’s constantly changing. The blooms on view change with the seasons and our recent wet weather caused changes of it’s own. Upon arrival I could immediately feel and smell spring. The temperature was warm but the breeze was cool and it carried the scent of flowers beginning to bloom. In spring Descanso boasts some of the most fragrant lilacs.
After paying my $9 entrance fee I headed left towards the Japanese garden.
I was two days ahead of the Cherry Blossom festival but the blooms were already bursting with color. I love how delicate they look. Almost like snow fallen on a branch. The tranquil setting is home to a koi pond with some of the largest fish I’ve seen. They must eat very well. There is also a working Japanese tea house that is only open during the summer months. Sadly the three times I’ve been here I’ve never seen it in operation. But the outdoor wooden tables are a great stopping place to enjoy the peaceful zen garden.
Continuing left I approach one of my favorite places in the gardens. The Ancient Forest. Imagine what Los Angeles looked like during the Jurassic and Cretaceous periods. Surrounded by giant redwoods and some of the largest ferns I’ve ever seen you truly feel transported back in time. Or at least in to some J.J. Abrams project.
Through the forest and up the hill you find the Boddy House. Without Mr. Boddy there would be no Descanso Gardens. Quick history lesson. The first Spanish governor of California deeded this land to Coporoal Verdugo in 1784 and it remained with his family until 1869. After changing hands a few times the property was purchased in 1937 by E. Manchester Boddy, owner of the LA Illustrated Daily News. He also purchased an additional 400+ acres to the north of the property which is the source of the mountain streams that provide the water for Descanso Gardens today. Over the years he and his wife worked the land adding new species of plants. Including 100,000 camellia plants from a friends Japanese nursery in San Gabriel. Rose and lilac collections from other horticulturist friends. He sold the property to LA County in 1953 and it’s been owned and operated by the city in partnership with the Descanso Gardens Guild ever since.
The Boddy house is an elegant two story mansion. You can enter the home and wander through most of the first floor. It has been restored to showcase it’s natural beauty with a contemporary take on it’s original glamour. The kitchen and butler’s pantry are to die for. All modern appliances, (I counted four sinks) with an incredible view of the gardens surround. The Boddy house is available for special events, weddings and filming.
Something that is brand new since my last visit. Is the transformed Boddy House garage. In 2011 it was turned into the Sturt Haaga art gallery with a focus on nature related exhibits. The current exhibition is titled Farewell Eden and explores the effects and side effects of human enterprise on the earth’s future. A little dark, but definitely had some meaningful pieces on display. I love the simplicity in Elizabeth Saveri’s California Landscape series. Where she depicts California landscapes and palm trees on plastic bag tags. I especially enjoyed those that had the expiration date still view-able.
If you’re up for a bit of a climb, head behind the gallery towards the vertical garden wall and ascend the rock pathway. It leads to a rooftop garden and gives you a gorgeous hilltop view of the Boddy House. Continuing upwards you’ll reach Hope’s Garden. An olive grove set high on the hill. Climbing down the same way I came. I ventured down to the Camellia forest. I had camellia trees at my last house and I miss those big robust blooms. Descanso is home to the largest camellia collection in north america.
Descanso in Spanish means “place of rest.” Which is probably why there are so many benches scattered throughout the park. They welcome you to take a moment just to sit and enjoy all the beauty around you. Plus with all that walking, you may need a rest every now and then. I sat for moment near the main lawn to marvel at the giant twisted branches.
Now for the star of the spring show, the tulips. There are more colors and varieties on display then I could ever dream up. I basically filled my camera with image after image of colorful tulips. But can you blame me? Look at these beauties.
The rose garden is usually bursting with a gorgeous assortment. But I think my visit came a bit too early in the season. The few roses that were on display were very pretty. But the canopies usually teeming with vines were only just starting to bloom. Everything will be better enjoyed in another month or two.
Above the rose garden is a large lake and bird observation deck. Take a stroll around the outer edge to enjoy it from all sides. I saw the cutest pair of ducks (one male, one female) grooming each other along the shore before happily swimming out to the center.
Wandering back to the entrance I paused at the Nature’s Table garden to see what edibles were growing. It made me anxious to get back to my own seedlings at home and check on their progress. It also made me realize just how hungry I’ve grown with all this walking. Luckily Descanso has an on site cafe run by the Patina Group. They offer pastries, salads, sandwiches, coffee and tea, even wine and beer. Check out the menu here.
There is also an adorable gift shop packed to the rafters with goodies. Everything from flower and vegetable seeds, gardend themed tchotchkes, kids crafts, jams and other treats. They also sell full size plants on the adjoining outdoor patio. So if you fell in love with that pink azalea bush, you can take one home for your own garden.
I completely recommend traveling up to Descanso Gardens. Grab a map, but don’t use it. Just wander through the beauty of nature and forget that the hustle and bustle of Los Angeles is just beyond the trees.
For hours, current exhibitions, upcoming festivals and more visit DescansoGardens.org