L.A. — Botanical Garden Heaven…

I am so happy to report that I am just home from one of the most epic days of my life!  And where did it happen?  LA!  In my last post (L.A. — It’s “About to Happen”) I started off by saying I was a bit worried I wouldn’t find anything fabulous enough to do here for my birthday (Spending my birthday alone in a new place did not strike me as completely optimal…).  Well, it’s not my birthday yet, but today was definitely fabulous enough for several birthdays!  I feel so thoroughly gifted by my experience that I almost don’t need to do anything extra-special on the actual day of my birth.  My gift came early — 17 days early.

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(Super happy me!)

I’ll take it!

I’d never even heard of the Los Angeles County Arboretum & Botanic Garden (despite several previous trips to LA over the past 10 years) until a few months ago.  Someone I know moved from Tucson to LA and recently back to Tucson, and he mentioned to me  that he and his family really missed the Botanic Garden and (specifically) the peacocks.  I made a mental note and had it on my list of things-to-do this month (I’m spending a month in Los Angeles as part of my sabbatical search-for-home adventure).  Wow.  If I’d known how truly amazing it would be, I’d have…I don’t know… I guess don’t know what I’d have done.  I want to say I’d have come years ago.  But, I guess it worked out just perfectly.  I’ve learned that generally it’s good to not have super high expectations.  It is a quick path to suffering.  And while I knew the Botanic Garden was big…with peacocks, I purposefully tried not to have expectations, primarily by not thinking about it much in advance.

So, I really had no idea what I was in for…

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Now, I worry as I write this that I’ll tarnish the park experience for someone because they will have huge expectations after reading this.  Please don’t let me affect your experience too strongly in advance!!  I don’t want anyone reading this to have super-sized expectations.  It’s just not fair to you!  But, I will say that this Arboretum is quite simply the best botanical garden I’ve ever visited.  And I’ve been to a lot.  On several different continents.  There certainly may be a more “exotic” one in Bali or Asia.  I know there are some amazing ones there.  But I have been to incredible (and exotic) gardens in Hawaii, Fiji, several countries in Europe, Africa, Australia, all over the United States, etc., and none was more impressive to me than this one in LA.

Anyway, like I said, I don’t want to get your hopes up too high.  What was so wonderful about this place was probably my surprise.  And the contrast to the rest of LA.  I’d had a completely urban day the day prior.  Beverly Hills, Hollywood, Central LA, Silverlake.  Driving through miles of city, street lights, shopping, traffic, etc.  It was a fun day, but it was not ecstatic.  I almost didn’t even go to the Botanic Garden because I was kind of hesitant to get on the freeway for the 35 minute drive to the park.  I was worn out, and the idea of driving was not appealing.  But I knew it’d be better on a Sunday than during the week (when I’d be leaving the park in the middle of rush hour for that 35 minute drive (turned 2-3 hours probably) home.  So, I went for it…

And was I ever glad!

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Let me start my discussion of the park by saying that I ADORE PEACOCKS.

They don’t necessarily adore me back, but I don’t really take it personally…  I haven’t seen them be too super friendly with any humans, except maybe the ones feeding them.  I see them as not overly interactive but not especially shy either.  I relate to that description myself, so that may be one reason why I’m so fond of them.  They are regal, peaceful, graceful, and beautiful.  That blue color just captivates me…So, I was very excited about the opportunity to walk amongst them and engage at some gentle (but greater than when they are in a cage) level.  If the park had been 3 acres with free-roaming peacocks, I’d have been happy.  So, over 100 acres with peacocks and amazing flowers, trees, and gardens…I was in Heaven!

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The park, I believe is about 127 acres, actually.  It has a number of different “habitats” or gardens–such as a cactus garden, an Australian garden, an orchid garden (greenhouse), a begonia garden (greenhouse), a jungle, several forests, a medicinal garden, a herb garden, a perennial garden, a California-native garden, etc. There is a large spring-fed lake and even a historic house that was part of the property when it was originally the estate of the first mayor of Arcadia (CA) in the late 1800s.

When you first walk into the park, the desert habitat is the first thing you see on your right.  Apparently this whole area was desert when the land was purchased in the 1800s.  The owner, “Lucky” Baldwin, (mentioned above) designed and cultivated this paradise…practically from scratch!  I was super interested to learn a bit of the history about this place, as I love how plants and water can transform land so dramatically from something barren to something peaceful, lush, and healing.  I am very interested in the healing powers of nature, and I believe that people who cultivate their own land, especially, gain great benefit from this endeavor (mentally, spiritually, and physically).  It is restorative and balancing (in my opinion).  A symbiotic relationship of sorts seems to develop–good for the land, good the plants, and beneficial for the people living there.

There’s definitely positive effects from visiting beautiful, lovingly cultivated natural spaces, too…(And non-cultivated, wild spaces in nature).  Most of us cannot have large wonderlands of our own.  So, that such gardens are available for public use is an incredible blessing for which I am very grateful…

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(The desert gardens)

Prior to going on my “accidental sabbatical” I lived in the Sonoran desert in Tucson, Arizona for six years.  I love Tucson, and I love deserts, in general.  I don’t necessarily love them more than other places.  But I might.  I tend to be a lover of a variety of climates and geographic zones.  (And a lover of variety, itself!)  Basically, I love beauty, in all her forms!  But, deserts are particularly special to me, maybe because of all the time I spent in one or maybe because of the effect they tend to have on me and on people, in general.

Deserts are still.  Quiet.  Stark.  In some ways, they are simple.  Pared down, you might say. Not a whole lot there.  They are also extreme.  Not soft.  They require your attention.  (If not careful, you can dehydrate or die in a desert.  Or step on something quite sharp.)  I believe that energetically these characteristics of the desert promote a certain kind of awareness and self-reflection in people.  Not all people, necessarily, but people who are sensitive and working on themselves spiritually will usually “go deep” in the desert.  I considered the desert a wonderful place to be a psychiatrist (I am a psychiatrist for anyone who didn’t know.)  And personally, I felt that my time in the desert was a very powerful period of self-reflection and growth.  You cannot hide easily in the desert–literally or figuratively.

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One of my favorite plants in the desert garden at the Arboretum was the Madagascar spiny thickets, which is the tall, “arm-y” plant seen above in the picture. It is a variety of ocatillo, which was one of my favorite Sonoran desert plants, as well.

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Apparently their native habitats are being destroyed, so there is some kind of outreach work happening through the Arboretum to try to protect this interesting and beautiful plant.

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Another standout at the Garden was the pink silk floss tree…I had already discovered these trees several months ago in Santa Barbara.  There are several in the Alice P. Keck gardens in the center of town.  I loved them there, and I loved them even more at the Arboretum.  Apparently, they only bloom once a year.  Guess when?  October!  I am so lucky!!

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The tree itself is lovely, but the blooms are just enchanting.  They don’t have a strong fragrance, but they are just beautiful to look at and be around…You can see the trees lighting up the view in this distance shot of the park.  Where you see pink, that’s a silk floss tree…

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I am kind of geeky when it comes to plants and flowers.  I adore flowers.  If you’ve read any of my other posts, you definitely know this already.  But really, I love plants and trees, too.  I love the earth.  I love all of nature.  But I am geeky in that I love to know the names of things.  So, I really enjoy botanical gardens because most of them have labels on the plants and trees, and this offers me a great opportunity to learn more about something I love without having to resort to a book (or the internet).  I much prefer the outdoor, learn-as-you-enjoy-it classroom!  The LA Arboretum was one of the best-labeled botanical gardens I’ve ever been to, as well.  A+ on many fronts here… It was rare to see a plant without a label.

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My favorite new tree I encountered at the Arboretum was the “Montezuma Cypress” seen above.  It is kind of like a cedar you might see in the Pacific NW at the trunk but with droopier arms.  Very graceful.  I really, really liked this tree.  And there were many in the “forest” area of the Arboretum.

(Enjoyed hanging out within the tree arms below…)

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One of my favorite surprises at the Garden was the discovery of four turtles sunning themselves on a log in a quiet part of the lake.  You had to bushwack a little to get to this view and the path was not well-worn, so probably not many people have noticed (or disturbed) them.  So, that was a treat!

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They were so cute!

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As you can see, there is a big, brown (apparently spring-fed) lake at the Arboretum, home to many turtles, ducks, and geese.  It is quite scenic and tropical-looking…almost reminded me of the Amazon, which I visited back in 2005.

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There aren’t as many super tall palm trees in the Amazon (from what I can remember)(probably it’s just the forest is so thick the ones that are there don’t stand out as much), but there was definitely something “Amazonian” about this lake… Very jungle-y.

On one side of the lake sits “Lucky” Baldwin’s beautiful, restored cottage.  It even has (I think) the original antiques inside.  You cannot enter, but you can peek through the windows.

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It is a charming house with interesting architecture and many fine details.

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As I was walking around the park I kept thinking “it cannot get better than that…” or “that” or “that”.  I didn’t really mean to be making assessments, but I was so pleased I had a hard time stopping myself.  Just about everything I saw topped the last thing.  The whole place is truly incredible.  This is why I really meant it when I said it was one of my favorite days ever.  I love exploring, and to explore a series of beautiful, large garden habitats was truly like opening one surprise present after another.  It was so exciting!

Kind of “behind” the house is a series of more manicured gardens–herbs, medicinal plants, natives, perennials.  The design of this part of the grounds is especially lovely and is enhanced by incredible views of the mountains in the distance.

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(Is that amazing or what?)

(I’m guessing the well is original to the 1800s property…)

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(Charming…)

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My favorite find in this part of the Gardens was a magical plant filled with “dancing purple dangly” flowers.  (It was one of the few plants in the Garden for which I could not find a label.)  They were soft with a delicate, sweet fragrance, and they seemed to be falling and dancing like purple snowflakes…on a string.  Standing under them was very enchanting and fun… It was definitely one of the highlights of my magic-filled day.

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The “park” also contains a beautiful man-made waterfall and many little streams.  Quite impressive!  Looks almost like Hawaii…

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Speaking of Hawaii, there is a sort of Hawaiian-esque forest area as well.

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I love Hawaii and am considering making it my home.  (Moving to Hawaii–or trying to–was how I started this sabbatical.)  So, naturally I felt very “at home” in this part of the Arboretum.

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I just really could not believe that such a place existed in the middle of the city of Los Angeles.  Totally mind boggling.   And wonderful.

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The final bliss-periment station on my amazing visit to the LA Botanic Garden was in the perennial garden.  Here I discovered an enormous (obviously many years old) patch of the most cheerful, sweet pink flowers I’ve ever seen.  Strangely, this was the only other place in the park where the labeling fell short.  I couldn’t find a label.  Probably it was buried under the incredible proliferation of beauty.

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I felt like the energy of these flowers was so welcoming and happy.  I was truly very, very delighted to sit with them and absorb their wonderous flowerful gift of light, beauty, and love.  I hope that I gave them a gift of light and love and gratitude in return…

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(Happy early birthday to me!  (My real birthday is October 30th.))

That was truly one of the best days ever!

Thank you flowers.  Thank you plants.  Thank you trees.  Thank you Botanic Garden.  And thank you Los Angeles.  I will forever be changed by having had that fun, joyful, healing day of garden bliss.

❤ I am grateful ❤

Goodnight…

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