Garden Designers Round Table: The Huntington Gardens in San Marino, CA

by Fern on April 23, 2012

in Inspiration,My Book

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If you have never been to The Huntington Gardens in San Marino (near Pasadena), you must add it to your bucket list. It is one of the most beautiful public gardens I have ever seen. The gardens are HUGE, there are several different themed gardens, a Chinese garden, a Japanese garden, a famous rose garden, and quite a few other gardens that are slipping my mind at the moment. My favorite part of The Huntington–as anyone who has read Small-Space Container Gardens knows–is the Desert Garden.

You may be thinking to yourself, “what in the world does a public garden featuring cacti and succulents have to do with a book about container gardening on apartment balconies?” While it sounds like a stretch, I think there is a lot of inspiration to be gleaned from public gardens, even for those of us with teeny tiny garden spaces.

The chapter featuring The Huntington is about designing a garden on a long, narrow balcony. My inspiration for that garden was the western walkway delineating the desert garden from the rest of the gardens. It has large swaths of different succulents, all in a variety of intense colors. Deep, dark, purple aeoniums are sanwiched between silvery leaves of one clump of succulents and aloes with sunset orange flowers. It really showed me how bold colors help draw your eye from one plant to the next down the walkway. Think of how boring this same sidewalk would look if it was flanked entirely by green foliage. Everything would blend together:

Visiting public gardens also lets you see color and plant combinations you might want to recreate in your own container garden. It’s one thing to understand that blue and orange are complimentary colors. It’s a whole ‘nother thing to see it in person and really “get” how the silvery blue of Blue Chalk Fingers (Senecio vitalis) really helps the screaming orange-red of aloe flowers POP!

I also realized how many bees and hummingbirds are attracted to succulent flowers. Aloe rarely is listed as a bee-friendly plant, but anyone who has visited The Huntington Gardens during winter will see tons of bees barely able to fly they’re so loaded up with orange aloe pollen. And heaven help you if you stand too close to a hummingbird’s favorite plant in the Desert Garden. Those little birds have something beyond a Napoleon complex when it comes to protecting their territory!

What’s your favorite public garden? What tips have you gotten from a great public garden?

Thank you so much to the regular Garden Designers Round Table folks for letting me contribute this month! Check out these other great posts about garden travel and best public gardens:

(I’ll update the list throughout the day as other GDRT contributors post their articles)

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{ 14 comments… read them below or add one }

Suzanne April 23, 2012 at 2:39 pm

Great photos! I love the Huntington Gardens, but haven’t been there for several years now. Actually haven’t been there since I’ve developed my own interest in gardening. So. Jealous! :)


Candy Suter April 24, 2012 at 1:00 am

I love the Huntington and have done a couple of posts on it myself! It is definitely inspirational!


Desert Dweller / David C. April 24, 2012 at 7:18 am

You are right-on about how to apply a large space to a smaller space. And talk about a place with inspiration – I’ve only visited the Huntington 1x (1989?), and so much of it is ingrained in my mind.

You note the broad forms and textural differences, then the pollinators. Definitely the need to walk the same garden more than once to catch at least both aspects.


commonweeder April 24, 2012 at 8:40 am

One of the fabulous garden I visited in California was Filoli, south of San Francisco. We were lucky to be there during camellia season. Breathtaking.


susan morrison April 24, 2012 at 9:01 am

I love the Huntington, and have not had the opportunity to visit in years. How wonderful that you were able to take away small-space inspiration from a public garden that is anything but small. Thanks for sharing your perspective on the Roundtable!


sheila schultz April 24, 2012 at 5:43 pm

I’m with Susan, your ability to see these vast gardens as potential containers… I’m thinking we’re in the same world. Small spaces… take ideas and fly with them! Like you, most of my inspiration comes from big gardens… if combos work in gardens, they work in containers!


Rebecca Sweet April 24, 2012 at 5:52 pm

What a wonderful trip down memory lane! I lived in Laguna Beach many years ago and used to love visiting this garden. And you’re SO right about the bees loving aloe blooms! There’s nothing like seeing those blooms in December – almost otherworldly. Thanks for joining the GDRT this month!


Pam/Digging April 26, 2012 at 10:34 am

The Huntington is definitely on my bucket list. I really need to plan a garden-touring trip to CA. My own favorite so far is Chanticleer in PA. Have you been there?


Susan May 3, 2012 at 8:06 am

I hopped over from Black Walnut when I saw this post as I will be visiting the Huntington gardens later this month. I now realize not only will I need my camera but a giant notebook as well.


Robert Webber May 3, 2012 at 10:36 am

Yes you make the point so clearly that most gardens will give you more than just enjoyment of them for themselves. They give you lessons which you can take away and apply in completely different dimensions and settings. There is always some lesson to be learnt and that heightens your enjoyment and also sense of privilege to be out and learning!


The Green Room July 5, 2012 at 6:09 am

Loved the post dear, Huntington amazing the only word that can define it.


ITC July 19, 2012 at 6:21 pm

The Huntington looks fabulous by my favorite is Buchart Gardens in British Columbia. Very classical design and and lush flower beds. Brings back wonderful memories


lowkeyman September 5, 2012 at 2:14 am

Have you been there?


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