Garden Field Trip: Descanso Gardens, Los Angeles
January 3rd, 2010
Camellias are oh-so-beautiful, delicate and almost porcelain-like in their perfection.
On the day after Christmas, my parents and I visited Los Angeles’s most established camellia collection at Descanso Gardens.
The mature camellia shrubs (many of which are tree-like in their proportions) are protected from Southern California’s harsh heat and sunlight because they’re planted in the understory of even more mature sycamore and live oak trees. They are happiest in the cooler months of the year.
Here, you really do feel like the paths lead through an established woodland. It’s actually an urban woodland, just off of the junction of two freeways. But that’s LA for you.
When we moved to Los Angeles in August, 2006, we got off the plane at Burbank Airport and while waiting for luggage, I noticed a huge DESCANSO GARDENS billboard above the luggage claim area. I remember thinking, “what kind of garden could exist among all this concrete?”
Later, I was lucky enough to visit. Descanso Gardens is a 160-acre natural woodland and botanical garden located just north of Burbank in a community called La Canada-Flintridge. It’s about a one-hour drive east of where I live in Thousand Oaks and about 20 minutes west of Pasadena. If you plan a visit to the Huntington Botanical Garden, you can easily add a side trip to Descanso.
I was invited to give a talk at Descanso a few summers ago and was blown away by its immense scale, as urban gardens go. But until last week, I had never visited during the winter Camellia season.
Descanso’s founder, E. Manchester Boddy, publisher and owner of the Los Angeles Daily News, preserved the land (gardens, woodland and chaparral) to share Southern California’s natural beauty with future generations. This is where he lived, building a home in 1938 with views of the San Gabriel mountains. The Boddy family left the house in 1953 when they sold Descanso to Los Angeles County.
About the Camellia Forest:
Here are some more of the flowers and garden features that we enjoyed on our winter visit. I especially love the glossy red container plantings of Camellia sasanqua ‘Setsugekka’ because they remind me of the same ones growing in my former Seattle garden, espaliered against the fence for a beautiful winter floral display.