Debra Prinzing

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Garden Field Trip: Descanso Gardens, Los Angeles

January 3rd, 2010

An unlabeled dark pink Camellia in winter at Descanso Gardens

An unlabeled dark pink Camellia in winter at Descanso Gardens

Camellias are oh-so-beautiful, delicate and almost porcelain-like in their perfection.

Deb and Anita (Mom) in Japanese garden

Deb and Anita (Mom) in Japanese garden

On the day after Christmas, my parents and I visited Los Angeles’s most established camellia collection at Descanso Gardens

The mature camellia shrubs (many of which are tree-like in their proportions) are protected from Southern California’s harsh heat and sunlight because they’re planted in the understory of even more mature sycamore and live oak trees. They are happiest in the cooler months of the year.

Here, you really do feel like the paths lead through an established woodland. It’s actually an urban woodland, just off of the junction of two freeways. But that’s LA for you.

When we moved to Los Angeles in August, 2006, we got off the plane at Burbank Airport and while waiting for luggage, I noticed a huge DESCANSO GARDENS billboard above the luggage claim area. I remember thinking, “what kind of garden could exist among all this concrete?” 

Anita (Mom) and Fred (Dad) at entrance to Oak-and-Camellia Forest

Anita (Mom) and Fred (Dad) at entrance to Oak-and-Camellia Forest

Later, I was lucky enough to visit. Descanso Gardens is a 160-acre natural woodland and botanical garden located just north of Burbank in a community called La Canada-Flintridge. It’s about a one-hour drive east of where I live in Thousand Oaks and about 20 minutes west of Pasadena. If you plan a visit to the Huntington Botanical Garden, you can easily add a side trip to Descanso. 

I was invited to give a talk at Descanso a few summers ago and was blown away by its immense scale, as urban gardens go. But until last week, I had never visited during the winter Camellia season.

Descanso’s founder, E. Manchester Boddy, publisher and owner of the Los Angeles Daily News, preserved the land (gardens, woodland and chaparral) to share Southern California’s natural beauty with future generations. This is where he lived, building a home in 1938 with views of the San Gabriel mountains. The Boddy family left the house in 1953 when they sold Descanso to Los Angeles County.   

A beautiful pink camellia display

A beautiful pink camellia display

About the Camellia Forest:


Thousands of camellias grow in the understory of a 20-acre oak forest. Boddy began planting camellias in the late 1930s, originally to supply the florist trade.
Many plants were purchased from F.M. Uyematsu, a Japanese-American nurseryman whose camellias were well known to the trade.   Other plants came directly from china, including Camellia reticulata cultivars, imported by Boddy in 1948.  Camellias bloom here from October through May, so you can actually enjoy them most of the year except for summer.

Here are some more of the flowers and garden features that we enjoyed on our winter visit. I especially love the glossy red container plantings of Camellia sasanqua ‘Setsugekka’ because they remind me of the same ones growing in my former Seattle garden, espaliered against the fence for a beautiful winter floral display.

4 Responses to “Garden Field Trip: Descanso Gardens, Los Angeles”

  1. MA Says:

    There they are! Mom and Dad! Hi! I love Descanso. And how nice for the camellias to bloom on cue. Were the peacocks preening?
    .-= MA´s last blog ..Gardening 365, Day 3 =-.

  2. Susan Appleget Hurst Says:

    Hi to your folks, Debra. What nice day out for the three of you. And how nice for me to see the camelias through your eyes while it’s -12 here. *sigh*

  3. Diane Carter Says:

    As a transplant, when I saw the camellia’s blooming at Descanso, I decided to stay here. Incredible beauty!

  4. Rachel B. Levin Says:


    I visited the Descanso Gardens this summer, and though I was thoroughly enchanted, I missed out on seeing the camellias in bloom! I came across your post because I’m trying to figure out when to plan my next trip to catch a peek at the camellia forest. Love your pix here! If you want to read more about what was in bloom during my summer visit, check out this post: Happy Holidays!


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