Visit to Decanso Gardens

Mar 1, 2020
Descanso Gardens is a 150-acre botanical garden located in La Cañada Flintridge, Los Angeles County, California. Descanso was originally the home of E. Manchester Boddy, who donated it to the County of Los Angeles.  

The garden is best known for its camellia, Japanese, and California native gardens.  If you have children (or grandchildren) in tow, there is even a train ride to enjoy! 

When we visited in early February, the camellias were beginning to bloom.  While the garden is peaceful, it has its origins in wartime. With the United States' entrance into World War II, Boddy purchased a large portion of the camellias from two Japanese-owned nurseries when the families (the Uyemastus and Yoshimuras) were forcibly removed from the West Coast.

The tranquil Japanese garden is nestled among the camellias and has some beautiful koi ponds to enjoy.  An interesting aspect of this garden is that it is located in a transition zone between urban and native habitats — hillsides dotted with oaks and California natives.  I would recommend saving a visit to the California native garden for the spring or early summer, when the plants are in bloom.

7 varied apples on a circular table.
Artistic apple varieties

Saving the best for the last, there is actually an art gallery at the top of a hill in the garden: the Sturt Haaga Gallery. This gallery contains revolving exhibits, but at the time we were visiting, there were several displays of particular interest to the gardener.  (Several are shown on this page.)

The themes of the art on display were fruit and bees, tomatoes as fine art, and beehives — complete with bee sounds from deep inside the hive!  

The art gallery included a display of photographs documenting the work of top U.S. apple breeder Dr. Susan Brown.  Since apple trees are heterozygous (you don't know what you are going to get when you plant a seed), the only way to reproduce an apple tree is by cloning (grafting small buds or scions onto rootstock).

In another apple-themed display, a set of pictures by Los Angeles artist Jessica Rath documents her visit to Kazakhstan, the site of the original, wild apple forests from which all our domesticated apples originated. There is an ongoing effort to preserve the original forests, which are collocated with apple orchards in the area.

Less crowded than many other gardens in southern California, this garden can be well worth the effort to visit.  Be sure to pop into the Dream House next to the gallery to see a well-stocked garden library as well.