Descanso Gardens: 10,000 Years Old in California

Posted by

On 36,000 acres of land in Southern California, which includes hills, streams, and ancient redwood and oak forests, lies a garden entitled in Spanish, “Place of Rest,” or Descanso Gardens. I made a trip there last week with some girlfriends to check it out.

Our Docent (tour guide) was a gentleman who used to work at Disney, heading their Landscaping department at the studios. He was more than knowledgable about both the history of the property and the flora and fauna. We began in the “Center Circle” which is a circular garden with a changing display. Currently it is showcasing low-water plants with the theme being “A New Look For L.A.,”  focusing on the beauty of drought resistant plants. IMG_2235

As we meandered around the individually themed gardens, one of my favorites was the lilac area with 400 plants and 250 different types of lilacs. Oh, the scent! I also drooled over the rose garden which showcased 3000 roses representing centuries of horticulture and dozens of regions around the world. The camellia forest is home to North America’s largest collect of camellias, and we got to examine some quite rare varieties. In 1942, when Japanese Americans were forced into internment camps, the owner of the property purchased 100,000 camellia plants from his two friends who owned Japanese nurseries.


Then, all hell let loose! We got to the California Natives section of the garden. This included grasses, oaks, shrubs, and perennials. My allergies went wild! I was hacking, my nose was running, my eyes were tearing, it was as if I was in a chamber of horror! Never before had I been in one GIANT area surrounded by everything I am allergic to, blowing all together in the wind. HELP! The ten minutes we spent in that garden was like an eternity flighting with a grizzly bear for me.

Thank God, we got to the Japanese Garden with azaleas, pavilions, and cherry trees. Arigatōgozaimashita.

The back story on Descanso Gardens is that originally, Native Americans occupied the land and made food from the acorns/oak trees. In 1784, the Spanish Governor of California deeded the land to Corporal Jose Maria Verdugo for his loyal service. It stayed in the Verdugo family until 1869. In 1937, E. Manchester Boddy, owner of the Los Angeles Illustrated Daily News, bought the property as a working ranch. He build a 22 room 2-story mansion on the property and purchased 400 more acres with streams on them. In 1953, he sold the property to Los Angeles County. Now a guild manages the property as a 501 (c) (3) nonprofit organization in partnership with L.A. County.

After our walking tour, we had lunch outside in the garden. Lunch was served by Patina and was scrumptious! I  found out that Descanso Gardens offers art classes, summer camp, Gallery Exhibits, Home Tours, and Food/Wine events. I think I’ll be returning, but the California section is off limits for this native!


Our Tour Guide
Flower Power at Descanso Gardens


Leave a Reply