California Botanical Gardens - Let's Make Like a Tree and Get the Hell Outta Here.
I admit it, the most I know about gardening is that I hate iceberg lettuce. I have plants, but I can't keep them alive. I sometimes garden in my backyard, though it's rare, but holy sweet Jesus do I love botanical gardens. I figure somewhere down the line I'm going to pull the move my folks made in their fifties, turn a page and suddenly be enraptured by soil and gardening. But, until then, I'll continue to track down these glorious islands in the concrete ocean like a green thumbed Magellan.
There's nothing cooler than a sun-filled spring day walking through a densely curated sensory museum like you get from a well-designed botanical garden. Consider the complex smells, beautiful colors, copious sunshine and easy day hiking in an oasis away from the urban blight. Sneak in a bottle of wine, or your vice of choice and relax on a Mexican Sarape for an afternoon. If you enjoy this piece, check out our favorite California libraries and our latest profile on the iconic landscape designer, Thomas D. Church, Gardens Are For People.
THE HUNTINGTON LIBRARY AND GARDEN (SAN MARINO - LA COUNTY)
I've been here more times than I recall. I absolutely love the Japanese garden with its stoic early-twentieth century traditional Japanese House with paper dividers, fastidiously manicured bonsais, pillared bamboo forest and the serene Buddhist rock garden. Huntington's rose garden is also a huge attraction in the spring, which is undeniably beautiful, though I wander from the crowd to linger in the Australian, desert and lily pond areas. There's a massive lawn usable for snacking (no picnics allowed, sadly--I know, right?) and paddleball. The library is also worth checking out, some interesting works, though largely forgettable renaissance era artwork, I recommend seeing the colorful Gutenberg Bible. The Huntington is the greatest way to escape LA for a day and feel like you're truly outdoors, a reminder of what the great wildernesses are like on a small, diorama scale. Costs $25 for non-members and there are lots of places to eat and drink on the grounds. More information about the Huntington Garden here.
SANTA BARBARA BOTANIC GARDEN
The mammoth 78-acre SB Botanic Garden is a complete Californist oasis. When people talk about returning to their happy places, this is one of mine. The gardens include weaving trails framing water features, lush floral carpets and mosaics of color. Some favorite sections include the redwood and woodland trail, and the desert, canyon, and gnarled manzanita sections. Take the Pritchett trail and get acquainted with the gorgeous canyon section and its accompanying views. Enjoy 100's of species of rare and indigenous plants from all over California. Considered to be a model botanical garden, the SBBG maintains and promotes the conservation of California native plants legacy. More information about the SBBG here. $10.00 admission for adults.
UC DAVIS ARBORETUM
A true wonder of the world, plus, you gotta love a place that states the following, "The Arboretum and gardens are open 24-hours a day, every day of the year, and there is no charge for admission." The garden features 100 acres of bucolic tranquility. Here's a visitor's map. I recommend using the 3.5 mile loop and especially take your time in the redwood grove. Enjoy the quiet contemplation of the gazing ponds, hanging under a budding cherry blossom, or bike the garden path. Places like these are why California is such a wonder. Free, beautiful public spaces open 24hrs, all year, for the enjoyment and benefit of the people. You have to admire that nobility. More information found here.
SAN FRANCISCO BOTANICAL GARDEN
The San Francisco botanical garden is an internationally recognized and lauded destination. Consisting of over 8,000 plant species from all over the world, the SFBG ensures its visitors get a substantial dose of diversity among the garden's 55 acres of walking trails. Allowing its visitors to escape the congested troves of weary SF tourism, the SFBG is an oasis in the din. The magnolia collection is renown for its diversity and kaleidoscopic color. The lush Redwood and Cloud Forests collections (rare plants) where you see endangered plants successfully grown locally outdoors, it's a significant feat. $8.00 for adults and free from 7:30AM to 9:00AM, and 2nd Tuesdays of the month. More information here.
SAN LUIS OBISPO BOTANICAL GARDEN
We should make room for smaller botanical gardens. These up-and-comers are bringing a massive haul of hard work into a difficult, low revenue non-profit business model. They often rely on volunteers and lowly paid college idealists to carry the banner. These tend to be thankless labors of love for those involved and are definite coolsville when you find them. San Luis Obispo's (SLO) botanical garden, located off Hwy 1, between Morro Bay and SLO, is a haven for outdoor lovers. They have a sleek, modern and sustainably grounded mission and welcome center with 2 acres packed with explorable trails and gardens. Lot's of opportunities to learn how to garden in any of their workshops. They have routine plant sales and terrifically beautiful grounds showcasing Mediterranean climate zone gardens--including California, central coastal Chile, the western Cape Province of South Africa, parts of Western and South Australia, and the Mediterranean Basin. Entry is free, super cool, bring your vice and food for a picnic, there's lots of room to run around and explore. More information here.
Get fanatical about botanical. Let me know what kind of oasis' for the mind you have in the comment section.
Thanks to orbojunglist for the beautiful background gif at the top of the page, hope you noticed it moves.