By Mimi Slawoff
Nov 2, 2022
LOS ANGELES IS FERTILE GROUND for growing lush gardens with its always sunny, Mediterranean-like climate. And you don’t have to look far to find these verdant landscapes. Sure, you may know the Getty’s Central Garden and The Huntington Library’s botanical gardens, but many more secret gardens are sprouting in the nooks and crannies of the city’s best neighborhoods.
We dug around to find 10 secret gardens in Los Angeles that you can visit — some are even free.
Norton Simon Museum Sculpture Garden, Pasadena
After perusing the museum’s collections, step outside to admire the art and nature in the Sculpture Garden inspired by Monet’s Giverny. A large pond brimming with water lilies sits surrounded by seasonal blooms and bronze sculptures. A path abutted by daylilies and bog plants leads to lemon-scented gum trees, bamboo trees, and a stone waterfall in the shade of cypress and cedar trees.
Amir’s Garden, Griffith Park
The hilltop garden with expansive city views is a haven for hikers and equestrians. Iranian immigrant Amir Dialameh planted the garden in 1971 after a fire scorched the mountain. Amir, who passed in 2003, singlehandedly grew a wild tangle of trees and water-bearing plants to prevent fires from devouring this rugged patch of land. A creative gardener, he built planters from recycled materials and placed benches in cozy spots along a maze of pathways. You don’t have to be an avid hiker to reach this secret LA garden that’s tended by volunteers. It’s about a kilometer walk up a sandy fire road.
California Botanic Garden, Claremont
Wander through the world’s largest garden dedicated to California’s native plants. Thousands of plants in their natural habitat adorn the 35-hectare garden. Habitats include a wildflower meadow, a fan palm oasis, a redwood grove, desert plants, oak trees and Joshua trees. Keep your eyes open for rabbits, a fox family and birds.
Virginia Robinson Gardens, Beverly Hills
In 1911, Virginia and Harry Robinson (of the Robinson department stores) stumbled upon a barren field, built a mansion, and grew a garden that evolved into a 2.5-hectare oasis with a Front Meadow, Italian Terrace Garden, King Palm Forest, Rose Garden, and other spaces where the Robinsons hosted lavish garden parties attended by royalty and celebrities. These sweet secret gardens are now a Los Angeles County public park open by appointment. Book a tour or join an Annual Garden Tour to learn more about this historic estate.
SuihoEn Japanese Garden, San Fernando Valley
There’s purpose and symbolism for everything in these authentic Japanese gardens, which are a beautiful eco-friendly secret in Los Angeles using water from the Donald C. Tillman reclamation plant. The reclaimed water feeds the lake and three-level waterfalls (symbolizing heaven, man, and Earth) in the “wet-strolling” garden, where water lilies and lotus flowers bloom in summer. In the dry Zen garden, dichondra mounds form Tortoise Island (symbols of longevity), and a path leads to a wisteria-covered arbor. A traditional tea garden and a tatami-mat teahouse are also nestled within a bamboo hedge.
Arlington Garden, Pasadena
The site of Pasadena’s only dedicated public garden was initially slated for a freeway. But community opposition transformed the proposed roadway into the flourishing Arlington Garden, a botanical garden with a citrus grove and native fauna that attract birds, bees and butterflies.
Mildred E. Mathias Botanical Garden, UCLA
Located on the UCLA campus, more than 3,000 types of plants grow in the 3-hectare Mildred E. Mathias Botanical Garden. Among the diverse collections are Hawaiian native plants, an ancient forest, and a Mediterranean ecosystem. A stream that runs year-round (thanks to a recirculating pump) provides a habitat to turtles and koi.
Gardena Willows Wetland Preserve, Gardena
Explore one of the last remaining natural wetlands in the LA area. The 5.5-hectare preserve is an urban oasis with tall willows, native plants, water features, and wildlife. The community-supported nature park is home to birds and butterflies and is a migratory stop for ducks and other migrants.
The Earl Burns Miller Japanese Garden, Long Beach
See a black rock beach, feed koi, do yoga in the Zen garden, and relax in the tea garden at this secret garden in Long Beach. The hybrid Japanese garden is located on the campus of California State University, Long Beach and boasts an enviable bonsai collection too.
The Wrigley Memorial and Botanic Garden, Catalina Island
Perched atop a hill on Catalina Island, the Wrigley Memorial and Botanic Garden is home to plants that only grow on California’s islands. Once you arrive on Catalina via a one-hour boat ride, you can walk, bike, or drive a golf cart to the garden. Named for the island’s primary developer, William Wrigley Jr., the memorial is the centerpiece of the botanic garden.