Garden Designers Round Table: The Huntington Gardens in San Marino, CA

If you have never been to The Huntington Gardens in San Marino (near Pasadena), you must add it to your bucket list. It is one of the most beautiful public gardens I have ever seen. The gardens are HUGE, there are several different themed gardens, a Chinese garden, a Japanese garden, a famous rose garden, and quite a few other gardens that are slipping my mind at the moment. My favorite part of The Huntington is the Desert Garden.

There is a lot of inspiration to be gleaned from public gardens, even for those with teeny tiny garden spaces.

I recently designed a garden on a long, narrow balcony after visiting the garden. My inspiration for that garden was the western walkway delineating the desert garden from the rest of the gardens. It has large swaths of different succulents, all in a variety of intense colors. Deep, dark, purple aeoniums are sandwiched between silvery leaves of one clump of succulents and aloes with sunset orange flowers. It showed me how bold colors help draw your eye from one plant to the next down the walkway. Think of how boring this same sidewalk would look if it was flanked entirely by green foliage. Everything would blend together:

Visiting public gardens also lets you see color and plant combinations you might want to recreate in your container garden. It’s one thing to understand that blue and orange are complementary colors. It’s a whole another thing to see it in person and really “get” how the silvery blue of Blue Chalk Fingers (Senecio Vitalis) helps the screaming orange-red of aloe flowers POP!

I also realized how many bees and hummingbirds are attracted to succulent flowers. Aloe rarely is listed as a bee-friendly plant, but anyone who has visited The Huntington Gardens during winter will see tons of bees barely able to fly they’re so loaded up with orange aloe pollen. And heaven helps you if you stand too close to a hummingbird’s favorite plant in the Desert Garden. Those little birds have something beyond a Napoleon complex when it comes to protecting their territory!

What’s your favorite public garden? What tips have you gotten from a great public garden?

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