The Huntington Botanical Gardens
In 1903 Henry Huntington purchased the San Marino Ranch, a working ranch with citrus groves, nut and fruit orchards, alfalfa crops, a small herd of cows, and poultry. His superintendent, William Hertrich, was instrumental in developing the various plant collections that comprise the foundation of the botanical gardens. The property—originally nearly 600 acres—today covers 207 acres, of which approximately 120 are landscaped and open to visitors. More than 14,000 different varieties of plants are showcased in more than a dozen principal garden areas. Forty gardeners, a curatorial staff of seven, and more than 100 volunteers maintain the botanical collections, provide interpretive programs for visitors, and propagate plants for special sales.
History of the Gardens
Henry E. Huntington and Hertrich worked together to mold the working ranch into a botanical garden of rare and exotic plants. They searched local nurseries and visited other plant collectors in the area to find mature and unique specimens. Mr. Huntington imported plants from many parts of the world to experiment with their cultivation in Southern California.
The Lily Ponds were developed first. They were heated at the time to maintain the giant-leafed Amazon water lily during the relatively cool Southern California winters. Huntington and Hertrich also worked together on the Palm, Desert, and Japanese gardens and planned the North Vista and the landscaping around the mansion.
Most of the plants are exotic ornamentals; many are labeled. If you have questions about roses or herbs, look for volunteers who are often on duty in those areas to answer questions. Behind the scenes, new collections from Mexico, South America, South Africa, and other regions are cultivated for planting in the gardens or for distribution to other botanical gardens, plant science professionals, and amateur horticulturists.
Since Mr. Huntington’s death in 1927 many other gardens have been developed, including ones for subtropical and Australian plants, herbs, and camellias, among others.
Did you know?
Mr. Huntington planted a few avocado seeds (a gift from the chef of Los Angeles’ Jonathan Club) that became a grove in what is now the main parking lot. These trees are considered the last surviving members of California’s first commercial avocado grove. The parking lot, once a kitchen garden and test plot for exotic fruit trees, is now planted mostly with drought-tolerant trees, shrubs, and ground covers.