By Bonnie and Bill Neely
Where do our hearts turn for comfort when we are troubled, as in these frightening times that affect the world? Although often not recognized, our yearning seeks the beauty and solace of Nature, when our homes and familiar surroundings seem too confining. For anyone in the Los Angeles area, this peace of the outdoors is available at the Huntington Gardens in San Marino, California. Just before the quarantines in the USA started we had the privilege of being there to discover this refuge which is a comfort to us in our memories. When the quarantine is lifted this is the place to go for walks in nature, which members can enjoy free. During the stay-at-home time go to their website tours for a peaceful, satisfying respite.
Our walk of wonder took us along easy pathways through vast gardens with plants and landscapes typical of six continents. Most of the species are named, so this is the perfect place for master gardeners and anyone interested in learning botany. However, for the most enjoyment in troubled times, just stroll and, with your right brain, just look at the beautiful and myriad plants at any time of year and enjoy the inspiring birdsongs floating from the trees and shrubs around you. Because it is all outside, you can distance yourself from others and find solace in a safe and comforting environment in difficult times.
Henry Huntington’s uncle Collis and a few other investors created the nation’s transcontinental railroad empire. Henry moved to California at age 42 when Los Angeles County had only 170,000 people. In 1903 Henry Huntington paid $240,000 for his 600 acre ranch in San Marino, California. His fortune gained twenty-five million dollars in 1909-1910. Among other entities he was owner of Southern Pacific Electric Railroad in downtown Los Angeles. He hired Myron Hunt and Elmer Grey as architects of the Huntington home, completed in 1911, and it ultimately became the Library and Art Museum.
Now officially named The Huntington Library, Art Museum, and Botanical Gardens celebrated its one century anniversary in 2019. Oddly and appropriately enough, the Botanical Gardens were started by volunteer gardeners at the time of the devastating worldwide Spanish Flu pandemic, which killed millions in 1918-19 (including my grandfather). At the Library you can see photos and read descriptions of that pandemic. Mr. Huntington was also one of the founders of the Southern California Gas Company. His library tells his own life story, as well as housing hundreds of priceless world treasures in documents and paintings, rotated for visitors to peruse. A short film in the Visitor Center is a good way to start your tour.
When you can go, plan to enjoy a lovely lunch at the one of several restaurants on the property and a lovely meal or tea at the Rose Garden Tea Room, where you can dine outside overlooking the beautiful gardens. We strolled through the unusual domed space which magnifies the sound of outer space and sets the imagination to enjoy the thrilling sounds of birdsong and gurgling water as you stroll through first 1,400 species of cacti and succulents, so comfortable in the California climate and soil.
The famous Library and Art Museum have amazing rotating exhibits of priceless historical documents and books. Paintings are by the great masters. You will want to spend days here also and return often for a marvelous learning experience.
During the COVID-19 situation, The Huntington is temporarily closed to keep everyone safe. Under normal circumstances The Huntington offers a free day to anyone on designated Thursdays. Annual Memberships are your best value because two named adults of the same household can come to enjoy the facilities anytime free of charge. Children under 18 are always free with accompanying adult, and day tickets for seniors are significantly reduced. For information contact 626 405 2124. Address of the Huntington is 1151 Oxford Road, San Marino, CA 91108