Huntington Desert Garden: aloes and other Old World succulents
On December 27, 2014 I finally had the opportunity to visit the Huntington in San Marino, CA, one of California’s great estates. Established by businessman Henry Huntington in the early 1900s on what was originally a 600-acre ranch, the Huntington comprises a world-class library, art collections and 120 acres of gardens.
Foxtail agaves (Agave attenuata ‘Boutin Blue’), some of them in flower. Behind it is a mature tree aloe (Aloidendron barberae).
The most famous of these is the 10-acre Desert Garden. It was started in 1907 when garden superintendent William Hertrich convinced Henry Huntington to plant cacti in an area where little else would grow. Huntington initially agreed to let Hertrich experiment on ½ acre. Hertrich went ahead at full steam, filling the ½ acre lot with 300 cactus. In 1908, Hertrich hauled three carloads of saguaros from Arizona, followed in 1912 by two carloads of cacti and other succulents from Mexico. Huntington was finally convinced and gave Hertrich another 4½ acres. In 1925, the Desert Garden grow by another five acres, and in 1981, long after Hertrich’s death, the final 5 acres were added. In 1985, the Desert Garden Conservatory opened to the public; it’s home to 3,000 succulents that either need some sort of protection or are simply too rare to leave outside.
Today, the Desert Garden has sixty planting beds filled with more than 2,000 species of succulents and desert plants from both the Old and the New World. While impressive-sounding, these stats are fairly meaningless until you see the garden’s splendor in person. We’re not just talking a lot of plants, we’re talking old plants, masses of them. It’s easy to see why the Desert Garden is considered one of the world’s premier collection of succulents.
Last December I spent an afternoon in the Desert Garden and posted a short summary. I fully intended to write several full posts in January or February, but time slipped away and now it’s almost November. I was simply too daunted by the 500+ photos I snapped, knowing it would take a long time to go through them and edit them for the blog. But as I’m starting to plan my 2015 desert trip, I realize that it’s now or never. I took a lot of beautiful photos that do deserve to see the light of day.
This post focuses on Old World succulents, especially aloes. The Huntington has an exceptional collection of aloes that includes over 200 of the 300 recognized species. Huge swaths of them were in bloom in December – a truly unforgettable sight.
So without further ado, let’s walk through the Old World section of the Huntington Desert Garden. As always, you can click each of the small photos to see a large high-resolution version.
Aloe × principis, a naturally occurring hybrid between Aloe ferox and Aloe arborescens
The flowering aloes were truly spectacular
One many paths in the Desert Garden
Unfortunately, many of the aloes weren’t labeled
Euphorbia grandicornis × pseudocactus
LEFT: Aloe aculeata RIGHT: Aloe marlothii
Unlabeled aloe hybrid
Aloe × principis
LEFT: Aloe sabaea RIGHT: Aloe harlana
Haworthia coarctata f. conspicua
Aloidendron barberae, the largest tree aloe in the world
I don’t know what the single-stemmed aloe in the three photos above is. Any ideas?
Vining cactus (not from Africa, but from the New World) in the Old World section
Pachypodium lamerei, often called “Madagascar palm” although it’s not a palm
More aloe goodness among the trees
Creeping elephant bush (Portulacaria afra)
Aloe ‘William Hertrich’, named in honor of the first superintendent of the Huntington Gardens who during his long tenure (1905-1948) was the mastermind and driving force behind what you see today
Aloe ‘David Verity’
The smaller tree aloe next to the towering Aloidendron barberae is Aloidendron ramosissima
LEFT: Aloe pluridens RIGHT: Unlabeled
Unlabeled but elsewhere I saw an Aloe ferox × microstigma cross that looked quite similar
Aloe × principis
Aloe × principis
Aloe sabaea, a species I’d love be able to grow but it’s very tender
This post is about the New World succulents in the Desert Garden, such as agaves and cacti. This section is just as memorable.
The Desert Garden is only one of a dozen gardens spread over 120 acres. I really need to spend three or four days in Pasadena to photograph them all. A project for retirement!