While there are many great places to hike in Los Angeles County, there are days when one wants to be able to wander outside but not commit to the time constraints of a hike. Fortunately, Descanso Gardens in La Canada is a perfect solution, with art, horticulture, and history to sweeten the deal. It is a perfect place for a lazy afternoon.
The journalist Manchester Boddy bought the acres that now comprise Descanso Gardens in 1937. A civic-minded individual, Boddy was responsible for the the preservation of nearby San Gabriel nursery during World War II, ensuring that the interned owners would be able to reclaim their business after the war. When Boddy sold the house and gardens to Los Angeles County in 1953, a group of volunteers formed the Descanso Gardens guild and turned the site into a private garden open to the public.
Today, Boddy’s house showcases the design and history of Boddy’s era. The Stuart Haaga Gallery, originally Boddy’s garage, showcases contemporary art that focuses on the natural setting of the area and the interaction between nature and civilization. During the summer of 2015, the show “California Light” displays drawings, paintings, and photography that celebrates the unique quality of the light and ecology of the state. Many of the works focus on the beauty of locales that are not typically thought of as aesthetic, and the visitor leaves with a new appreciation of the California appeal.
Specific horticultural gardens such as the lilac and Japanese garden invite the wanderer to slow down and focus on individual details of flower, leaf, and architecture. The Rose Garden includes arbors, raised beds, and other design elements that distinguish the collection from other rose gardens in the area. In addition, there is a small garden maze designed for children but appealing to the inner child in every visitor.
The lake at the west end of the property is a magnet for local birds, and a covered observation deck allows for relaxed viewing. Visitors can walk the periphery of the lake, witnessing ducks, crows, bluebirds, jays, geese, and other local species. In addition, the native squirrels provide comic relief.
Perhaps the best parts of Descanso Gardens are the areas devoted to the oak woodlands and chaparral native to the area. There are roads and trails crisscrossing the southern and western parts of the park, allowing visitors to wander at leisure through the oak canopy, California sage, and succulents. Various observation stations, open-air buildings, and benches permit contemplation and space for writing in a journal, drawing, painting, and photography.
Descanso Gardens celebrates the natural and civilized year with festivals and events. The website provides a calendar as well as information about the café and gift shop. In addition, viewers can find out how to plan events at Descanso and use the Gardens as a backdrop for photography. Seasonal hours can also be found on the web site.