Botanical Gardens

Botanical Gardens01 Sep 2008 02:19 pm

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?


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
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

Arts & Crafts&Botanical Gardens&Museums&Outdoors&science&Uncategorized&zoo01 Jun 2008 12:00 pm

We all have membership to the summer club. This is a wonderful club to belong to and can really be a beautiful opportunity to make great memories, share time with family and learn new things. Or it can be riddled with stressful questions like: “What are we doing with the kids?” “How come all these activities are so expensive?” “Who has time off from work to travel?”

But summer is summer. The days are hot and the nights are cool and homemade orange juice popsicles hit the spot. Also, lots of hiking spots around LA are free. Then again, it can be mighty hot to be outside. So here’s a look at some places to consider buying membership to, particularly for the summer.

Kidspace in Pasadena is a combination children’s science museum and indoor activity center. It is small and expensive. Membership is $160/ year for a family of four, $250 for a family of six. That means that four members of a family would need to go five times in the year to cover the membership cost. Are you likely to drive up to Pasadena, near the Rose Bowl to visit Kidspace, and is it worth it?

While there are activities for children ages 1 to 10, I think the most appealing features of Kidspace are the ones for toddlers. The Early Childhood Learning Center is a dream for little sweeties. A certain 19 month old was able to climb a rope ladder and slide down a decent sized slide all by himself over and over, and he was quite overjoyed about it.

There is also squirting water in the courtyard that little kids enjoy standing over until they are soaked (so bring flip-flops and a change of clothes.) For older children there are small educational exhibits like a water table to experiment with erosion, displays of live bugs, and some fun climbing opportunities. Outside is a small race track for tricycle riding, as well as a garden to explore. Just keep in mind that it’s blazes hot in the summer. They do offer special workshops and programs throughout the year so please call or check their online calendar for more information. By the way, I timed it, and it took me 15 minutes to get from Kidspace to downtown LA.

The thing I tend to look for with a summer outing is air conditioning. Huntington Library, also up the 110 in the Pasadena area (San Marino), has lots of air conditioning for the buildings that house their amazing art collections, but then there is a little known outdoor attraction that’s nice for the summer as well. Behind a really neat conservatory and teaching greenhouse is the Children’s Garden, especially designed with kids in mind. That means water squirts and shpritzes and fills areas with thick fog—-all for children to play in. But Huntington Library is quite expensive (two adults and two children over age 5 on a Sunday = $52.) So membership ($100.), again, may be something to consider if this is a place you are likely to visit more than a few times a year. There is a lot to explore between the gardens and the art. On the other hand, The Huntington is free the first Thursday of every month with advanced reservations, so it doesn’t have to cost anything to check it out.

Of course, we have our free museums around LA—the LACMA (after 5pm or through their NextGen program), the Science Center, the Getty– but I do maintain a membership to the Natural History museum, which continues to be a great bargain at $70 a year for the family. Just to be able to pop into the butterfly pavilion on any summer day and sit amongst the butterflies is worth it.

Plus there’s the Los Angeles Zoo ($75), and while I do like to visit the zoo during the cooler months, I find it too hot most summer days. However, membership includes a 50% discount on tickets to many zoos around California and the country. Of particular interest is the very cute Santa Barbara Zoo which is situated near the ocean and would be lovely during the summer. So please get out there and embrace the summer and enjoy the long days and the soft evening breeze and remember that orange juice popsicles hit the spot—and maybe a few hotdogs on the grill, too.


Kidspace Children’s Museum, 480 N. Arroyo Blvd., Pasadena, CA 91103,, Open daily, 9:30am – 5pm, admission: $8/person over age 1.

The Huntington, 1151 Oxford Road, San Marino, CA 91108, (626) 405-2100,, open 10:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. daily (excluding Tuesdays), admission: Adults $15 – $20 (weekends) $20, (age 12-18, or with full-time student I.D.) $10, (age 5-11) $6 Children (under 5) free Free first Thursday of every month.

The Natural History Museum of Los Angeles, 900 Exposition Boulevard, Los Angeles, CA 90007 (213) 763-DINO open 9:30 a.m. – 5 p.m. Monday – Friday, 10 a.m. – 5 p.m. Sunday and Holidays, admission: $9 adults, age 13 – 17 – $6.50 age 5 – 12 – $2 Children under 5 – FREE (recommend membership $70), Free first Tuesday of every month.

Los Angeles Zoo, 5333 Zoo Drive, Los Angeles, CA 90027,, 323/644-4200, open 10 –5 every day, admission: age 13 and up $12, age 2 – 12 $7. (recommend membership: ($75)

Botanical Gardens&Nature Walks01 Jul 2007 12:00 pm

The flavors of the major cities in California are so amazingly different. San Diego, Los Angeles, San Francisco—all unique in appearance. Santa Barbara, only two hours from Los Angeles, showcases not only the appealing variety of architecture in California: Spanish, craftsman, Victorian—but the best of land and sea as well. An exit off the 101 will take you winding up the hills, past a dazzling array of beautiful homes on your way to what would be a dream of a back yard: The Santa Barbara Botanical Garden.

Santa Barbara Butterfly

What a place this is, tucked away in the hills, far from the bustle of the city yet nestled safely within reach of civilization. We have happily visited the botanical garden several times over the years, enjoying the fresh air, the cold shadows of the grand redwoods, and the quiet hum of nature. This year we managed to be at the front gate in time for an official tour of the gardens, lead by an Englishman who shared his enthusiasm for the horticultural variety in the gardens and took our group across the street to a part of the garden we never knew existed. We hiked up a small hill through all sorts of flowers and plants, carefully labeled with little placards and commented upon as we passed by. The view from the top was breathtaking.

“Stand and contemplate the wondrous works of G-d.” (Job 37:14) Everywhere one looks is the beauty of the Creation. It isn’t hard to take pretty pictures in this garden. While I don’t think we’ve visited in the winter, the colors in the spring and summer are delightful, especially against the backdrop of the distant hills and the clear blue sky above. There are long and short paths around the gardens, to saunter along and drink in the delicious, exulted, vibrant green beverage of life. And there is much to experience, from the “fried egg flowers” (matilija poppy), to the beavertail cactus, to the hummingbirds diving and dashing between the blossoms.

It certainly isn’t necessary to have a background in horticulture to appreciate the environment, but the gardens are very informative for those who are interested in learning more. There are different themes within the garden including the Redwood forest (the oldest trees were planted in 1926 and are already quite big), the meadow section, and even a home demonstration garden. There are also some extensive paths along the creek and through the woods for those in search of a hearty nature walk.

When evaluating the feasibility of this outing, please note that there are a few options which make it more accessible than you might think. Some of the paths through the gardens are paved for visitors in wheelchairs or strollers. We carried the baby in a baby backpack, which is a piece of hiking equipment that is sure coming in handy for the kind of off-roading I’m willing to do (especially when I’m not the one wearing the backpack.) Also, there is a nice arrangement of picnic tables and chairs next to the retail nursery where we ate our bag lunches.

On our way out, we stopped in the gift shop and found some nice nature oriented gifts, then wended our way back down the hill, past the beautiful homes and onto the highway.

It was a good day trip.


Santa Barbara Botanical Garden: 1212 Mission Canyon Road, Santa Barbara, phone: 805-682-4726,

P.S. Don’t forget: your scavenger hunt entry (Jewish Life, June 2007) must be received by Aug. 1, 2007.