Inspiration Station: Visit a Garden

Meyerburg Waterfall at the Los Angeles Arboretum

In late summer, it may feel too hot to be working in the garden any time but the early morning hours, but that doesn’t mean that you can’t work on improving your landscape in some manner. There are dozens of gardens and arboretums open to the public in the Los Angeles County and surrounding areas. Take a day or two to tour and get new ideas for your own garden. Public gardens are a great way to see what kind of plants and hardscape does well in your climate and what different plants look like in different seasons. And research shows getting outside around nature is good for you. It lowers blood pressure and stress and helps symptoms of ADD, so get out there!

I’ve picked out some of my favorite gardens below, in a rough large-to-small order. The first three have enough to see and do for a full day.

Oak Forest at Descanso Gardens
The Oak Forest at Descanso Gardens. Photo courtesy of Descanso Gardens.

Descanso Gardens – La Cañada Flintridge

This 150-acre botanic garden emphasizes naturalistic landscapes. The plants and trees are less groomed than in many public gardens, which gives it a wild feel. There are acres of huge oak trees, oak woodland and California native plants. When they are blooming the camellia garden, rose garden and cherry blossom trees are fabulous. There’s also an interesting edible garden that experiments with mixing food plants in with ornamental plants, and a Japanese garden. The website has a page telling you what is currently blooming on site.

Meyerburg Waterfall at the Los Angeles Arboretum
Meyerburg Waterfall at the Los Angeles Arboretum. Photo courtesy

Los Angeles County Arboretum and Botanic Garden – Arcadia

Plan at least 3 hours to see The Arboretum, and that’s at a fast pace. The Arboretum is 127 acres of rare and endangered plant collections, Southern California history and peacocks that lurk everywhere. There are water conservation gardens, an aquatic garden and a lake, a greenhouse with several thousand orchids, original houses and a train depot. My favorite area is the Madagascar Spiny Forest, housing some of the most endangered plants on the planet. The Arboretum also hosts concerts and educational events, and just started a forest bathing program.

Huntington Japanese Garden
The Japanese Garden at the Huntington. Photo by

Huntington Library, Art Collections & Botanical Gardens – San Marino

I often wish they sold weekend passes to The Huntington, as I need at least two days to see everything! The original site of Henry Huntington’s ranch in the early 20thcentury, The Huntington today is home to 15,000 plant species, several art galleries and one of the largest research libraries in the United States. The gardens include the well-loved Japanese garden, a newer Chinese garden, an enormous Desert garden with over 2,000 species of cacti and more than I can list. Start early and plan your routes to fit in as much as possible!

South Coast Botanic Garden
South Coast Botanic Garden. Photo by

South Coast Botanic Garden – Palos Verdes Peninsula

An incredible example of land reclamation and environmental improvement, the South Coast Botanic Garden was built on top of a sanitary landfill in 1961. The 87-acre garden is home to Mediterranean, Japanese and California gardens. Specialties include a Dahlia garden, blooming from mid-summer to late fall, a Fuchsia garden and a Garden of the Senses filled with plants to touch and smell.

Rancho Santa Ana Botanic Garden
Rancho Santa Ana Botanic Garden. Photo by

Rancho Santa Ana Botanic Garden – Claremont

This 86-acre garden is the largest in the world dedicated to California plants. The garden is organized into plant communities like desert, yellow pine forest and chaparral. There are large palm tree and oak groves.

LA Zoo and Botanical Gardens
LA Zoo and Botanical Gardens

Los Angeles Zoo and Botanic Gardens – Los Angeles

Who knew the zoo was also a botanical garden? LA Zoo achieved botanical garden status in 2003 and organizes its 800 species of plants geographically, so you get to see animals in something close to their native physical environment.

Getty Center Central Garden
Getty Center Central Garden. Photo by

Getty Center – Los Angeles

Artist Robert Irwin designed the Central Garden that winds through a shady ravine into an intricately planted central courtyard. Walking the garden takes the visitor on a journey of sight, sound and scent. There are also several smaller gardens and fountains at the Getty.

Japanese Garden in Van Nuys
Japanese Garden in Van Nuys. Wikipedia photo.

The Japanese Garden – Van Nuys

Also known as Suiho-En or “Garden of Water and Fragrance,” this 6.5 acres Japanese garden has a dry Zen garden, a wet strolling garden and a teahouse. The garden was designed to use reclaimed water from the adjacent Tillman Reclamation Plant and is a quiet green nook right at the 101/405 freeway interchange. A four-season garden, there is always something to see at Suiho-En.

Santa Clarita Water Conservation Garden
Santa Clarita Water Conservation Garden

Santa Clarita Water Conservation Garden – Santa Clarita

Located on the hill behind Central Park, the Demonstration Garden is filled with low water plants and grasses. Instructional signage and free gardening classes help people successfully move toward a water-conserving garden.

Arlington Garden
Arlington Garden. Photo by

Arlington Garden – Pasadena

Arlington Garden is the only public garden in Pasadena. It’s built on three acres of Caltrans land and is filled with California natives and Mediterranean plants, birds and butterflies. It’s run by volunteers and is a great example of taking a patch of unused dirt and turning into something beautiful for the community.

Meditation Garden at Self Realization Fellowship
Meditation Garden at Self Realization Fellowship. Photo by lake

Self Realization Fellowship Lake Shrine – Pacific Palisades

Enjoy the natural spring-fed lake, waterfalls, fern grottos and peaceful atmosphere at the Self Realization Fellowship just a few miles from the beach.

Earl Burns Miller Japanese Garden at Cal State Long Beach
Earl Burns Miller Japanese Garden at Cal State Long Beach. Photo by

Earl Burns Miller Japanese Garden – Long Beach

A small, beautifully designed Japanese garden on the campus of Cal State Long Beach.

Caring for your garden in extreme heat

Thermometer reading 100 degrees

Plants aren’t that different from the rest of us in many respects. When it is very hot outside, we need shade, sun protection and hydration, and so do our gardens. Plants carry some tools with them to deal with sun, heat and wind. Many develop light or grayish leaves or fuzzy leaves that act as sunscreen. Some rotate their leaves away from the sun all day like little anti-solar panels. Some just go dormant in summer, a plant’s version of hibernation. But when temperatures climb to 100 degrees and above, most plants appreciate some extra assistance. There are several things you can do to help your plants withstand the weather.

Apply mulch

Deep mulch in the garden

Bark chips, grass clippings and old leaves are all great for helping soil retain moisture. Mulch also creates shade, which keeps the soil cooler. If you use old grass clippings or even straw, the light color will even help to reflect sunlight.  Mulch also helps protect soil from wind seeking to dry it out. Use a two to three inch layer for best results.  Use mulch made out of biodegradable materials that will decay over time and feed the soil. If you use rocks as a ground cover, don’t add mulch to this. You are already helping your plants. Even rocks provide shade and help to keep moisture in the soil.

Be careful to keep the mulch away from the immediate area of the plant’s stems or tree trunks. Mulch is so good at retaining moisture that if it’s too close to the plant it may contribute to fungus or root rot. And just pour the mulch on top and rake it – don’t mix it into the soil or it will pull nitrogen (nutrients) out of the soil as it decays.

Set up a shade structure

Build shade structures for stressed plants

Shade cloth or row cloth is often seen in vegetable gardens, but I also use it for ornamental plants, particularly when the planting is less than a year old. I build tiny shade structures out of a sheet of 30% shade cloth, dowels and garden ties or staples, although I’m sure there are many ways to do this. It helps to position the cloth to the south or west side of the plant or directly above it. Make sure you’re giving the plant room to breathe, and don’t forget to remove the shade cloth when the heat wave is over.

Water early and deeply

Water as early in the day as possible, particularly if you have sprinklers since most sprinkler water is lost to wind and evaporation during hot times of the day. Additionally, watering leaves when the sun is directly overhead can cause leaf scald. Watering too late in the day is deadly for many plants. For low-water plants that are adapted to dry summers, sitting in warm soil and being damp at sunset and into the evening is a recipe for fungal infections that can lead to root rot or sudden death.

Hose watering tree

Using drip irrigation or soaker hoses (or just a hose laid on the ground) gives you a lot more flexibility. Leaves don’t get wet and if positioned correctly, the plant itself will not get as wet so watering during the day or early evening is not as harmful.

How much water to give your plants during a heat wave depends on the type of plant and how long the plant has been in the ground. If I have designed your garden, you have low water plants that will not appreciate being deluged during a heat wave any more than they would at any other time. What they will appreciate is an extra long, slow watering or two during the week. Drip irrigation, soaker hoses or just a trickling hose set next to plants are the best ways to deliver extra water.

Plants that have been in the ground less than two years are still developing a strong, deep root structure. The heat drying out the top few inches of the soil has a bigger impact on them. Take extra care to keep that top layer from drying out into an impenetrable brick. Only you know how quickly your soil dries out, but maybe increase to watering three times a week during very hot or dry weather. Young trees should get two to four inches of water per week once temperatures hit 100 degrees. Again, a trickling hose or soaker hose is best for this supplemental water.

Prepare when you can

After two years when plants are well established and their roots are deep, you should be able to water deeply one additional time per week when it’s really hot and/or dry. Many of you only water monthly in the summer, so just do one deep watering a week in extreme heat.

If you’ve done the work to water deeply and infrequently the prior two years you have helped your plants to set up deep, extensive root structures and are set up for success, so pay attention to your soil as you are establishing your garden. It will pay off later.

Plant with wilting leavesWhat about wilting leaves? Garden author and TV/radio personality Nan Sterman offers a great tip to help gauge how stressed your plants are in the heat by when their leaves wilt. She says “if they look droopy at the end of the day, don’t worry. If they look droopy first thing in the morning, worry.” Read the full article.