If you have time for only one stop in the Pasadena area, it should be The Huntington, built in the early 1900’s as the home of railroad tycoon Henry E. Huntington. Henry and his wife, Arabella, insatiably collected rare books and manuscripts, botanical specimens, and 18th-century British art. The institution they established back then has become one of the most extraordinary cultural complexes in the entire world. The Huntington Library is the veritable jewel in Pasadena’s crown. The 207-acre hilltop estate’s vast botanical gardens feature more than 14,000 different species of plants that draw locals, Californians, tourists and internationals to it. There’s also an exotic Desert Garden, intriguing Jungle Garden, Bing Children’s Garden (designed specifically for kids ages 2-7), and the glass-and-steel Conservatory for Botanical Science where visitors learn some of the fundamentals of botany via state-of-the-art science stations. Although the library and art collections are increasingly impressive here, definitely don’t resist being lured outside into the stunning Botanical Gardens (HBG). From the main buildings, the lawns and towering trees stretch out toward specialty areas. The ten-acre Desert Garden, for instance, has one of the world’s largest groups of mature cacti and other succulents, arranged by continent! There are collections of Azaleas and 1,500 varieties of Camellias. The nine-acre Japanese Garden comes complete with a traditional open-air Japanese house, Koi-filled stream, and serene Zen garden. In the Japanese Garden, an arched bridge curves over a pond and the area also has stone ornaments, a bonsai court, and a Zen rock garden. There are also herb, palm, and jungle gardens, plus the Shakespeare Garden, which blooms with plants mentioned in Shakespeare’s works. Over 40 gardeners, a curatorial staff of seven, and more than 100 volunteers maintain these botanical collections, plus provide interpretive programs for visitors and disseminate plants for special sales. The Rose Hills Foundation Conservatory for Botanical Science, a massive greenhouse-style center with dozens of kid-friendly, hands-on exhibits illustrates plant diversity in various environments. A 1?-hour guided tour of the botanical gardens is available to visitors and led by docents at posted times, and a free brochure with map and highlights is available in the entrance pavilion. If you forego the guided tour option, be sure you have the following Top Ten Visitor Favorites List with you as an adjunct to any touring info you receive upon entry. Use it as a handy, two-page “to-see list” of sorts during your tour!
1. English High Tea in the Rose Garden
The three-acre rose garden is displayed chronologically, so the development leading to modern varieties of roses can be observed; on the grounds is the charming Rose Garden Tea Room, where traditional afternoon tea is served. (Reservations required for English tea, call at least two weeks in advance.) Do tailor your visit to include this popular attraction and call ahead for serving times. The tearoom offers delectable finger sandwiches and desserts, served buffet-style, so it’s a bargain, even for hearty appetites (museum admission is a separate required cost).
2. Bing Children’s Garden
The new Bing Children’s Garden is a tiny tot’s wonderland filled with opportunities for children to explore the ancient elements of earth, air, water and fire. The Garden centers on the four ancient elements as they are the raw elements that fuel the plant world and, through plant growth, give rise to the oxygen, food, resources, and habitats that sustain human life. Youngsters can walk through mist in the Rainbow Room, crawl through a tunnel to view a colorful prism of light, and feel the effects of sound waves moving through water in a sonic pool. Plants such as topiary animals, Weeping Mulberry trees, Papyrus, and tree aloes create a whimsical atmosphere. Parents and grandparents can watch their children from shaded benches in the garden’s center or from a comfortable overlook platform, complete with a rocking chair.
3. Chinese Garden
The latest addition, this is a 12-acre Chinese Garden, the largest classical garden outside mainland China and one of the largest of the Huntington’s 14 specialized gardens. Highlights include a lake, teahouse, pavilions, and bridges within a landscape of plants native to China. A classical Chinese Garde, “Liu Fang Yuan” (or Garden of Flowing Fragrance) it opened in spring 2008. Work on the Garden continues through today.
4. Jungle Garden
This garden features a high forest canopy, an understory of trees and shrubs, climbing vines, and leaves of giant proportion. Plants commonly associated with the tropics grow here, including orchids, bromeliads, gingers, ferns, palms, bamboos, and many members of the Calla Lily family, such as Philodendrons. Among the Bromeliads growing in the garden is Hohenbergia stellata, which blooms for months. Look for Lianas, large woody vines that hang from trees. One of these is the chestnut vine, native to Laos. The fruit and flower clusters of the solitary fishtail palm can grow ten feet long. Giant-leafed elephant ear plants grow near the waterfall and at the bottom of the garden is the Ombu tree, which grew from a seedling received from the U.S. Department of Agriculture in 1914! Rare bamboo from south Asia in the Jungle Garden grows from 50 to over 100 feet tall.
5. The Huntington Ranch Exhibits
In November 2010, The Huntington returned to its agricultural roots with the unveiling of a new project, called—appropriately—the Huntington Ranch. Part demonstration garden, part outdoor classroom, and part research lab, the Ranch is pushing new boundaries once again: this time on the frontier of sustainable urban agriculture. The Ranch itself is not accessible to daily visitors, but hosts a broad spectrum of public programs and educational activities. Located on 15 undeveloped acres northwest of the Botanical Center, the Ranch features a sprawling outdoor station, complete with vegetable garden that serves as both an open-air classroom and a demonstration site for innovative ideas. The site also encompasses the surviving orange groves from Mr. Huntington’s day and a new heritage grove of avocados representing the 32 most significant varieties in the state’s agricultural history. Also gracing the Ranch are dozens of fruit trees from the South Central Farm, an urban garden in Los Angeles that closed down recently.
6. The Desert Garden
The Huntington Desert Garden is one of the largest and oldest assemblages of cacti and other succulents in the world. Nearly 100 years old, it has grown from a small area on the Raymond fault scarp when in 1907 William Hertrich brought in plants from local nurseries, private residences, public parks, and from collection trips to the Southwest and Mexican deserts. Today the two dozen families of succulents and other arid adapted plants have developed into a ten-acre garden display, the Huntington’s most important conservation collection, a most important mission and challenge. he most significant collections are Agave and related genera, Aloe, terrestrial Bromeliads, cacti, Echeveria, Crassula, Sedum and related genera, Euphorbia, and Fouquieria.
7. Lily Ponds
The first garden, established in 1904 by William Hertrich, had natural springs that emerged from rocks on the Raymond Hill Fault. The solution to this unsightly gully in the corner of the gardens, the four acres that make up the lily ponds, were a perfect place to build two large and three small ponds. The pond water, which is circulated and recycled, is home to turtles, bullfrogs, Japanese Koi, aquatic plants, and an occasional mallard family. After centuries of cultivation, today’s water lilies are a mixture of many cultivated kinds. They bloom in various hues from mid-spring through mid-autumn. Along the shores of the uppermost pond is the very same type of papyrus that was used to make writing paper in ancient Egypt. Don’t miss the summer flowering lotus, which usually blooms in mid-July. First planted here in 1905, these magnificent relatives of the water lily unfurl pink & white flowers nine inches wide!
8. Subtropical Garden
Plants that can tolerate occasional mild frost grow in this four-acre hillside garden on the scarp of the Raymond Hill earthquake fault. The south-facing slope is one of the warmest areas of the gardens, providing a nurturing home for plants from areas of the world with mild climates and winter rainfall similar to Southern California’s and other subtropical climates with summer rainfall. Plantings are constantly changing in order to determine the ornamental plants best suited to the growing conditions here. Among the noteworthy flowering trees, look for pink cape chestnuts, lavender-blue jacarandas, and the mauve orchid tree. The Huntington has more than 50 species of salvia, with flowers in red, pink, lavender, blue, purple, yellow, and even brown. Salvia ‘Purple Majesty’ has intense purple flowers, as its name indicates, and was introduced into the plant trade by The Huntington. In the subtropical garden, you’ll find Wigandia urens, Trumpet trees, Sausage tree, Forest Fever tree, Salvia, Tree Cotton and Mimosa.
9. Plant Sales
The Huntington has an annual Spring Plant Sale in May, and a Fall Plant Sale in October when visitors can buy thousands of rare and beautiful plants, including many uncommon varieties hard to find at commercial nurseries. Knowledgeable staff and volunteers are on hand to answer questions about plant selection and care, as well as to offer advice on other practical gardening topics such as soil improvement, pruning and dividing, over-seeding lawns, and tackling pest problems. Many sale veterans bring a wagon or wheeled cart to carry purchases because of the sheer variety for sale. People often go home with ten or 15 plants, trees, flowers, flowering plants and shrubs!
10. Palm Garden
Over 200 species of the most decorative and botanically interesting palms that will survive Southern California’s cold, wet winters and hot, dry summers grace the hillside just south of the entrance and wrap around two sides of the jungle garden. The collection constitutes one of the broadest representations of palms on public display in California. The palm garden has formed a microclimate, where the large, old survivors of those early frosts protect the small and less hardy trees. Special microclimates in the garden are used to test the suitability of the most tender plants, allowing new species to be introduced. Some of the specimens in the collection are rare and endangered, such as the Chilean wine palm, harvested almost out of existence for the sweet sap it contains. The Canary Island date palm grows to magnificent proportions—up to 60 feet tall with a crown of leaves 50 feet across. It is frequently planted along California’s large boulevards. The Mediterranean fan palm is the only palm native to Europe. And there’s only one California native as well—the California fan palm.
Huntington Library Art Collections & Botanical Gardens
1151 Oxford Road
San Marino, CA 91108-1218