What was once the elaborate yard for newspaper publisher E. Manchester Boddy’s mansion in La Canada Flintridge is now an enchanted place for us city dwellers to explore.

Descanso Gardens has become one of a handful of places we keep in our back pocket and pull out when we want to take a walk outside, but don’t want to turn it into a day long production. And as long as you don’t go during a rush hour, it should take about 25 minutes to get there.

The folks at the garden have wisely laid down tiny train tracks and for $3 you can purchase a ticket at the little depot for a fun ride amongst the flowers and trees. After eating lunch at the shaded tables near the entrance, we hopped a ride on the train and took a whirl past the rose garden and fish pond and even over a small creek.

Then we walked between the roses, past the willow trees, and under the grape arbor to the Children’s Maze. Hedge mazes, like this one, date back to the mediaeval period in Europe, and the Ramchal, who lived in Italy around the turn of the 18th century, describes the hedge maze in chapter 3 of “Mesilas Yesharim:” “In this kind of garden the hedges are arranged like walls, and among them are numerous paths, confusing and interconnected, one the same as the next. The goal is to reach a gazebo in the center of the garden.” This little maze has a sweet set of child sized chairs at the center for smaller maze-goers to relax in. The Ramchal brings the hedge maze as a mashul for life, a small demonstration of how seeking advice from those who have already mastered the maze will help one avoid entanglements and confusion. We love it when our family field trips can include real life examples of things we’ve learned about.

Continuing on, there’s a pleasant surprise just past the tropical waterfall: the Audubon Society Bird Observation station. Sounds imposing, but it’s actually kind of campy and reminded me of a summer cabin one might find in the woods of New Hampshire or even upstate New York. (When you see it yourself you will probably wonder what I was talking about, but I chalk it up to my perennial search for places that look like Massachusetts in California.) Anyway, the station overlooks a small pond where exotic birds are supposed to gather, but ducks and turtles are aplenty.

Like most botanical gardens, Descanso is divided into theme sub-gardens, which are showcased at different seasons. The Lilac garden, for example, is in bloom during the months of March and April, and the Camillia Forest is at its best in the winter. I think what’s special about Descanso is that it really can be enjoyed any time of year, with something special to offer each season.

There are so many sections to Descanso and it is so big that you may not see all of it in one visit unless you’re trying to get in a walk for exercise. There is even a tour of the Boddy mansion and an art gallery if you need a break from all the beautiful flowers and trees. Certain members of our family found the colorful koi in the Japanese garden of particular interest. This is important to remember lest going to theme parks or shopping in a mall were to become the Sunday default activity. And did I mention the brown rabbit we saw in the rose garden?

Notes:

There are paved pathways through much of the gardens so strollers and wheelchairs are welcome. A 50 minute tram ride is available for visitors who would like a riding tour of the gardens.

Address: Descanso Gardens
1418 Descanso Drive
La Cañada Flintridge, CA 91011
www.descansogardens.org
818.949.4200
Admission: General $8. Senior/Students $6. Children (5 to 12 years) $3.
Guild members and Children under 5 free.
Tram $4. Enchanted Railroad $3
Open 9am – 5pm