Places to Go: The lilacs of Descanso Gardens

April 25, 2010

Here’s a place we’ve always had a hankering to visit. Descanso Gardens is tucked away in the quiet foothills of La Canada Flintridge, just off the 210, outside Los Angeles. Visitors get to meander 150 acres of what one writer called an “unexpected Eden.” [Los Angeles Times]

We love the sound the place–“From the small, spare flowers of the strawberry plants that hug the ground in the edible garden, to the showy swaths of azaleas and crab apples and camellias, the place is ablaze with color.”

A special highlight of Descanso is the lilac garden, home to 400 different bushes, where lilac junkies come in the spring to get their fix.

Lilacs are special. Both George Washington and Thomas Jefferson grew them. The arboretum at Harvard University is home to one of the oldest and largest collections in the country.

However, the mild California climate is not typically conducive for the fragile lilac, which requires a long dormancy to grow. So folks who moved to Los Angeles from elsewhere have learned to do without — except for visiting Descanso each spring, where somehow the staff has managed to beat the odds.

Descanso Gardens was founded by newspaper editor E. Manchester Boddy in the 1940’s. Boddy wanted lilacs in his garden, so he hired a UCLA biologist to start a breeding program on the property. By 1966, a dozen different varieties of lilacs were growing, and the rest is history. Today, visitors can enjoy each of the plant’s known range of seven colors, from pure white, to a deep purple.

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If you’re visiting Descanso, take the time to drive east about seven (7) miles to the Huntington Library (gardens).