Huntington Library & Botanical Gardens

Desert Garden, Huntington Library, San Marino CA / Darker than Green

Tall cactus with tree in background, Desert Garden, Huntington Library, San Marino CA / Darker than Green

Aeoniums in the sunlight, Desert Garden, Huntington Library, San Marino CA / Darker than Green

Succulent closeup, Desert Garden, Huntington Library, San Marino CA / Darker than Green

Twisted cactus, Desert Garden, Huntington Library, San Marino CA / Darker than Green

Adventure featured heavily in my early years growing up in Los Angeles. My mom probably wouldn’t describe it that way, but that’s the way I experienced it. I’m the youngest of three daughters, and we’re all so significantly spaced apart in age that by the time my middle sister went away to college, I still had several years left at home. My mom and I became adventure partners. We tried every type of cuisine, we took long walks through museums and sat through marathon theatre performances, we drove great distances to faraway festivals and gatherings. The city was our playground, and we took every advantage of it.

This elaborate itinerary building wasn’t, to my knowledge, part of any grand child-rearing scheme. As far as I know, my mom never set out to make me an artist, or a lover of the arts, or a foodie, or a traveler. She just took me along with her to experience things she was interested in. And luckily for both of us, they became things I was interested in, too. All the seeds she planted took root eagerly, and my personality and my own interests began to form and flourish. It may be no surprise to hear that I became an artist, and a lover of the arts, and a foodie, and a traveler, and many, many other things that resonate with her influence.

Desert Garden, Huntington Library, San Marino CA / Darker than Green

Small succulents, Desert Garden, Huntington Library, San Marino CA / Darker than Green

Tall cacti, Desert Garden, Huntington Library, San Marino CA / Darker than Green

Giant floss silk tree, Desert Garden, Huntington Library, San Marino CA / Darker than Green

Cactus patch in the shade, Desert Garden, Huntington Library, San Marino CA / Darker than Green

Desert Garden, Huntington Library, San Marino CA / Darker than Green

Closeup of cactus spines, Desert Garden, Huntington Library, San Marino CA / Darker than Green

When I went back to Los Angeles recently to help my mom celebrate her 70th birthday, I schemed to take her back to one of the places she’d introduced me to decades before. The Huntington Library is a historic mansion-turned-museum, and the hundred odd acres surrounding the mansion have been turned into a series of mind-bendingly beautiful gardens. The last time we went to the Huntington must have been decades ago, back when my mom still drove her little white Ford hatchback. This time around we were car-free, which means the trip was a lot longer, but also, that much more rewarding.

Closeup of swirling spiny cactus limbs, Desert Garden, Huntington Library, San Marino CA / Darker than Green

Curved path among barrel cacti, Desert Garden, Huntington Library, San Marino CA / Darker than Green

Tall, smooth cactus in dappled shade, Desert Garden, Huntington Library, San Marino CA / Darker than Green

Multi-colored succulents, Desert Garden, Huntington Library, San Marino CA / Darker than Green

Brightly colored agave closeup, Desert Garden, Huntington Library, San Marino CA / Darker than Green

We spent most of our day shuffling through the Desert Garden, which spreads and curves through 10 acres of spines, barbs, and branches. Places from childhood tend to feel smaller when revisited as an adult, but the Desert Garden felt exponentially bigger and even more impressive than I could have guessed. On a Monday afternoon, we had the garden mostly to ourselves, and the mockingbirds who screeched and chattered to each other from the tops of swaying, feathery yucca trees. With each turn of the path, the shapes and textures and colors blurred at the periphery, the dusty memories of walking these same trails years ago in perfect focus in the front of my mind. Our handful of hours at the Huntington reminded me of a lot, about where I’m from and the experiences that compounded to create the person I am today. But what stood out to me was the realization and the reminder that there’s no better company for a long, slow stroll among the plants than my mom.

Swirled agave closeup, Desert Garden, Huntington Library, San Marino CA / Darker than Green

Silver dollar jade, Desert Garden, Huntington Library, San Marino CA / Darker than Green

Thin spiny agave leaves, Desert Garden, Huntington Library, San Marino CA / Darker than Green

Green and yellow variegated agave leaves, Desert Garden, Huntington Library, San Marino CA / Darker than Green

Desert plant resting against shaded fence, Desert Garden, Huntington Library, San Marino CA / Darker than Green

Cholla cactus fruiting, Desert Garden, Huntington Library, San Marino CA / Darker than Green

Montrose cactus, Desert Garden, Huntington Library, San Marino CA / Darker than Green

Shaded long leaves, Desert Garden, Huntington Library, San Marino CA / Darker than Green

Cactus flower, Desert Garden, Huntington Library, San Marino CA / Darker than Green

Agaves in black and white, Desert Garden, Huntington Library, San Marino CA / Darker than Green

Center view of the path in the Desert Garden, Huntington Library, San Marino CA / Darker than Green

Jacaranda tree in bloom, Desert Garden, Huntington Library, San Marino CA / Darker than Green

Monstera Deliciosa in the shade, Desert Garden, Huntington Library, San Marino CA / Darker than Green

Garden plantings at the Huntington Library, San Marino CA / Darker than Green

Sun-kissed agave spines, Huntington Library, San Marino CA / Darker than Green

My mom gazing upon the Desert Garden, Huntington Library, San Marino CA / Darker than Green

The Huntington is located in San Marino, CA, a mainly residential corner of Pasadena, which is a lovely city northeast of Los Angeles. If you’re traveling there on public transportation, make sure you bring a book…or two. From the westside of Los Angeles, our trip took over 2 hours. But! It was a lovely ride, and I continue to be amazed with how robust public transit has become in L.A. since I moved away. However, I do have one word to the wise for train trippers – you should spring for the Lyft when you arrive at Allen Station. It won’t cost too much, and you’ll want to save your walking energy for when you get to the Gardens. Avoid Tuesdays (they’re closed), tickets are less expensive on weekdays and free on the first Thursday of every month. My only other tip – have fun, and bring someone who loves adventures as much as you do. If that person is your mom, even better.


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