A Garland of Public Gardens

Here is a baker’s dozen of lush nearby gardens where you can get back to nature.

The days are getting longer, the weather gloriously warmer. It’s the perfect time of year to visit the many lush gardens blooming in Arroyoland and its environs. Whether botanical, meditative or drought-resistant, they each have something to brighten your day — flowers to buy, plants to admire, opportunities to learn. David R. Brown, the executive director of Descanso Gardens, says, “Botanical gardens attract visitors in search of an experience close to nature. Part of their purpose is to connect people to plants and cultivate a greater appreciation for the connectedness and interdependence of life on earth.” Here are 13 gardens, botanical and otherwise, that do just that.

Arlington Garden

295 Arlington Dr., Pasadena

(626) 441-4478 | arlingtongardenpasadena.com

The three-acre Arlington has been delighting locals since 2005, when Betty and Charles McKenney, in a public-private collaboration, turned the land, owned by Caltrans and leased to the City of Pasadena, into a water-wise oasis of more than 350 trees and thousands of drought-tolerant and native plants, highlighting many that are rare, endangered and native to California — San Diego ambrosia, bush anemone, rainbow manzanita and big-cone spruce among them. An Italian-style allée, a pathway flanked by sycamores leading to a vernal pool, a grid-pattern orange grove, a seven-circuit labyrinth and meandering paths all add to the garden’s charm. 

Open/Hours: Daily until dusk. On-leash pets are welcome.

Entrance Fee: None. Open to the public.

Fun Fact: The garden’s orange grove yields hundreds of pounds of oranges, which are made into marmalade by E. Waldo Ward & Sons and sold locally at the Pasadena Farmers’ Market at Victory Park, Jones Coffee Roasters and Heirloom Bakery, among others. Proceeds support the garden’s care and maintenance.

Descanso Gardens

1418 Descanso Dr., La Cañada Flintridge

(818) 949-4200 | descansogardens.org

The land on which the 150-acre Descanso Gardens sits once belonged to E. Manchester Boddy, the owner of the now-defunct Los Angeles Daily News (no relation to the current Los Angeles Daily News). It was there he built his 22-room mansion, still a centerpiece of the gardens, in 1937. During World War II, when Japanese-Americans were being sent to internment camps, Boddy bought two successful Japanese nurseries, acquiring nearly 100,000 camellias and subsequently running a commercial camellia garden from the property. Today, Descanso Gardens also includes a lilac garden, rosarium, xeriscape, Japanese teahouse and a bird sanctuary. The Descanso Gardens Enchanted Railroad, a one-eighth-scale replica of a diesel train, takes visitors around a section of the park four days a week. Boddy House is available for special events including weddings, conferences and filming; and the Stuart Haaga Gallery, free with admission, rotates exhibits throughout the year.

Open/Hours: Daily, 9 a.m.–5 p.m.

Entrance Fee: $9; seniors (65+) and students with ID, $6; children 5–12, $4; members and children under 5, free.

Fun Fact: Prior to Boddy selling his estate to the County of Los Angeles in 1953, Walt Disney considered the land as a potential site for Disneyland.

Exposition Park Rose Garden

701 State Dr., Los Angeles

(213) 763-0114 | laparks.org/park/exposition-rose-garden

Though Exposition Park opened in 1913, the seven-acre sunken rose garden wasn’t built until 1927.  In 1933, the L.A. Times described it as the “greatest rose garden in the world”; in 1991, it was added to the National Register of Historic Places. Today there are 20,000 rose bushes and 200 varieties. Not surprisingly, it’s a popular spot for weddings and photography. So that the roses can be pruned, the garden is closed from Jan. 1 to March 15 by the L.A. City Department of Recreation and Parks, which has been operating it since 1928.

Open/Hours: Daily, 8:30 a.m. to dusk.

Entrance Fee: None; the city charges for photography and weddings.

Fun Fact: Before the turn of the 20th century, the garden’s precursor, Agricultural Park, was a locale for horse, camel, greyhound and auto racing; a saloon that housed L.A.’s longest bar; and an elegant brothel.

Huntington Library, Art Collections & Botanical Gardens
1151 Oxford Rd., San Marino
(626) 405-2100 | huntington.org

The Huntington, home to rare manuscripts, important artwork and a dozen spectacular gardens spread across 120 acres, is well known as a cultural jewel in the San Gabriel Valley. Guests can find just about everything here, from lily ponds to the Australian, Desert and Jungle gardens, to fine examples of Chinese and Japanese gardens, to rose and camellia collections, just to name a few. The Helen and Peter Bing Children’s Garden is designed for little ones ages 2 through 7, while the Huntington Ranch is a demonstration garden that holds workshops and classes focused on sustainable urban agriculture. The Huntington also has annual spring and fall plant sales and free second-Thursday lectures featuring gardening experts and authors.
Open/Hours: Wednesday–Monday, 10 a.m.–5 p.m. Closed Tuesdays.
Entrance Fee: Adults $23 ($25 weekends); seniors (65+) $19 ($21 weekends); youth (4–11), $10; under 4, free.
Fun Fact: Most of the sculptures found throughout the gardens are from the late 17th and early 18th centuries and share a common theme: love.

James Irvine Japanese Garden

244 S. San Pedro St., Los Angeles

(213) 628-2725 | jaccc.org/jamesirvinejapanesegarden/

Folks in the know visit the secluded and award-winning James Irvine Japanese Garden, a hidden oasis in downtown L.A.’s Little Tokyo, by going through the Japanese American Cultural & Community Center. Also known as Seiryu-en or “Garden of the Clear Stream,” it presents an assortment of plants, flowers and blooming trees, cedar bridges, stone lanterns and a hand-washing fountain. This serene sanctuary was patterned in the Zen tradition after the famous gardens of Kyoto, and is also available as a venue for an outdoor wedding or other special event.

Open/Hours: Tuesday–Friday, 10 a.m.–5 p.m.; call for weekend schedule.

Entrance Fee: None.

Fun Fact: The garden features a 170-foot cascading stream.

Kyoto Gardens

120 S. Los Angeles St., Los Angeles

(213) 629-1200 | doubletreeladowntown.com/our-hotel/kyoto-gardens

Another hidden gem in Little Tokyo, Kyoto Gardens, a tranquil half-acre of plants, flowers, waterfalls and ponds, is perched on the rooftop of the DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel. It is a re-creation of an ancient Japanese garden in Tokyo created for the 16th-century samurai Lord Kiyomasa Kato. Kyoto Gardens is available for weddings, private photography and filming; groups of 50 or more can enjoy an elaborate afternoon tea ($48).

Open/Hours: Daily, 9 a.m.–10 p.m. seven days a week; call ahead to make sure no event is scheduled.

Entrance Fee: None

Fun Fact: A number of movie and TV projects have been filmed at the garden, including Her, Rampart, The Runaways, Law & Order: Los Angeles, The Biggest Loser and NCIS Los Angeles, among others.

Los Angeles Zoo & Botanical Gardens

5333 Zoo Dr., Los Angeles

(323) 644-4200 | lazoo.org/botanicalgardens/

There are more than 7,000 singular plants, representing more than 800 distinct species, at the L.A. Zoo, which seeks to educate the public about the importance of plants and the vital role they play in the lives of their animal residents. The zoo boasts native, succulent and edible gardens, as well as rare plants such as cycads, bald cypress and Chilean wine palm. Plants are organized according to their indigenous origins and then paired with their corresponding geographical regions within the zoo.

Open/Hours: Daily, 10 a.m.–5 p.m.

Entrance Fee: $20; seniors (62+), $17; children 2–12, $15; under 2, free. Ticket price includes admission to both the zoo and gardens.

Fun Fact: The zoo is a plant rescue center for illegally imported items confiscated by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Peace Awareness Labyrinth & Gardens

3500 W. Adams Blvd., Los Angeles

(323) 737-4055 | peacelabyrinth.org

A travertine marble labyrinth, a replica of the one found at France’s Chartres Cathedral, blends in with a small Asian-themed meditation garden at Peace Awareness Labyrinth & Gardens, established in 2002 as a nonprofit spiritual center in L.A.’s Jefferson Park neighborhood. Self-described as “a spiritual oasis in the city,” the garden features 16 water fountains, a koi pond and several intimate seating areas, along with hundreds of trees such as bamboo, cypress, jacaranda, tipu and tabebuia; flowers such as jasmine, azalea, rose and birds of paradise; and flowering plants such as stephanotis, oakleaf hydrangea and pittosporum, among many others.

Open/Hours: Tuesday–Friday and Sunday, 12 p.m.–4 p.m.; fourth Saturday of the month: 12 p.m.–4 p.m.

Entrance Fee: None. Donations are welcome.

Fun Fact: For about 10 years beginning in the late 1930s, famed musical director and choreographer Busby Berkeley was the owner of the Guasti Villa, an L.A. Cultural Monument that serves as the gardens’ headquarters. It was later a home for unwed mothers and, after that, a boardinghouse for budding actresses.

Rancho Santa Ana Botanic Garden

1500 North College Ave., Claremont

(909) 625-8767 | rsabg.org

At 85 acres, the Rancho Santa Ana Botanic Garden is the largest botanic garden dedicated to the native plants of California. Tucked in the foothills of the San Gabriel Mountains, it serves as an outdoor classroom to the students studying botany at Claremont Graduate University as well as the public, offering a variety of classes and workshops to the latter. (There are also programs and tours designed specifically for children in grades K-12.) The garden is comprised of three sections: Indian Mesa Hill (mature cultivars and wild species of native plants), the East Alluvial Gardens (where the Desert Garden, Coastal Dune and California Channel Island collections are found) and Plant Communities (home to four-needle pinyon, California flannel bushes and boojum trees).

Open/Hours: Daily, 8 a.m.–5 p.m.

Entrance Fee: $8; seniors (65+), $6; children 3–12, $4; under 3, free.

Fun Fact: In addition to those from California, plants found in southern Oregon, western Nevada and Baja California, Mexico — in botanical terms, the California Floristic Province — are all represented at Rancho Santa Ana.

Storrier Stearns Japanese Gardens

270 Arlington Dr., Pasadena

(626) 399-1721 | japanesegardenpasadena.com

The two-acre Storrier Stearns Japanese Garden, conceived for a private residence in the 1930s, is the last existing garden created by Kinzuchi Fujii, who designed and built Japanese landscapes throughout Southern California in the early decades of the 20th century. Visitors at this pond-style stroll garden will find four bridges, a formal teahouse and a traditional cedar-log “waiting house” amid its flora, two large ponds, a 25-foot hill with a cascading waterfall; spreading sycamores and old oaks shading a winding dry riverbed, stone lanterns and granite statuary. Guests can stop and take this all in at numerous gathering points and vistas throughout the garden, which also hosts a number of cultural events and educational programs throughout the year.

Open/Hours: Still a private residence, the garden is open to the public the last Sunday of each month; every Thursday, 10 a.m.–4 p.m.; and by reservation for private invitation-only events, including weddings.

Entrance Fee: $7.50 online, $10 at the gate.

Fun Fact: This is one of two Japanese gardens in California listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Theodore Payne Foundation for Wild Flowers and Native Plants

10459 Tuxford St., Sun Valley

(818) 768-1802 | theodorepayne.org

Considered to be the father of the native-plant movement in California, Theodore Payne was a pioneering nurseryman, horticulturist and conservationist. His foundation was established in 1960 and today operates a retail nursery that has the region’s largest selection of California native plants, many of which are drought-tolerant and low maintenance. These include sun-loving perennials, chaparral shrubs, desert plants and riparian, as well as trees, grasses, vines and groundcover. The property also offers visitors an art gallery and a three-quarter-mile walking trail to Wildflower Hill, providing a grand vista of the San Fernando Valley from the summit. Classes and field trips for both children and adults are available through the foundation’s Education Center and outreach programs.

Open/Hours: Tuesday–Saturday, 8:30 a.m.–4:30 p.m.

Entrance Fee: None. Friendly dogs on leash are welcome.

Fun Fact: Members receive a 20-percent discount on the purchase of a Plant of the Month. The designee for March is the burgundy desert willow.

Wrigley Gardens

391 S. Orange Grove Blvd., Pasadena

(626) 449-4100 | visitpasadena.com/businesses/tournament-house/

Encompassing four-and-a-half acres, Wrigley Gardens surrounds the Italian Renaissance–style Wrigley Mansion, the headquarters of the Tournament of Roses Association, and showcases more than 1,500 types of roses, camellias and annuals. The Wrigley family, heirs to the chewing-gum empire, handed their private residence to the City of Pasadena in 1958 on the condition that it was to become the new home of the TOR.

Open/Hours: Free tours of the Tournament House are given each Thursday at

2 p.m. and 3 p.m. through the end of

August. Reservations aren’t required except for groups of 10 or more.

Entrance Fee: None

Fun Fact: William Warriner, named the country’s No. 1 rose breeder, developed the Tournament of Roses Rose, a pink variety resistant to black spots, white powder and rust, in honor of the TOR’s centennial.