Treasures of the Huntington: The Gardens - Part 8 of 10

A particular highlight of our LA trip - and continues to be so more than a year after the event - was our trip to Huntington Gardens. The Huntington is, of course, much more than a garden - of which more later - but the extensive gardens with their many 'themed' areas are such a jewel in a many-jewelled crown that they deserve special attention.

My father was a gardener perhaps first and foremost. Gardening was his first love and remained so, creating several beautiful gardens during his lifetime. He would have loved this garden and for so many reasons. Like a lot of things American, it strives to be bigger and better than anything elsewhere and though it succeeds on many levels, its appeal remains predominantly an American one. Gill and I loved it without doubt, and were it in Argyll would continue to be regular visitors, but I feel it would struggle against many of the great gardens in Europe upon which it seems to have modelled itself. This maybe is the flaw - from the original conception - that it is not a garden with a unique vision, but a garden that seeks to be all things, reflecting the best seen elsewhere on the globe.
The Huntington, for all that we may criticise in the detail, remains a stunning experience with a plethora of plantlife that would credit it with the Botanic Garden title. It seeks to bring to Los Angeles a world-wide experience, with a Japanese Garden, a Chinese Garden, an Australian Garden, a Desert Garden and everything in between.
Without a doubt it was a major highlight of our California trip. This is perhaps best revealed by the fact that I took more photographs on this one day that on any other during our whole trip. What is shown here - with more images than most of my posts - is but a handful of the many taken on what turned out to be a special and memorable day.
From stunning vistas to intense small detail, The Huntington satisfied on every level and I am sorry we had to cram the experience into but one short day. This is a place which demands many and studied visits, savouring the many aspects of a very special garden. It reminds me of my first and so far only visit to the British Museum a few years back (something that I should like to revisit in this blog ere long); an overwhelming tide of images and information that seems to swamp you with the intensity of the sheer volume of what is on show.
As an example, The Huntington contains within its grounds The Huntington Library - a resource famed across the world for its unique collection, which includes among the items on permanent exhibit "the Ellesmere manuscript of Chaucer's Canterbury Tales, a copy of the Gutenberg Bible on vellum, the double-elephant folio edition of Audubon's Birds of America, and an unsurpassed collection of the early editions of Shakespeare's works."
From the Huntington website:
In 1903 Henry Huntington purchased the San Marino Ranch, a working ranch with citrus groves, nut and fruit orchards, alfalfa crops, a small herd of cows, and poultry. His superintendent, William Hertrich, was instrumental in developing the various plant collections that comprise the foundation of the botanical gardens. The property—originally nearly 600 acres—today covers 207 acres, of which approximately 120 are landscaped and open to visitors. More than 14,000 different varieties of plants are showcased in more than a dozen principal garden areas.
But the subject of this post are these wonderful gardens, which range from the sublime (above) to the ridiculous (below). Even so, there is always a particular New World charm about the displays.

Some of the 'trees' in parts of the garden are nothing of the sort, but - appropriately for Tinseltown - are set dressing as if for a play or movie. In the image (above) we have some 'trees' being created as a canopy to provide some shade for visitors, while below, the edges of the walkway are lined with other tree-like fabrications; none of which look as if they would stand up to much in the way of rough treatment.

The Chinese and Japanese gardens are side by side and blend into one another with subtle Oriental charm. We spend a considerable amount of our time here and enjoyed it enormously, each little vista presenting itself before the camera ready formed (well, almost).

Of course, the architecture provides the greater part of verisimilitude. One can feel a little closer to the Chinese or Japanese experience because of the occasional building placed in the garden. The plants themselves have become international to our eyes. Here in Argyll, the rhododendron has become as Scottish as the thistle, yet it was unknown here before the 19th century when a number of plantsmen brought specimens back from the Himalayas and China. (I am told that some species lived on these islands before the last ice age, but did not survive it)

The buildings complete the effect, but other detail helps along the way. Gardeners dressed for the region they are working on is a nice touch, but I do not know if it is policy, or merely individuals throwing themselves into their work with special zeal.
The local bonsai group has an area all to itself, and there are some beautiful specimens...

...and then on to a more Classical 18th century part of the gardens. This is an area which can be glimpsed from the house and complements the art collection adorning its walls - largely European and British particularly.

Another area in which we dallied was the Desert Garden - filled with an amazing variety of cacti and succulents. We could easily have spent the entire day here.

It might be easily missed, but we succeeded in photographing a humming-bird homing in on some nectar. It's single-mindedness meant that it ignored our attempts to get up close and here it looks like it is balanced on a plant spear.

This 'triffid' - which looked as it it was lumbering along nicely - was found in the Australian garden. The plants here, though no doubt Australian, did not strike as overly so; again because of the built environment, or here because of the lack of it. One could not be convinced of the Australian-ness, as the designated space looked more like Australian plants in Los Angeles. Perhaps I am being hyper-sensitive here and most likely missing the point. As a space it did not work for me.

We conclude with this image of a 'peaceable kingdom', of a place where we can be at rest. Gardens are very special places; places that revive the Spirit and speak to our deepest parts. The Bible has much to say about gardens, and the picture we see is of the heavenly realms. Let my beloved come into his garden, and eat his pleasant fruits (Song of Solomon 4:16)

Photography in this post is copyright George John Stewart MMXIV


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