ISSUE 78  |  Dry Gardens

Escape to a Desert Garden, Pasadena Edition

June 26, 2013 10:00 AM

BY Janet Hall

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A secret pleasure during my college years in Pasadena was getting lost in the nearby Huntington Botanical Gardens. Not your typical college hangout, but a great study spot, it turned out. Earlier this year on a college visit with my son, with an hour of free time we raced to the Huntington Library and Gardens. While my son disappeared into the library to see old manuscripts, I headed to the desert garden. It is as exotic and alluring as ever.

(If desert plants aren’t your thing, the Huntington’s rose garden, Japanese garden, Shakespeare garden, and other ten gardens are not to miss.)

Photographs by Janet Hall except where noted.

Above: In the heart of Pasadena, the Huntington Botanical Gardens occupy 207 acres surrounding the majestic Huntington Library (which houses a collection of rare manuscripts, prints, maps, and other materials). The gardens are divided into 14 areas, of which the Desert Garden is a favorite.

Above: Started in 1907, the Huntington Desert Garden has one of the oldest and largest collections of cacti and succulents in the world. It sits on ten acres, and features more than 5,000 succulents and other desert plants in 60 landscaped beds.

Above: At the upper end of the Huntington Desert Garden sits the greenhouse that is home to more than 3,000 vulnerable succulents unlikely to survive in the outdoor garden due to competition with more vigorous plants, and possible exposure to freezing temperatures and too much moisture. 

Above: Torch-like blossoms of the flowering Aloe aculeata.

If your climate allows you to grow your own, Aloe Aculeata plants in a variety of sizes are from $6 to $50 from Arid Lands.

Above: The Huntington Desert Garden is known for its collection of aloes—the largest outside of Africa. 

Above: A cactus display including the yellow-spined blossoming Golden Barrel cacti. The gardens boast more than 500 of that variety, the largest being more than 85 years old.

A starter size Echinocactus grusonii Golden Barrel Cactus in a 3.5-inch pot is $5 from Amazon.

Above: In springtime, cactus blooms include the vibrant pink of the Trichocereus hybrid. Photograph by the Huntington Library, Art Collections and Botanical Gardens.

Above: The blooming spires of the Echium wildpretii Tower of Jewels. Photograph by Andy Sae

A good screening plant in a desert climate, Echium wildpretii Tower of Jewels can be started from seed; 25 for $2.99 from Amazon.

Above: The smooth and sculptural Agave attenuata Boutin Blue.

Above: Looking fierce and fiery, the Euphorbia Apache Red plant.

Above: A field of Aeonium Zwartkop.


Above: A path lined with many varieties of cacti as seen through the yellow blossoms of a Palp Verde tree in a photograph by Andy Sae.  

Can’t make it to Pasadena? Enjoy the Huntington Desert Garden Flickr Pool and consider another Garden Visit on your travel itinerary.