Huntington Desert Garden, December 2020: major changes, and lots of blooming aloes

During my late-December blitz trip to Southern California, I was able to visit the Huntington, one of my favorite public gardens anywhere. As part of the Huntington's COVID-19 protocols, advanced reservations are now required. Dates are released every other Tuesday for the next two weeks. I was lucky to get a slot on the only day I had available. 

The Huntington takes COVID-19 safety seriously. The number of visitors is limited and staggered throughout the day; all indoor locations are closed; no food and no water fountains are available; restrooms are restricted to four persons at a time (at least the men's restrooms). It was very easy to avoid getting too close to other people, and at times it felt I had the whole place to myself. That's a far cry from the madding crowds that used to be typical.

My favorite spot at the Huntington is the Desert Garden. I've written many posts about it, and I intend to write many more in the years and decades to come. Big things are happening in the Desert Garden. As part of a major renovation project, a new entrance is being created, new paths are being built that will open up areas that have been off limits to the public, and the aging Desert Conservatory will get a new skin and new outside areas

For an in-depth look at the changes in the works, watch this video recording from the Huntington's 37th Annual Succulent Plants Symposium, held online in September 2020. In the third segment of this 2-hour program, starting at the 50:34 mark, the Huntington's principal garden designer, Seth Baker, gives a preview of what the newly renovated Desert Garden will look like.

This is what there is to see right now:

This newly planted Aloidendron barberae...
...will anchor the new entrance to the Desert Garden

Another signature Aloidendron barberae and Agave attenuata, both the green species and the 'Boutin Blue' selection (which may be elevated to species status soon)

One of the new paths being created, this one...

...leading to the Desert Conservatory, peeking through the clump of yuccas in the photo above

Many of the plants near the Desert Conservatory have been removed, I assume to make room for heavy equipment?

Fortunately, most plants in the upper part of the Desert Garden, the Old World section, are left untouched. The aloes were doing their thing when I was there on December 31, and they were looking glorious!

Aloe × principis (A. arborescens × A. ferox)...

...with screamingly purple Lampranthus in front

Aloidendron 'Hercules' towering over this spot

Aloe striata in sea of Lampranthus

Aloe × principis

Aloe × principis

This bicolored aloe is Aloe 'David Verity', the tree aloe behind it a hybrid between Aloidendron ramosissimum and A. barberae

Aloe 'David Verity'

Aloe rubroviolaceae

Another new path in the making

Kalanchoe beharensis

Aloe framesii

Aloe 'Jacob's Ladder', an Aloe dawei hybrid (more info here)

Aloe 'Jacob's Ladder'

My goal for 2021 is to learn more about the many genera in the ice plant family, the Aizoaceae. Maybe at some point in the future I will be able to identify flowers like these!

Aloe melanacantha still forming a tight ball—proof how dry this winter has been

Aloidendron 'Hercules'

Aloe chabaudii

Aloe chabaudii

Aloe elegans

Aloe elegans

Mystery aloe

Aloe bargalensis, an “exceedlingly rare” species from a remote corner in extreme northwest Somalia 

Aloe suprafoliata hybrid

Aloe divaricata × trachyticola

(Left) Aloe excelsa × ortholopha

Labeled Aloe swynnertonii as you can see, but that's not correct. My aloe friend who used to work in the Desert Garden thinks it's Aloe arborescens or an arborescens hybrid.

(left) Aloe aff. arborescens, (right) Aloe framesii 

Aloe vanbalenii, species or hybrid, pretty even when not in flower

One of many tall single-stemmed aloes that I find very hard to identify. This one has very pretty bicolored flowers.

Possibly Aloe ferox, but many open-pollinated Aloe ferox hybrids have sprung up at the Huntington over the decades 

Pleiospilos peersii, another ice plant

I love these wider views of flowering aloes framed by trees

Aeonium sp.

More renovation progress

Aloe sabaea with its signature drooping leaves

Another new path being created

Another Aloe chabaudii

Aloe ‘Rooikappie’ in a new bed in the New World section

These aloes are also in the New World section near the main road; no label

I spotted several Aloe fievetii in the new Cycad Garden on the south side of the Huntington Art Gallery. I love the capitate flowers on this Madagascar native. 

Still to come: posts about the New World section in the Desert Garden and about the Cycad Garden.

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  1. Wonderful photos as always. I love photo #45, which looks almost other-worldly to me. The universe was working for you in terms of the timing of your visit. I haven't been there for well over a year and I'm looking forward to seeing the renovated space.

  2. It's always a good day to visit the Huntington. I wonder if the COVID restrictions are helping, or hurting the renovation efforts. On one hand less people moving through the garden should help, right? But then of course the workers need to be spaced out too. Do you know the completion date?

  3. I miss there. Maybe next winter we'll be visiting it again. The pictures are like water in the desert. Thanks.

    Did you see the giant donated specimen of A. dichotoma that was in the succulent seminar video? Is it there yet? What a stunner!

  4. Your photos are absolutely wonderful! I especially like the 3 horizontal views after the Aloe chabaudii! As Hoover Boo said they "are like water in the desert!"

  5. These pics are fantastic. I've been there twice but wish I could go weekly.


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