California Garden at The Huntington

The first time I visited The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens in San Marino, CA, in December 2014, the entrance area was a construction site. Things looked completely different a year later when I met up with fellow garden bloggers Denise of A Growing Obsession, Gail of Piece of Eden (and her husband who took lots of photos), and Luisa of Crow and Raven. The $60 million Steven S. Koblik Education and Visitor Center was finally open.

In addition to 52,000 sq. ft. of visitor, conference and educational facilities, the entrance complex also includes 6½ acres of newly established gardens which connect directly to the world-renowned Desert Garden, our real destination.


The buffer zone between the parking lot and the entrance is an expanse of European gray sedge (Carex divulsa) originally planted as small plugs spaced 18 inches apart. The “meadow” is studded with California pepper trees (Schinus molle), octopus agaves (Agave vilmoriniana) and different aloe varieties. It shows how beautiful a simple low-water/low-maintenance planting scheme can be that does away entirely with traditional turf grass.


Agave vilmoriniana

Inside the entrance, the Frances and Sidney Brody California Garden is planted with 50,000 California natives and dry-climate plants from around the world. According to the Huntington’s web site:

[T]he garden reflects the local Mediterranean climate as well as both the agricultural and elegant estate history of the 207-acre Huntington grounds. A long, olive-lined allée leads visitors through garden spaces that complement the buildings in the Steven S. Koblik  Education and Visitor Center, which include the orientation gallery, auditorium, café, and classrooms. […]

Showcased in the garden are a broad range of drought-tolerant plants that can thrive in Southern California—from native plants you might see hiking in the nearby San Gabriel mountains to unusual specimens from far-off areas that share a Mediterranean climate, such as parts of Australia, South Africa, and southern Europe. […]

On either side of the allée are “hedge rooms” that enclose benches and tables, delineated by dwarf myrtle (Myrtus communis ‘Compacta’) that will grow to be about three feet tall, lending the hedge rooms a sense of intimacy. Over time, oak trees like the Pasadena oak (Quercus engelmannii) and Cork oak (Quercus suber, a European native) will reach their full, majestic size and help temper even the most extreme summer heat. (Pasadena oaks grow to 30 feet or more and cork oaks grow twice as tall.) [1]

I added the descriptions above so you get a better idea of the design fundamentals at the heart of the California Garden. I must admit I was so busy yakking with my fellow bloggers that I didn’t take the kind of big-picture photos that would have shown you how everything is laid out.

What I will give you instead are vignettes of the plantings on either side of the central walkway (the “allée” in the description above). I hope they will convey how much I liked the California Garden. Many of the plants are still in their adolescence, but considering that the entrance complex opened just 15 months ago, the amount of growth is astounding.


Denise of A Growing Obsession unable to resist the tactile allure of Eucalyptus 'Moon Lagoon'


Pennisetum 'Fairy Tails'


Pennisetum 'Fairy Tails'


Aloidendron barberae and Pennisetum 'Fairy Tails'


Leonotis ocymifolia (aka Leonotis menthifolia)


Leonotis ocymifolia (aka Leonotis menthifolia)


Aloe vanbalenii




Aloidendron barberae and flowering Kalanchoe luciae



Muhlenbergia rigens


View of Rose Hills Foundation Garden Court with its 36-foot glass dome


View of San Gabriel Mountains


Muhlenbergia rigens and Pennisetum 'Fairy Tails'


The “meadow” outside the Munger Research Center is a “Native Mow Free” sod (a mix of Festuca idahoensis, Festuca occidentallis and Festuca rubra grown together in the field and delivered in rolls). For more information, read this article.


Grevillea ‘Moonlight’ (left) and Kniphofia ‘Christmas Cheer’ (right)


Pennisetum 'Fairy Tails' and Kniphofia ‘Christmas Cheer


Acacia cognata ‘Cousin Itt’. Wherever I go, I see great-looking specimens. I had three, and they died. But I’m very tempted to try again, considering ‘Cousin Itt’ is such a striking mop of leaves.


Hesperaloe parviflora ‘Brakelight’


Hesperaloe parviflora ‘Brakelight’


The beautiful new café has seating for 300 and expansive views that include the upper Desert Garden. We had lunch here, and the food was very good. A great place to sit and relax.

The area where the California Garden (aka the entrance garden) meets the historic core of the Huntington is called the Celebration Garden. Its main feature is a gently sloping rill that empties into a rectangular pool at the far end. A small volume of recirculated water provides an outsized effect, as is typical for water features in arid climates.


I’ve seen quite a few photos of this rill and the plantings seem to change periodically. I don’t know if this was the idea from the get-go or whether the Huntington’s landscape design team led by the indefatigable Scott Kleinrock is experimenting with different plantings until they find the “perfect” scheme. Personally, I find change exciting, especially in public spaces, because it gives people something to look forward to on their next visit.


This is the view to the east, looking toward the San Gabriel Mountains (as well as the entrance and the parking lot beyond):


The California/Celebration Garden blends quite seamlessly with the upper end of the Desert Garden. This transition area features aloes, agaves as well as cycads from the collection of Loran Whitelock, one of the world’s leading authorities on this ancient group of plants. Whitelock passed away in 2014 and left his collection, considered to be one of the finest in the world, to the Huntington. It was great to see that Whitelock’s specimens are being planted out now in different areas of the estate.


Encephalartos specimens and Aloe ‘Scarlet Rockets’


Aloe ‘Scarlet Rockets’


Unlabeled but beautiful Encephalartos

Now we have arrived at the Desert Garden. I took so many photos there, I wrote a two-part post. Click here to start in the upper garden (Old World).

Here’s a photo to whet your appetite (the bamboo on the right is the cherry on top):


One of the many mature tree aloes (this one Aloidendron barberae) in the Desert Garden. The steely blue agaves are Agave attenuata ‘Boutin Blue’.




  1. I hope this isn't a duplicate comment. Something seemed to go wrong when I tried the first time. Anyway, your post brings back fun memories of the visit. The entrance garden has grown so much since then, and the rill plants have changed several times. You'd be amazed. You described the space so well.

    1. Sorry for your problems. Blogger does that sometimes.

      I can't wait for my next visit to the Huntington. Hopefully this winter.

  2. It's like a mini fling! Great plants, great company :)

  3. Your photos do a great job of capturing the range of grasses the Huntington is growing. I've been trialing several different varieties myself but have yet to pick up Pennisetum 'Fairy Tails', which I think I must try this fall, perhaps on my miserable back slope.

    1. Thank you, Kris! I will try the 'Fairy Tails' as well if I can find it.

  4. Since I skipped The Huntington on our December 2015 trip I haven't seen any of this (then again maybe it wasn't complete then?). Thank you for a stunning preview of what I have to look forward to next time!

    1. The new entrance complex opened in April 2015 so you would have seen it in December. But based on what Hoov said, it's even better now. Can't wait to go back myself.

  5. Love, love, love the Pennisetum and Muhlenbergia :-)

  6. That was a great meetup. From this new entrance garden I filed away their use of leucadendrons in pots (check!) and Pennisetum 'Fairy Tails,' check again. I found two gallons of this grass at their sale this year. I was cutting back my Moon Lagoon lightly this morning, quite a bit larger than the one I'm caressing -- what a rock star this shrub is. This new entrance garden has really increased the scope of interest and frequency of my visits.

    1. Too bad we live so far apart. Otherwise we could have regular yakfests :-)

      I missed the leucadendrons in pots. What species were they?

      Still pining for a Eucalyptus 'Moon Lagoon'. Jo O'Connell brought one to her recent workshop at the UC Berkeley Botanical Garden, but somebody else snapped it up.

      I still fantastize of spending a week in Pasadena and thoroughly exploring all the gardens at the Huntington (not to mention the treasures INSIDE!).

  7. Wow! Thanks for showing off the new landscapes of the Huntington. Last time I was there,they were building the new Chinese Garden which wasn't of much interest to me since I lived in coastal California without much water. Loved the celebration garden photos.


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