The words Arboretum and Botanical describe a broad range of gardens. They span scientific collections, to display or demonstration gardens, to public green-space. The LA County Arboretum and Botanic Garden is a pleasant mix of all of them, but not fully any of them. It is an attempt to serve multiple functions in an area that desperately needs every piece of green-space they can save from an ever growing population.
How it started
Back in the late 1800s, Lucky Baldwin built his lakeside home in what was to become the City of Arcadia and he its first mayor. The plot of land basically controlled the water in the area. Over time he sold of parcels of his huge estate for city development. On the land he grew fruit, nuts vegetables, grains, and all kinds of animals. After his death, the State of California purchased 111 acres for the foundation of the arboretum. Construction started in 1947.
Australia and Africa
It has an extensive Australian and African section, comprising about ½ the Arboretum. This is what attracted me to this garden. The Australian section specialized in Eucalyptus and Acacia and had many fine specimens with lots in bloom. It was still a little early for many of the Acacia, but just give it another couple of weeks for the peak display.
One Acacia really took my eye, not for the flowers, but for its protection from predation. Acacia giraffee has a wicked pair of thorns. They are about 3″ to 4″ long, with a tender green shoot emerging from the collar between them. The branches create a zig-zag pattern because it bends about 45 degrees at each node.
What I did find strange is their almost lack of plants from the Protea family. These are plants that almost symbolize both of those countries. We found 2 Banksia, neither of which looked healthy, a few Grevillea, and interestingly ones that I would not have expected to find there because they were species that we can easily grow in a much colder climate. I would have thought they could have grown the much showier ones. There were no Leucadendrons, or Leucospermums, no Protea – but they did have a couple of fine looking Macadamia trees which are in that family. I have to assume that their soil conditions were such that they did not perform well.
But perhaps the star of the show were the Aloes. Huge drifts of them in full bloom. To say the least – they were breathtaking. Syrupy nectar was oozing out of many of them, which surprisingly few critters were enjoying.
On the other side of the garden, they have a fabulous collection of ancient plants, Cycads, Dioone, and many others.
Within this part of the garden are some of the original structures dating back to the late 1800s. We did not get to fully explore this side of the gardens, but it had areas that were more naturalistic, as well as other areas that were more formally laid out, such as the rose garden and citrus orchard.
I would gladly go back and spend more time in this garden, especially at different times of the year. The plants are reasonably well marked, with most of the paths easily navigable (although at times the only indication that we could walk in an area was a sitting bench sited within it.) It is clear that they have been designed to be enjoyable year-round, not that difficult to do when you have such a favorable climate.