Outing: The Huntington Library Desert Garden

Huntington Library Cactus Garden 01

For the first time since I left college almost five years ago, I’m living within 30 minutes to an hour (with Los Angeles traffic, it’s a crap shoot) from my sister and numerous friends. This gives me incentive to leave my one-square-mile of comfort, and explore, explore, explore.

There are endless things to do down here, and so much I don’t know about the area. I’ve resolved — along with Jonathan, Kim, and our friend Shannon — to see more of it.

The four of us started last Saturday with a trip to the Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens, and while there are umpteen reasons to spend the day there, the main reason I wanted to go was to see the Desert Garden

Huntington Library Cactus Garden 02

Most of it was planted around 1905 when the property was built, with some of the cactus already being fully mature when it was transplanted on the grounds.

It was an incredible sight, and something my overexposed phone pictures simply cannot accurately capture.

We first stopped at a greenhouse perched above the garden, where a small, public, coffee-and-donuts reception was taking place. It looked to be a showcase of cactus and succulents, many of which were for sale. I recognized a lot of them, but some were downright bizarre.

The left image is of an agave attenuata, a favorite of mine. I think Shannon was pretty smitten with it too; we’re both on a prowl for one to come live on our balconies. The picture on the right is of one succulent planted in a hanging planter, while another “volunteer” grows from the bottom. Two totally separate plants. According to a worker there, it surprised everyone years ago when it randomly started to grow through the hole in the planter and they just let it be.

And then there’s these ones, which look like Muppets, don’t you think?

Then, we walked and weaved all around the bunches of colorful succulents and giant cactus. We searched for the strangest, sharpest, prettiest ones. It was amazing to think about how many of these cacti had been alive and thriving on the property for over 100 years.

Huntington Library Cactus Garden 07

Huntington Library Cactus Garden 10

There are over a dozen gardens, small and large, at The Huntington, but we spent the most time in the Desert Garden. It was also the start of our day there, so we were full of energy and excited to be outside enjoying such beautiful plants right in the middle of fancy Pasadena.

And the weather was perfect. Maybe 78º F or so. The sky was clear, the sun was hot, and the air was crisp and cool.

Basically a typical January in California.

Huntington Library Cactus Garden 11

Fun fact #1: The Huntington Desert Garden is home to the world’s tallest Yucca filifera at around 60 feet tall. The guide we overheard speaking with a group of tourists was pretty darn proud of it.

Huntington Library Cactus Garden 12

Fun fact #2: The asparagus-like stalk growing from this agave plant is the tell-tale sign that — after it has bloomed — the agave will die. From the blooms, thousands of baby plants will be born and begin to grow around the base of the dead agave trunk. This article talks about the agave blooming process, and it’s actually kinda rad.

We spent the entire day walking around The Huntington property, which included multiple gardens and the main art gallery (the old Huntington residence), where I spent most of my time admiring old chairs and tables.

Oh, and George Romney (the British painter, not father to Bozo the Clown) is my new favorite old-timey portrait artist. This one, called “Emma Hart in a Straw Hat,” was my favorite.

I’m looking forward to more adventures around Los Angeles, especially as the weather gets better this spring.

What are your favorite places to explore in Southern California? Any recommendations for hiking and camping spots, museums, parks, restaurants or bars? I’d love to know!

One thought on “Outing: The Huntington Library Desert Garden

  1. Huntington Library! I saw my first Gutenberg Bible there (still on of the more thrilling moments of my life). Whenever I’m in SoCal, I love to stop by Old Town Orange and have a walkabout. No matter how long its been, or how much it’s changed, something about it still feels like coming home.


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