Descanso Garden
La Canada Flintridge, California
March 2008

It’s funny how some gardens can stay under your radar. I’ve been visiting and working in public gardens for more than 25 years and never visited Descanso. Whenever I was in the LA area, I’d visit the Huntington and the LA County Arboretum and feel like I’d seen everything worth seeing. I’d heard the name Descanso, even met people who worked there, but somehow nothing I heard inspired me to visit. Well this garden really needs to toot its own horn a little more loudly. It is really quite spectacular.

You enter into a beautiful walled courtyard bordered by a gift shop and cafe. It is a very inviting space with gardens and a water feature.

The center of the 160 acre garden is dominated by camellias, growing in the shade of huge old California live oaks.

Camellias are generally winter bloomers, so March is about the end of the flowering season, but many were still in full bloom. The diversity of the camellias on display came as quite a surprise to me. From compact, knee high shrubs to 25 foot trees, with flowers ranging from small to large in colors from yellows and whites to pinks and reds, it’s quite a display.

Most plants are well-labeled so gardeners can select varieties for their homes. There is also a ramada with large interpretive signs to provide more information about camellias and the camellia collection.

The other large plant collection is the International Rosarium, a 5-acre garden displaying more than 3,000 roses of all types, from climbers to shrubs and old and new varieties. Unfortunately, March is too early for roses and except for a few isolated blooms we had to content ourselves with reading the extremely informative signage and admiring the companion plants.

Even without flowers it was interesting to see the different growth forms and read about the various types of roses and their origins. I look forward to a trip back in the summer to see the roses in full bloom.

Next to the Rosarium is a large Iris garden. Again, March is the wrong season and we saw only a couple of isolated flowers but signs say the garden features 1500 varieties, so another reason to come back.

There is also a lilac garden, featuring more than 500 plants. Several lilac varieties have been developed at Descanso and are highlighted in the garden.

A small Japanese Garden with a tile-roofed teahouse and a red Shinto bridge sits in the middle of a forest.

In addition to these garden collections, there are several natural-feeling areas. The 10-acre California Garden is set in native California chaparral with meandering trails running through. A small lake has a bird observation station looking out over it.

The 22 room Boddy House Mansion was closed to the public during our visit but looks like a grand estate house.

We spent 4 hours and there’s enough to see that I am anxious to go back.

here to see more photos from Descanso Gardens.

To visit the official website of Descanso Gardens, click

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