by germinatrix | November 20th, 2009
You know, I LOVE that I live in a place that allows me access to some of the coolest succulent gardens around. We’ve already visited one of my FAVORITE places, Ganna Walska’s Lotusland in Montecito, CA – now we are trotting around the cactus and succulent gardens at the Huntington Gardens in San Marino, a bedroom community of Los Angeles (did I really just write ‘Bedroom Commmunity? I don’t even know what that MEANS…).
The Huntington has many gardens – a lovely Japanese Garden, a rose garden, water gardens … but I have to be honest – I NEVER get past the Desert Gardens. I just get stuck there! The collection of cactus and succulents is out of control, and I feel like a kid in a candy store. An odd candy store; devoted to the weirdest, stranger denizens of the plant kingdom! MY kind of plants!
I go to the Huntington fairly often, because I need to get names of plants that I freak out over so much that I forget to identify them. Like with the Mini Alien Monster plant above – I was so thrilled I didn’t read the tag, even though I was running through a list of how I was going to use it in any number of upcoming garden projects. (I HAVE always wanted to do a Monster Garden – and someday I’ll find a client who wants one!)
One of my favorite Agave specimens at the Huntington is a HUGE Agave americana marginata that is so contorted and twisted upon itself that it doesn’t even look like a plant anymore – it’s a gooey, writhing mass of tentacles. It’s a Sea Monster.
Look at the brocade-like imprint the ‘teeth’ make on the leaves of THIS agave! Debra Lee Baldwin wrote an amazing blog entry in Gardening Gone Wild about her love for the “Fanged” Agaves – a MUST read. I command you – read it NOW.
The Huntington is a very generous garden – there is so much to look at, and so many of the specimens are very old and bigger than I’ve seen almost anywhere. These collections of Agaves, Aloes, Cacti, and other desert plants are used for research – here is where some of the best new varieties come from – and here is where more is learned about the varieties we already have.
The Agave ovatifolia they have are so big and gorgeous! I’ve had two in my ‘nursery corner’ (otherwise known as my “plant graveyard”) for well over year, and have finally planted them in my front yard. They are so puny right now, but are destined to look like the gorgeous agave above. Whenever I see these amazing Whale’s Tongue Agaves I think of Pam from Digging, who has such a beautiful one … she loves it to pieces. When she moved to a new home, she carefully dug it out and tenderly transported it to a bed that she had all ready to receive it. THAT’S Agave love! Because moving around big agaves is hard, pointy, pokey work!
But there is more to the Huntington than Agaves …
The Ceiba (formerly known as Chorisia) is one of my all time favorite trees because of its green, thorny trunk – but here you see another wonderful attribute – gorgeous, orchid-like flowers that emerge after the leaves fall, so the tree looks like hundreds of big pink butterflies landed on it and made it their home. After the flowers fade, those that get pollinated swell to papaya sized proportions and then explode into enormous silky cotton puffs. Hence its common name – Floss Silk Tree. LOVE!
Lately, I’ve been MAD for skinny vertical cactus, like Cleistocactus. These are Cleistocactus samaipatanus, and those blooms all pointing in one direction make me CRAZY!!! I want a big berm full of them, happily pointing and blooming and being their cutely spiny selves for me. Verticals are fabulous exclamation points in a garden, and these tall skinny ones are a great way to start introducing cactus into your dry plantings.
When I first became a garden maniac, I thought nothing about succulents – too deserty and dry for me – I wanted cottage-y lushness. Then the succulents started working their magic on me and I enfolded them into my palette, but I kept cactus at a distance … “too strict, too harsh – not my kind of thing…” but sure enough, I am falling for them! Although falling for these, the spiniest of all, can be prickly and painful – I’m just going to close my eyes and jump, and make sure Jan has some good tweezers and a magnifying glass on hand for the inevitable extractions’ that are in my future!
Being able to come to this garden and walk around whenever I need a bite of inspiration is crucial – I can see that these particular kinds of plants become grander as they age; they develop personalities, so designing with them and placing them in landscapes shouldn’t be done lightly. A tree aloe might seem perfectly appropriate when it is a teenager with a few well-developed heads on it, but they grow to tyranosaurus rex proportions, and need to be owned by someone who appreciates their brooding, looming presence.
This could be a never ending post … there is so much to see and to learn about at The Huntington Desert Gardens. It is a wonderland for those of us addicted to succulents and cacti – and even if you aren’t, being in the middle of these strange giants and threatening miniatures and all manner of oddness will surely captivate you. You might not be a believer when you enter, but I’ll bet when you leave the gardens, you’ll leave a convert. You’ll want some of these monsters in YOUR garden!