Not too long ago, I wrote about the amazing gardens of Southern California for my American Nomad blog on Moon.com. All in all, the Los Angeles area offers some wonderful natural sanctuaries – ironic considering how much my husband and I grew to dislike the constant traffic, dirty air, and phony vibe of our former home. In fact, after living there for nearly five years, we were more than happy to embark upon our current nomadic lifestyle – if only to get a respite from the congestion. But no matter where we travel, the gardens stay with me still.
One of my favorite havens is The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens, a 207-acre oasis in San Marino, not far from Pasadena. On November 30, 2006 – my thirtieth birthday – I convinced Dan to spend the entire afternoon there, and I couldn’t have asked for a better birthday present (of course, that was before my thirty-second birthday, when Dan gave me a cat named Ruby).
After paying the rather hefty admission fee ($15 each), we began our afternoon at the Rose Garden Tea Room, where we’d made a noon reservation for a traditional English tea. Situated in the heart of the immaculate grounds and surrounded by the lovely rose, herb, and Shakespeare gardens, the quaint tea room was an ideal spot to view the foliage and sample an array of delectables.
Once we were seated, a pleasant waitress served us a pot of seasonal tea and a basket of freshly baked scones, then we headed to the central buffet, where an assortment of finger sandwiches, imported cheeses, seasonal salads, fresh fruit, and scrumptious desserts awaited us. Unlike other traditional teas we’d experienced, this one offered a laidback atmosphere, where casual attire was as acceptable as fancy suits and dresses. Even better, the $25-per-person cost included limitless tea, scones, and buffet items. The Windsor Court Hotel in New Orleans certainly hadn’t encouraged us to pig out at teatime!
Following our pleasant meal, we explored the sprawling grounds, 120 acres of which were open to the public. From the aromatic rose bushes, we strolled through the tranquil Japanese garden, one of America’s oldest and most elaborate. This sloping, picturesque landscape presented lily ponds, elegant pagodas and lanterns, a graceful bridge, and a 19th-century-style Japanese dwelling amid gorgeous wisteria, sweet olive, bamboo, junipers, cycads, and red pine trees. The adjacent Bonsai Court, an intriguing collection of carefully pruned miniature trees, was truly a wonder. Never before had I seen such a tiny California juniper.
From there, we ambled through the Australian, subtropical, and jungle gardens. As our shadows lengthened and sunset approached, we stumbled upon the desert garden, a well-tended playground of varied cacti and succulents that seemed to glisten in the late afternoon sunlight. Although I'd found the Japanese garden wondrous, there was something indescribably beautiful about the stark desert landscape, and I took several photographs of the strangely contoured plants.
Before the staff had a chance to chase us off the grounds, we scurried to the Huntington Art Gallery, which showcased an impressive collection of European paintings, including Thomas Gainsborough’s The Blue Boy (circa 1770). Afterward, we hustled through the Library Exhibition Hall, where I spotted the Gutenberg Bible (1455), a manuscript of Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, a stunning edition of Audubon’s Birds of America, and a wealth of other historical items.
Eventually, of course, an employee escorted us out of the building – and our Huntington adventure came to a close. I sure wish that we’d had time to see everything; we could have easily spent two whole days at the Huntington and still not seen all the art, literature, and flora on display. But we’ll just have to plan a more in-depth excursion during our brief return to Los Angeles in January. Maybe we’ll even be in time for the first Thursday of the month, when admission is free.
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