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.

Designing for a Low Maintenance Garden, Part 2

Low water, low maintenance garden in West Los Angeles

Last month I talked about the importance of knowing your yard or landscape site really well and making choices to get the best use out of the space you have. In landscape design, we hear the term Right Plant, Right Place a lot. You can spend an awful lot of time, money and water on a design that will never look the way you envision if the plants you pick are not the right choice for your climate, or even that particular spot in your yard.

The following checklist should help you to focus in on things you can do while planning that will make your landscape easy to care for. And if you’d like to consult with a professional, contact me or someone in your neighborhood. The Association of Professional Landscape Designers (APLD) has a great search function on their website for this. Good luck!

Right Plant, Right Place Action Checklist:

  • Determine how much open lawn area is ideal for children, pets, and recreation. Where possible, use low-maintenance groundcovers, shrubs, mulch, or other porous surfaces that allow water to infiltrate. By letting rain sink into the ground, you’re cutting down on the amount of water your plants need from irrigation. And porous surfaces are substantially cooler than concrete or artificial turf.
  • Be flexible in your plant choices. There is usually a way to have what you want. For instance, if you have shade but love roses, perhaps you can have some in pots on a sunny patio. A successful planting design will suit the environment your home and landscape offer.
  • Design and maintain a yard that thrives predominantly on rainfall once plants are established. Use the stormwater approach to landscaping so that you can keep more rainfall on your property instead of sending it to the storm drains.
  • Reduce the need for water, fertilizer, and pesticides by choosing plants suited to the site conditions in your yard.
  • Group plants according to their water needs, or hydrozones.
  • Reduce later work by choosing plants that will not require frequent pruning when they reach maturity.
  • Decrease soil erosion by planting groundcovers where lawn will not grow well, such as under trees or on steep slopes.
  • Save energy by using trees and shrubs to shade the eastern and western walls of your home. Use deciduous trees or shrubs on southern exposures to allow sun to passively heat your home in winter.

Many of the maintenance needs of a garden are determined by the design. A good design will flourish over many years and require cleanup and pruning only once or twice a year. After the first two years, you will rarely need to water your yard while still having flowers, butterflies and hummingbirds.

Designing For a Low Maintenance Garden, Part 1

Lantana and calandrinia in a low-maintenance yard

Right Plant, Right Place

Good landscape design hinges on one basic concept—the right plant in the right place. It is tempting to run to the garden center the moment the gardening bug hits in the spring, but taking the time for planning and site evaluation will save time, money and frustration later.

Plan for your yard use

Take the time to map out your yard based on who uses it and how you use it. Do you have pets and/or children? Do you entertain in your backyard? Grow vegetables? Play soccer? Make a list of all of the things you use your yard for, or want to use your yard for. Think about how areas could serve more than one purpose.

Get to know your site

Soil types, temperature ranges and rainfall patterns differ dramatically from region to region in California. It’s important to remember that a plant that thrives in a friend’s yard on the coast may freeze in your yard just a few miles inland. Different conditions often exist even in the same yard. The front yard may be high and dry, while the backyard may be poorly drained and soggy.

How much sun does your yard get? Are there shady spots? Where does the sun rise and set? These are just a few of the questions you should ask yourself when doing a site analysis. A landscape professional spends a great deal of time on a site plan before beginning a design to make sure the design is suited to the space it is in.

Many of the maintenance needs of a garden are determined by the design. A good design will flourish over many years and require cleanup and pruning only once or twice a year. After the first two years, you will rarely need to water your yard while still having flowers, butterflies and hummingbirds.

Part 2 will include a checklist to help you attain a beautiful, low-maintenance garden!