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Garden Experiences: Public Gardens
Copyright © 2005, 2008, 2009, 2012, 2013, 2019 by David E. Ross
I "collect" public gardens. I enjoy visiting them and seeing what plants they have that I have. Sometimes I compare what plants they have that won't grow in my climate or what plant I have that they have to grow under glass. I feel a thrill when I find a rose variety far from home that is blooming in my own garden.
Here (in random order) are some public gardens I have visited.
- Gardens of the World, Thousand Oaks, California, US
Created by the non-profit Hogan Family Foundation, each section reflects a portion of the world where people traveled through Ed and Lynn Hogan's tourist company and where the Hogans themselves enjoyed traveling. I am a docent there twice a week.
- Los Angeles County Arboretum and Botanic Garden, Arcadia, California, US
Originally the estate of the land developer and gambler Elias Jackson "Lucky" Baldwin, these 127 acres are now a research and testing facility for the introduction of new landscape plants into southern California.
- Huntington Library, San Marino, California, US
Although most famous for its art and book collections, the Huntington's buildings are set in the midst of 150 acres of botanical gardens with over 15,000 different varieties and species of plants. Themes include the Japanese, desert, Chinese, rose, camellia, palm, subtropical, jungle, lily ponds, herb, and Australian gardens.
- Descanso Gardens, La Cañada, California, US
The former estate of newspaper publisher Manchester Boddy, this 20-acre garden features a forest of some 34,000 camellias growing in the shade of native oaks. Located on the side of a long slope down from Boddy's house, visitors can have a spectacular view from above during peak blooming periods or walk down the slope for a closer look at individual camellias. The gardens also contain many other plants suitable for the same climate and culture as camellias.
- University of California, Los Angeles, (UCLA) California, US
To a large extent, the entire campus is a botanical garden, featuring plants especially suited to a coastal Mediterranean climate. Many trees, shrubs, and beds are labeled. A specific designated area is the Mildred E. Mathias Botanical Garden at the south end of the campus. Also, much of the central and northern parts of the campus is designated as a series of sculpture gardens. Off-campus, there is the Hannah Carter Japanese Garden, which I have not yet visited and which UCLA proposes to sell (quite contrary to the terms of the gift by which UCLA obtained it).
- Longwood Gardens, Kennett Square, Pennsylvania, US
Originally a farm granted to the Peirce family by Willian Penn when he organized the Pennsylvania Colony, by the 19th century this was a private collection of specimen trees. In 1906, the Peirce family wanted to sell, but the only bid was from a lumber company. At the last minute, Pierre du Pont (whose family founded the E. I. du Pont de Nemours chemical company) purchased the property. He expanded it to about twice the original size and developed it as a botanical garden with a formal design. The conservatory — a series of connected rooms each with its own climate — covers about four acres (almost the entire size of Gardens of the World).
- Winterthur, Delaware, US
From 1810, Winterthur was the estate of the DuPont family. In the early 20th century, Henry Francis du Pont developed the land as a "natural" garden. A tour guide explained that this does not mean that only native plants but that it was planted to look as if nature had created it. While the estate home is a major feature of the property, the garden itself must be seen.
- Royal Botanical Gardens, Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
"Our Mission: To be a living museum which serves local, regional and global communities while developing and promoting public understanding of the relationship between the plant world, humanity and the rest of nature." While the rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis) that grows without care at the sidewalk in front of my house is under glass at the Royal Botanical Gardens, some of the same bearded irises that I have they also have out in the open.
- Toronto Botanical Garden , Toronto, Ontario, Canada
Located within the larger Edwards Gardens: "A former Estate garden featuring perennials and roses on the uplands and wildflowers, rhododendrons and an extensive rockery in the valley."
- Hampton Court Palace, Surrey, England, UK
Although our primary interests (visited in 1989) were the early Tudor architecture and the historical significance of the royal palace, we found the formal gardens — including a knot garden and a hedge maze — to be extraordinary.
- The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles, California, US
Built on a high bluff overlooking Los Angeles, Santa Monica, and the Pacific Ocean, the Getty is the world's wealthiest art museum. Its Central Garden is not a showcase for plants; it's an abstract artwork using plant materials. At the Getty Villa overlooking the Pacific Coast Highway, ancient Roman gardens have been recreated, including an herb garden.
- U.S. Botanic Garden, Washington, DC, US
Since I saw this in the late 1980s and was very disappointed, this underwent significant development. It no longer disappoints. Half the space is contained in a conservatory of varying climates.
- Japanese Garden, Los Angeles, California, US
This garden was created to provide a use for excess treated reclaimed water from the Tillman Water Reclamation Facility (a sewage plant in Los Angeles's San Fernando Valley). Despite that "yucky" purpose, this is a wonderful garden with a dry section (water symbolized by raked pebbles), a lake with small islands, a tea house, and many bridges.
In 2003, my wife Evelyn and I made a train trip to and across Canada. On the way we visited several gardens.
- University of California Berkeley Botanical Garden, Berkeley, California, US
Built into the side of a small mountain above the University, this small botanical garden (34 acres) has over 12,000 different kinds of plants from all over the world arranged by region.
- Butchart Gardens, Vancouver Island, British Columbia, Canada
Developed in an abandoned rock quarry, the gardens offer spectacular views from the cliffs above as well as close up. The prime visiting times are July and early August.
- Rose Garden, Stanley Park, Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada
The rose garden is just one aspect of this huge municipal park.
- Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Classical Chinese Garden, Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada
The admission is well worth the price, especially if you take advantage of the guided tour. Next door is the Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Park, which is free and also well worth visiting.
- Montréal Botanical Garden, Montréal, Quebec, Canada
This extensive garden is mostly flat, making walking quite easy. However, because of the size, there is also a free tram.
Although not a garden, a highlight of our stay in Montréal was the Mosaïculture International Exhibition, a competitive international plant show. Two- and three-dimensional art works were created from living plants, mosaics using both plants in bloom and plants with colorful foliage. This was accomplished by building large frames covered with mesh and then packed with potting mix. Plants were then planted through holes in the mesh. Workers constantly swarmed over many of the exhibits, trimming, watering, and replacing plants. This is not an annual event. The first Mosaïculture International Exhibition was in 2000; this was the second, in 2003. A Mosaïculture International Exhibition was presented in Shanghai in 2006.
In 2012, my wife and I went on a river cruise through central Europe, from Budapest, up the Danube, down the Rhine, to Amsterdam. While on that cruise, I managed to visit two gardens in Germany that were listed in a news article as among the "top 10" of UNESCO "world heritage gardens".
- Not being familiar with UNESCO's criteria, I am not sure why the Rose Garden at the Bamberg New Residenz (the palace of the Bamberg prince-bishops) is considered significant. All the plants were puny. I saw many roses elsewhere nearby that were quite vigorous, so I know local soils and climate were not responsible for the stunted appearance of the plants. Perhaps they had not been properly fed; or — as happens in too many public rose gardens — they were pruned with electric hedge clippers.
- On the other hand, the court garden of the Würzburg Residenz (again, a palace of the local prince-bishops) was very nice. I especially liked the use of mixed annuals edging many of the beds (a riot of color), the sculpted yew trees, and the arches of foliage that framed statues.
A cruise on the River Seine in France in 2016 included side trips to two very special gardens.