On a Sunday in April, we set out at 10am to catch some spring flowers in the city. By 4:30pm, we had visited 5 public gardens. The unexpected but welcomed result? A 100-year tour through Los Angeles history, from the late 1800’s when Spanish settlers arrived to the early 1970’s when fires devastated Griffith Park to the late 1990’s when the Interstate 405 gained an urban retreat!
If you are looking for a way to connect with nature and view flowers year-round without leaving the city, we recommend checking out these spectacular public gardens.
The Central Garden at the Getty Center
The Getty Center is an urban oasis set above Interstate 405, LA’s most congensted freeway. Boarding the tram from the parking area is like slipping into a parallel dimension, free from the traffic and stresses of modern day life. At the heart of the Getty Center, The Central Garden opened in 1997, offering a delightful experience for the senses and utilizing over 500 unique plant varieties. The 134,000-square-foot design was created by artist Robert Irwin, whose words “Always changing, never twice the same” are carved into the plaza floor, reminding visitors of the ever-changing nature of this living work of art.
Amir’s Garden in Griffith Park
After a major brush fire destroyed an area of Griffith Park in 1971, an Iranian immigrant named Amir Dialameh obtained approval from city officials to build “an attractive rest stop for hikers.” Amir spent the remaining 32 years of his life removing over 200 charred stumps and creating a 5-acre sanctuary, carrying plants and trees a half mile uphill, often 6 or 7 days a week.
Most of the garden is composed of flame retardant plants, which Amir hand-watered for 15 years. Modern sprinklers still only water 30% of the garden. Since Amir unexpectedly passed away in 2013, the garden has been lovingly maintained by volunteers.
When you visit the Garden, we recommend packing a picnic and letting yourself wander the maze-like trails to a shady spot where you can enjoy the view and sounds of nature as Amir intended.
I have fond childhood memories of visiting Descanso Gardens in La Cañada with my grandparents, who generously donated, along with over 12,000 devoted members, to preserve the public space for future generations. Though my grandparents have been gone for over a decade, I feel particularly close to them from the Bird Observation Station.
The 160-acre sanctuary originated in 1950, when entrepreneur Elias Manchester Boddy welcomed over 6,000 guests to view his prosperous camellia garden. When Boddy decided to retire in 1952, neighbors lobbied with the County of Los Angeles to keep the land intact for public enjoyment.
Today Descanso Gardens feature 9 stunning gardens, as well as the Enchanted Railroad, the historic Boddy House, the Sturt Haaga Gallery and Descanso Cafe. Bring the family, and enjoy!
The Huntington Library, Art Collections and Botanical Gardens
During our brief visit to the Huntington, we only scratched the surface. One could easily spend a full day exploring and still have more to see.
The seed for the Huntington was planted in 1903, when Henry Huntington purchased the San Marino Ranch, a working ranch with citrus groves, nut and fruit orchards, alfalfa crops, a small herd of cows, and poultry. Today, the 120-acre estate is home to 15,000 plant varieties and 12 gardens.
But there’s more! In addition to enjoying the gardens, you can visit the Library, which is one of the largest and most complete research libraries in the United States, as well as The Huntington Art Collection, currently living in the Huntington family’s former home. Come for the day and expect to return.
The LA County Arboretum
Three thousand years ago, today’s Los Angeles County Arboretum & Botanic Garden was known to early Spanish inhabitants as Aleupkigna, “the place of many waters.” In 1840, a settler named Hugo Reid became the first private owner of Rancho Santa Anita. When Elias Jackson “Lucky” Baldwin purchased the property in 1875, he acquired not only the natural lakes and marshes on the property, but water rights in both Big and Little Santa Anita Canyons. The property changed ownership many times until 1947, when the State of California and County of Los Angeles jointly purchase 111 acres.
Today, the 127-acre Arboretum features at least 10 gardens and landscapes, as well as a thriving flock of peafowl, who have been residents of the estate since the late 1800’s. Fun fact: Only the colorful male birds are called peacocks. Females are called peahens. The Library contains a comprehensive collection of resources on gardening, botany, California native plant life, environmental issues and agriculture. Spend a day exploring it all!