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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
Enjoy the natural spring-fed lake, waterfalls, fern grottos and peaceful atmosphere at the Self Realization Fellowship just a few miles from the beach.
A small, beautifully designed Japanese garden on the campus of Cal State Long Beach.