Lovely and in bloom year-round, the 120 acres of botanical gardens that surround The Huntington Library and Art Collections near Los Angeles include one of the most comprehensive herb gardens in the United States. Begun in the 1950s, the garden has matured into a collection of nearly 300 different herbs grouped in beds by traditional use. As you stroll the paths that crisscross the square garden, you’ll find culinary, salad, medicinal, dye, cosmetic, potpourri and tea herbs, as well as specialty beds that include liqueur, citrus mimics and confectioner’s herbs. The garden even includes a unique collection of more than two dozen plants for creating tussie-mussies.
Southern California’s mild climate also allows the cultivation of exotic plants–like coffee, jojoba and maté–rarely seen in North American herb gardens. Bay (Laurus nobilis), curry-leaf plant (Murraya koenigii), orange trees and grape arbors add vertical interest, drawing your eye up toward the stands of trees that border the garden.
All of the plants throughout the garden are clearly labeled, and the signs display delightful quotations taken from the early herbals found in The Huntington Library collections. A docent is nearly always available to answer questions.
You could spend an entire visit in just the herb garden, but try to allow enough time to view some of the other species (14,000 overall) that grow in these lush botanical gardens. Don’t miss the Shakespeare garden, where herbs, English oak and pomegranate trees commemorate The Bard. The Huntington plant collections also include 3 acres of gorgeous roses in the 100-year-old rose garden, amazing succulents, winter-blooming camellias, and lovely and peaceful Japanese and Chinese gardens. Free guided tours are offered daily. In the gift shop, you’ll find herb-related items, including a poster-size decorative plan of the herb garden and The Huntington’s own cookbook, A Celebration of Herbs (Huntington Library Press, 2002). Plan ahead to enjoy a traditional English tea in the popular Rose Garden Tea Room, located right next to the herb garden.
For location, hours and admission information, contact The Huntington Library, Art Collections and Botanical Gardens at (626) 405-2100 or visit www.huntington.org. –Linda M. Davis