The Huntington Botanical Gardens Tour: Part One – The Rose Garden

I had been meaning to go to Los Angeles for awhile now.

There were many reasons including the boutiques (so many), the plants (all beautifully manicured), the museums (world-class), and I had an appointment with a tattoo artist, which was the impetus.  The whole trip came together quickly, but honestly, that’s the only way I would have made the trip.  I, like many others, are not great with early planning. Something about it just gives me a bit of anxiety—the knowledge that this event will be occuring in the future.  I never know what exactly will be going on in my life a few months from now, how busy I might be, or how much extra money, if any, I’ll have, so it’s hard to plan.

But, with tattoo appointment made, I flew to LA with a plan on visiting The Huntington Library, Art Collections and Botanical Gardens, located in Pasadena.  I had heard many great things about the garden, but it was beyond anything I was prepared for. The vastness, especially, was something I was not prepared for. Keep in mind, I was visiting in December.  I’ve been to botanical gardens in the winter.  They’re generally pretty grey and you spend most of your time exploring the tropical greenhouses in search of interesting plant occurrences.  This is, however, southern California and the weather is phenomenal year-round.  It simply doesn’t apply!  Everywhere I looked, there was something to enjoy.

. . .

The Huntington Gardens – Rose Garden

I began my tour of the gardens with the Rose Garden, not for any particular reason, but because it was right outside the Rose Garden Tea Room and we had just had our fill (highly recommend, by the way). The Rose Garden was brimming with color.  I didn’t have high expectations going in December and I certainly didn’t expect a rose garden to be open or even blooming.  But here the garden was, stunningly on display for the many visitors to see.

A gardener had set up a table as a sort of “Ask me about roses” type of thing.  She had some different roses displayed in glasses, available to smell and admire.  I immediately began asking her about the garden—general questions, and the like.  Of course, the obvious question was, “Why are these roses still blooming mid-December?!”  I guess the answer is because they can.  The weather is so mild, that they had yet to experience a proper freeze, which would quickly end all flowering and send them off to their dormancy period.

She had remarked that they had stopped dead-heading the roses in early December to encourage the plants to go dormant.  If they kept deadheading, she said, they would continue to flower into January (and who knows how long more), which could potentially affect next year’s quality of bloom.  Rest is good for everyone, including our plants.  They can’t go on blooming forever! At least, not without consequences. So as you will see from the photos, amidst the many blooms are also many rose hips—their fruit, which also have a lovely sort of sculptural appeal.

For what it’s worth, here are some other tidbits the gardener told me:

  • The gardeners completely remove and replace the mulch each winter after the roses are finished blooming. I believe she said this was to eliminate the possibility of disease and fungus, which is particularly helpful if you’re dealing with a somewhat monoculture.
  • Roses like neither alkaline nor acidic soils. This is a bit tricky for me as my soil in Austin is somewhat alkaline.
  • Most commercial roses come from Central America.  I’m not sure if she meant for floral purposes or for gardening purposes.
  • The gardener also said that we could get in touch with someone from the American Rose Society, who could advise what roses are best for my climate (hot af, but still experiences a couple freezes), and my soil (crap clay leaning alkaline).
  • But generally, most roses will need their soil amended with compost unless your soil is naturally high in organic matter.
  • Oh, and always mulch.

The Rose Garden was anchored by two massive willow trees, which helped to break up the garden nicely.  It also added a sense of vastness and provided a beautiful backdrop to the many flowers.  A rose garden isn’t necessarily just a garden of roses, after all.  It’s what else you use to contrast and complement the roses.  It is an entire composition and I think that’s important to remember.

I absolutely loved these trees.

It was an incredible survey of the rose, one of the best I have ever seen.  There was an incredible variety of color and type including crawlers, hybrid teas, ramblers, miniatures, floribundas, grandifloras, and more.  The best part of  this compendium of the rosa genus is that every species and cultivar was labeled clearly.  Nothing makes me more annoyed than to see plants in a botanical garden unlabeled.  Botanical gardens, take note: every single plant must be labeled.  This is an educational experience and the Huntington did it right.

The Huntington also used structures such as this large arbor to give some of the climbing roses something to latch on to.  These structures also provided lovely vantage points, which, when designing a garden, are incredibly important to the success of a garden.  There must be paths, both for movement, but also for the eye to appreciate the splendor.  It also helps to eliminate constantly looking down, which most gardens require.  The beauty begins to surround you.

Part of the joy of any rose garden is the incredible scent wafting through the garden that can’t possibly be expressed through photos.  Some smelled clean and refreshing (my favorite).  Others more reminiscent of a floral perfume.  There were some with the classic rose scent that we all think of, and other that were more citrus in nature.  Occasionally I would find an absolutely beautiful rose, only to find that it was without any detectable scent.  Rose breeders often must choose and prioritize scent, flower size, flower color, and bloom length.  Still, they’re beautiful enough to make up for the lack of scent.

The sun shone bright that December day.  So much that I was worried about getting a sunburn and needed sunglasses to see anything.  So fear not, if you find yourself at The Huntingonton in December, there is plenty to see and admire.  Bring sunscreen.

I had walked through the Rose Garden again closer to the evening and the light was much more filtered, resulting in softer hues and less contrast in photos.  But alas, I had to keep walking!

Come back soon for part two of the garden tour.  Next stop: the Japanese Garden!

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