Los Angeles County Arboretum & Botanic Garden – Arcadia
Visited: May 2020
Thankfully, now that outdoor museums and gardens have opened, Tracy and I can escape our home to visit gorgeous environs, some located very near to where we live. One such slice of local heaven is the Los Angeles County Arboretum & Botanic Garden. It’s a spot that not only contains exquisite plants and flowers but, during the summer (except for this year), becomes an incredible music venue (along with accompanying peafowl) in a magical setting (more on that later).
The Arboretum is a 127-acre museum located across the street from the Santa Anita Racetrack in Arcadia, a city just east of Pasadena. It’s home to plant collections from all over the world, including many rare and endangered species, while also serving as an animal sanctuary, including a bunch of loud and exotic peafowl, which we got to see up close and personal. These peacocks (male) were strutting their stuff trying to get the peahens’ (females) attention.
The peafowl that roam the grounds are descendants of a pair imported by Elias Jackson “Lucky” Baldwin (more on him later) from India in the 1880s. As stated, these peacocks are as loud as they are beautiful (many of the arboretum’s neighbors complain about the noise, but sorry folks, these peafowls were here long before you arrived). One of them greeted us as we entered, however we kept our distance because it’s mating season, and this guy was a tad riled up.
We made our reservations online (as you have to do during this time) the week before, and since we’re members, we grabbed the first available time slot at 7:30 a.m. (members now don’t need to reserve a time online … they can enter anytime after 7:30 a.m.) Currently, non-members still need to make an online, timed reservation. They were sold out the day we visited in May.
After encountering the dazzling and debonair Mr. Peacock, we headed right along the path following a green line (currently most of the smaller side and dirt trails are closed to keep ensure social distancing. A worker told us that more trails are being opened cautiously as time goes by.)
As we entered the Africa section, one such open trail was the Aloe Trail.
I read the arboretum features more than 180 different aloe species.
At least I knew if I cut myself, there would be a nearby remedy (although it would also probably come with my arrest).
In between the Aloe trail and out next stop, Tracy, in a moment of bravery, got up close and personal with one of the peacocks. It doesn’t even look real.
Since we were still in Africa, or to be more specific, off the Southeast coast of Africa on the world’s fourth largest island, it was time to hit the Madagascar Spiny Forest.
Like the sign says, The Spiny Forest of Madagascar is “one of the most threatened habitats on earth and more than 95% of the plant species in this habitat are found nowhere else on earth.”
Like many of the paths, this is a one-way walk.
Our favorite was the Alluaudia procera Aubre pieuvre.
A little further down the road we meandered the colorful Canary Island Path, guarded over by Dragon Trees.
Interspersed among the Dragon Trees are the spectacularly vibrant purple Limonium arborescens …
… or as they are also called (and pronounced easier) Perez’s Sea Lavender.
We really enjoyed the short stroll through the Canary Islands.
Back along the path we spied a lovely tree that also graces our parking strip. We love Jacaranda’s, but don’t park your car under them. Those beautiful blooms are sticky. I still have one leaf on my shoe from 1998.
On a previous visit, we stopped by the Tule Pond, home to birds, fish, wood ducks and turtles. Tule Pond and Baldwin Lake are the only natural water features in the Arboretum. Tule Pond was named for the tule (giant sedge) growing along its banks. “The Tonga people used these for construction of their thatched homes. Near the pond are several willows which were important for food and shelter. The Indians chewed on the inner willow bark or leaves, which relieved their aches and pains. The chemical that made these people feel better was isolated and is the active ingredient in aspirin. We were more interested in the ducks and flora this morning.” We ran into Mother Goose and her family, although there were no nursery rhymes being read.
Back to our recent visit. We walked by an expansive lawn where we have spent many a summer evening picnicking under the stars while listening to amazing music.
During the summer months, the Los Angeles County Arboretum & Botanic Garden is home to the Pasadena Pops Summer Concert Series, which had, until 2012, performed at Descanso Gardens in La Cañada. Michael Feinstein is the conductor. He took the reins following the death of the previous conductor, Marvin Hamlisch, in 2013.
These concerts are heavenly, but unfortunately the 2020 summer’s series has been canceled due to the pandemic. I’ll have to find another spot to enjoy my Spanish GinTonics.
After a quick walk through the Tropical Forest …
… in front of us was Lake Baldwin, named after Elias Jackson “Lucky” Baldwin, who was a prominent California businessman and investor in the 1800s. He generated most of his wealth through savvy and lucky mining investments (thus “Lucky” Baldwin). “He accumulated large landholdings of more than 60,000 acres in Southern California, where the communities of Arcadia and Monrovia are now located and developed the showcase Santa Anita Ranch and also promoted the area for settlement.” From here, we caught our first glimpse of the famed Queen Anne Cottage (more on it later).
The last time we were in this part of the arboretum, a dragon occupied the lake (and not a Dragon tree or Puff the Magic Dragon). One night we attended the Moonlight Forest/Magic Lantern Art Festival, where “masterfully crafted lanterns beckon you into the gardens. The magnificent lanterns reflect three themes; Nature, Children’s Garden, and Chinese Culture, all of which embrace the mission and communities of the Arboretum.”
It was literally an illuminating experience, and if you’re in the area next time it comes around (hopefully it will), I suggest making reservations.
On that evening, I took a misstep (the story of my life) and nearly tumbled into one of these bad boys. Talk about a prickly situation.
Unfortunately, the Rose Garden was closed. I said to Tracy, “ I never promised you a …” Wait I promised to never use that silly line again.
First we reached the Coach Barn …
… and a small dwelling that I’m sure Frankie and Remi would like to rent. (by the way, no dogs at the Arboretum … Sorry kids)
The Coach Barn and everything indoors at the Arboretum is currently closed, but if you visit after it opens back up you can check out Lucky’s “Tally Ho” carriage that was purchased at the Philadelphia Centennial Exposition in 1876. we saw it on a previous visit.
We took a short walk through a lush shaded area where we encountered a small friend enjoying an early morning snack.
There was also an interesting sculpture that we had never seen before.
A minute later we were standing at Queen Anne Cottage, an abode you might remember from the television show Fantasy Island, starring Ricardo Montalbán and Hervé Villechaize. Mr. Roarke (Montalbán) greeted his guests at Queen Anne Cottage. Ah, the magic of television.
The arboretum has also been the setting for more than 100 movies. The paddle wheeler seen below set its course on Lake Baldwin in the 1940 movie, Safari, starring Douglas Fairbanks Jr. (photo courtesy of Arboretum)
Mai Tai Tom Fun Fact: The boat accidentally sank during filming.
The arboretum was also utilized for five of Johnny Weissmuller’s Tarzan movies. (photos courtesy of Arboretum) It made for a great jungle setting.
Queen Anne Cottage was built in 1885-86 as a honeymoon gift for Lucky’s fourth wife, 16-year-old Lillie Bennett (he was “Lucky” he didn’t get arrested for that). This marriage did not last (they separated, but never divorced), and Baldwin converted the cottage into a memorial to his third wife, Jennie Dexter, who had died in 1881 at the age of 23 of tuberculosis. (She was also 16 when he married her.) A stained glass portrait of Jennie can be seen on the front door.
Mai Tai Tom Fun Fact 2: Baldwin was shot by not one, but two, women in his lifetime. Living up to his nickname, he survived both shootings.
The National Register of Historic Places lists both the Coach Barn and the Queen Anne Cottage.”
When we left the house, I swear I heard Tattoo ringing the bell and screaming, “De plane! De plane!”
On the backside of the house, the turtles plodded on. The guy on the left looks like he had an injury to his shell.
A friendly duck was obviously waiting for baseball season to start as he belted out “Buy me some peanuts and quackerjack.”
Meanwhile, I think this squirrel was now stalking us.
We walked around the lake.
You had the feeling of being far away from the city here.
Tracy admired this passion flower, and as we all know, Tracy has quite a passion for flowers.
Next stop would be the Herb Garden, however I was saddened Mr. Alpert was nowhere to be found.
Tracy asked whether I wanted to see some Lamb’s Ears. I said, “That sounds disgusting!” I admit to being a little sheepish not knowing that Lamb’s Ear was actually a plant.
The narrow lanes of the Herb Garden were easy to navigate, even for a guy looking like he was about ready to rob a train. Currently (as of late May 2020) masks are required to tour the grounds.
Of course, there were scofflaws … I figured this woman must be from Georgia.
As we were about ready to depart the Herb Garden, I told Tracy, “All’s well, that ends well.” It took all her patience not to hit me over the head with the bucket.
Before leaving we saw a California Buckeye (no relation to an Ohio State Buckeye).
After a short walk, we heard the sound of rushing water. Since all the restrooms were closed, I assumed we must be near the Mayberg Waterfall.
Every hour, 48,000 gallons of water cascades into the pool, where it is then recycled back to the top of the falls. The koi here are enormous. They’re members of the carp family and related to goldfish (I think on their mother’s side).
The steps to the right of the waterfall lead to Tallac Knoll, where there are some spectacular views of the Arboretum and the San Gabriel mountains. Sadly, Talac Knoll was closed to foot traffic. Looking back from the falls, there were views of the arboretum with the cloud-shrouded San Gabriel Mountains lurking in the distance.
We climbed an open dirt path to the Korean Garden Site where, bless my Seoul, my new knee responded well.
At the top was a lonely flower. The Hibiscus rosa-sinensis, dubbed “My Guy,” had me singing some Mary Wells for the next few moments. Tracy thought I sounded better in a mask.
Our sort of circular tour now took us toward the Kallam Perennial Garden. The paths to this garden, one of our favorites, was also unfortunately closed.
Still, we were able to take a few pictures from the perimeter.
Tracy’s always looking for ground cover.
She believes this is the best part of the arboretum, so we hope it opens up again soon. An orchid tree showed off its jewel-like colors.
This next photo is one we took back in 2013 also from this area, or I think it was near here. When al the paths open back up, there are great spots like this just to sit and admire the splendor of it all.
I believe we next ended up in the California Native Habitat, although I never saw a sign.
Wherever we were, we enjoyed it much.
Who needs to go to the desert for wildflowers?
I’d never heard of a Grevillea before.
As for this gorgeous scarlet red plant, we are hoping someone who reads this can tell us what it is.
Let it Bee!
We should have brought some hot butter sauce to go with these artichokes.
As we started our way back we ran into another of our feathered friends out enjoying Mother Nature at its finest.
The fountains weren’t on today, but this is from a few years ago.
As we walked out, we watched as this peacock kept looking at his reflection in the sign. After a few seconds he would attack himself. I believe he’s now under concussion protocol.
During normal times there are trams that depart outside the ticket office throughout the day (although we prefer to walk), and you can also take a docent-led tour.
Hopefully they’ll return soon.
I can’t tell you how wonderful we felt having escaped more than two months of being mostly confined to our house. We are so lucky to live near such beautiful gardens as those at the Los Angeles County Arboretum and Garden in Arcadia, the Huntington Botanical Gardens in San Marino and Descanso Gardens in La Cañada Flintridge. Once we renew our membership at the Huntington (which still hasn’t reopened as of late May 2020), we’ll be members of all three. If you have the opportunity, pay a visit to the Los Angeles County Arboretum and Garden, say “hello” to the peacocks!
Los Angeles County Arboretum and Garden
301 North Baldwin Avenue
Arcadia, CA 91007
Current Hours: 9:00 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., (grounds close at 5)
Online admission tickets are required (timed).
Students with ID. & Seniors age 62 and older: $11.00
Children Ages 5-12: $5.00
Children 4 and under: Free