The 10 Magnificent California Gardens Inspiring Us Right Now

·5 min read
Photo credit: George Rose - Getty Images
Photo credit: George Rose - Getty Images

There are few things we love to daydream about more than a beautiful garden and the next one on our list to visit. From the peaceful public gardens of Japan to the perfectly manicured gardens of the world's royals that we have to see, there's not an area of the world whose gardens we are not interested in seeing.

California, whose landscape varies from beaches and deserts to mountains, is home to a number of gardens that celebrate the native plantings of that region. These magnificent institutions at university campus, private estates, and neighborhood libraries give locals and visitors a chance to discover the state's diverse natural offerings while learning about botany and sustainability.

Here, the 10 Golden State gardens you have to experience once in your lifetime.

Lotusland

Photo credit: Bob Craig, Lotusland
Photo credit: Bob Craig, Lotusland

After years of performing across Europe and America, Polish singer and socialite Madame Ganna Walska turned her attention to cultivating a lush and exuberant garden of rare plants at her Montecito, California, estate. Madame Walska was so dedicated to creating a botanical haven that she auctioned off pieces from her elusive jewelry to finance the final cycad garden. Lotusland was gifted to the Ganna Walska Lotusland Foundation after Madame Walska's death to allow others to discover the magical grounds and learn about horticulture.

Fullerton Arboretum

Photo credit: MediaNews Group/Orange County Register via Getty Images
Photo credit: MediaNews Group/Orange County Register via Getty Images

One day in 1970 a group of students met with faculty members at the then-California State College to discuss what to do with a rotting orange grove. Th idea quickly came to turn into an arboretum with the mission to turn the land into a botanical intuition and save the citrus trees. Years later, Fullerton Arboretum holds the title of the largest botanical garden in Orange County with nearly 4,000 different species of plants making up the Cal State University's green space.

Virginia Robinson Gardens

Photo credit: Zigzig20s - Wikimedia Commons
Photo credit: Zigzig20s - Wikimedia Commons

One of the first estates built in Beverly Hills, the Virginia Robinson Gardens, spans six acres with five unique gardens: the Italian Renaissance Terrace Garden, Formal Mall Garden, Rose Garden, Kitchen Garden, and Tropical Palm Garden. Retail giants Virginia and Harry Robinson were known for their lavish parties at the property that attracted renowned guest such as the Duke and Duchess of Windsor. The gardens are now listed on the National Register of Historic Places and is open by appointment for garden lovers to explore the lush grounds.

Descanso Gardens

Photo credit: Mitch Diamond - Getty Images
Photo credit: Mitch Diamond - Getty Images

The Descanso Gardens serves as a verdant retreat from the bustle of Los Angeles with 150 acres of diverse rose gardens, towering oak woodlands, and an ancient forest. The origins of the botanical garden dates all the way back a some 10,000 years ago when the Tongva people cared for the land and the native oak trees. Centuries later in the 1900s, Elias Manchester Boddy, with the help of horticulturists F.M. Uyematsu and Fred and Mitoko Yoshimura, began cultivating rare camellias on his property that would later become the grounds of the cultural institution. The Descanso Gardens now houses the world's largest collection of camellias with daily programming that teaches people about this plant along with the garden's hundreds others.

The Santa Barbara Botanic Garden

Photo credit: George Rose - Getty Images
Photo credit: George Rose - Getty Images


With 78 acres to explore and almost 1,000 varieties of plants to marvel at, the Santa Barbara Botanic Garden is a favorite historic landmark in the area. Views of the Santa Ynez Mountains and the Santa Barbara Channel Islands from the garden allow visitors to take in the surrounding landscape, and the garden's nearly six miles of paths meander through its Mission aqueduct and dam, Japanese teahouse and garden, a redwood grove, and a wildflower meadow.

The Huntington Library and Gardens

Photo credit: Joe Sohm/Visions of America - Getty Images
Photo credit: Joe Sohm/Visions of America - Getty Images

The Huntington Library and Gardens, located in San Marino and founded by Henry E. and Arabella Huntington, boasts 16 themed gardens, which means there really is something to intrigue the whole family. From Shakespeare to the ranch, Australian, and camellia-centric gardens, this educational and research institution offers programs and exhibitions on science, art, and other topics.

The Moorten Botanical Garden

Photo credit: Jim Steinfeldt - Getty Images
Photo credit: Jim Steinfeldt - Getty Images

This Palm Springs family-owned garden is small, but at only one acre, the property is much more compact than many other public gardens in California, but this garden packs a punch within a small amount of space. Founded in 1938 by aspiring-actor-turned-landscape-designer Chester Moorten, who created gardens for Walt Disney, Frank Sinatra, and Bing Crosby, the Moorten Botanical Garden features varieties of desert trees, cacti, and plants from all over the world. Guided tours from the staff are available, and the Cactus Castle is a must-see.

Conservatory of Flowers

Photo credit: John S. Lander - Getty Images
Photo credit: John S. Lander - Getty Images

The Conservatory of Flowers, which was completed in 1879 and is the oldest remaining wooden conservatory in the U.S., is a greenhouse and botanical garden located in San Francisco's Golden Gate Park. The Victorian-style conservatory houses rare and unusual plants, ensuring that threatened plant life is allowed to continue. Five galleries of 2,000 different species — like the Brazilian Golden Trumpet, the 100-year-old giant Imperial philodendron, and the Victoria amazonica — of tropical plants fill the conservatory.

Mendocino Coast Botanical Gardens

Photo credit: George Rose - Getty Images
Photo credit: George Rose - Getty Images

Founded in 1961 by a retired nurseryman named Ernest Schoefer and his wife, Betty, this must-see garden welcomes around 85,000 visitors a year. Northern California's Mendocino Coast Botanical Gardens are known for their various species of rhododendrons, whose ideal climate matches that of the region. The facility also offers guided garden walks that educate visitors on the origins of the different species and master gardening classes.

Getty Villa Museum

Photo credit: Gabriel Bouys - Getty Images
Photo credit: Gabriel Bouys - Getty Images

The Getty Villa is in the Pacific Palisades neighborhood of Los Angeles and dedicated to exploring the arts and cultures of ancient Greece, Rome, and Etruria. In 1954, J. Paul Getty built a gallery next to his home but quickly ran out of room and opened the Getty Villa down the hill. The property includes four gardens that are modeled after the typical gardens that would have been connected to an ancient Roman home: an outer peristyle, an inner peristyle, an herb garden, and the East garden.

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