DescriptionIn the foothills of the San Gabriel Mountains in La Cañada Flintridge, north of Los Angeles, California is the largest collection of camellias in North America. Descanso’s 150 acres are filled with native California plants, a rose garden, flowering cherry trees and camellias planted along winding pathways which makes it a peaceful place to walk and observed nature—a welcome sanctuary from busy city life.
The camellias are in a California native habitat growing under a canopy of Coastal Live Oaks. The camellia forest is the signature collection at Descanso Gardens with a blooming season from fall to spring, peaking in February. However, the gardens offer its many visitors much to enjoy throughout the year.
In spring the tulips, daffodils poke their heads sunward and a cherry blossom festival is held. The nine-acre California Garden is planted with native plants against a backdrop of chaparral covered hills. Theodore Payne, a noted horticulturist, designed it to illustrate what Southern California looked like before it was developed.
The rose garden was begun by Dr. Walter Lammerts in the mid 1940s. He and Manchester Boddy, the owner of ‘Rancho del Descanso’ as it was called then, envisioned a rose garden that reflected the history of the rose. Roses are the centerpiece of Descanso during the summer.
However the camellia continues as “Queen” of Descanso Gardens. By 1941 Boddy had amassed a collection of 600 camellias with the assistance of the noted camellia hybridizer Howard Asper. In 1945 Dr. Walter Lammerts joined Boddy and Asper at Descanso. They admired the giant flowers of camellia reticulata and envisioned hybridizing with them but none were available outside of China. In early 1948, Professor T. Tsai, a botanist at Kumming Institute, was able to ship 20 varieties with 15 surviving. These were the first C. reticulata to be seen in the western world. Today Descanso Gardens maintains some of these original reticulatas from Yunnan China as well as many of their hybrids.
The Japanese Garden and tea house are especially beautifully landscaped with fall blooming c. sasanqua.
The camellia flowers continue all winter as thousands of c. japonica blooms are seen on mature twenty-foot trees. There are four American Camellia Society cooperative camellia shows held every year at Descanso which offers an opportunity to see over a hundred different camellia varieties and choose what you wish to add to your garden.
In 2018 Descanso Gardens was awarded a grant to plan a “Camellia Pathway”. The Descanso staff, board members, myself and other local camellia people met to plan and develop this pathway. There are eight areas: an entry garden, a Japanese camellias section which builds on the current collection; a Chinese section with both Camellia reticulata from Yunnan and new C. reticulata hybrids like ‘Queen Bee’; Camellia Displays; History of Descanso gardens highlighting Descanso introductions ‘Mrs. D. W. Davis Descanso’ and “Bernice Boddy’; a section for new introductions and a trial garden featuring Nuccio Nurseries introductions and other Southern Camellia breeders; a section with Species and finally Historic Vistas and the Boddy Plantation camellias. A focus on educating the public to the ornamental and economic uses of the camellia is highlighted.
In Spanish, Descanso means a peaceful place, which makes this International Garden of Excellence a wonderful place to visit.
-Story contributed by Bradford K.