Oak Woodland

With its mix of woodland, meadow and chaparral plants, the Oak Woodland recreates the heritage landscape of the Los Angeles Basin – a plant community that included grasses, perennials, shrubs and, of course, oaks. Previously closed to the public, this space connects the California Natives Garden with access to the Rose Garden, the lake and the bird observation area. Download the Oak Woodland plant list here.

The green-space reopens to the public a lake-side parcel of Descanso that closed in the early 1990s. The woodland mixes individual and grouped trees with native bunchgrass meadows. Winding paths lead visitors through the landscape, with seating on benches, boulders and other nooks. A boardwalk will allow visitors to stroll along the lake and observe bird activity. A wildlife camera has been installed in the Oak Woodland in partnership with the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County. It has captured images of animals large and small, including gray squirrels, which are rare in the Gardens. 

The new garden has been under development for nearly five years and built with support from the Ayrshire Foundation and the Men’s Garden Club of Los Angeles. Construction funding came from Proposition A funds committed by the Fifth District Los Angeles County Supervisors Office (the Honorable Michael D. Antonovich) and awarded to the Los Angeles Conservation Corps, an enthusiastic nonprofit education organization, whose green-helmeted students and supervisors have been clearing weeds, grading, building roads and trails, installing irrigation, and planting some 30,000 new plants over the past year. Community volunteers also had a hand in the work, turning out one warm March morning to plant hundreds of natives in the new garden. Photo: The San Gabriel Mountains seen from the Oak Woodland (Martha Benedict)

Rose Garden

Breathe in the perfume of this 5-acre garden devoted to America's most popular flower. More than 3,000 roses represent centuries of horticultural history and dozens of regions from around the world.

Significant collections of species, old garden and modern roses are arranged in theme gardens. The collection includes most of the All-America Rose Selections (AARS) winners since 1940. Photo: 'Julia Child' rose (Martha Benedict)

Japanese Garden

Discover the tranquility of a Japanese-style garden that blends design elements of classic tea, strolling and zen gardens.

Cross an arched bridge and stroll on shaded paths along a koi-filled stream to the Full Moon Tea House, designed by Whitney Smith and built in 1966. The blue tile roofing, imported from Japan, is especially striking in the spring when nearby pink cherry and plum trees are in bloom. The tea house is open limited hours during the summer as the Camellia Lounge and for special occasions during the year.

Nearby, the minka (traditional farmhouse) was designed and donated by Robert H. Kawashima in 1969. Photo: Full Moon Teahouse (Martha Benedict)

Oak Forest

Experience the giants in the Descanso landscape, the Coast live oaks (Quercus agrifolia). These trees, some centuries old, are the remainder of a forest that once blanketed the region. The Coast Live Oak typifies the natural Southern California coastal landscape. These trees are flowering plants and belong to the beech family (Fagacea). There are 19 species of Quercus native to California. The Coast Live Oak is an evergreen tree oak. Its natural distribution ranges from California’s Mendocino County along the Coast Ranges down to northern Baja California. 

The Coast Live Oak is known as a “keystone species,” meaning that the tree supports the existence of hundreds of other species, including mammals, birds, insects, fungi, plants, and even reptiles and amphibians. The Tongva people who made this region their home relied on acorns as an important food source. The importance of the Coast live oak in the interconnected web of life cannot be overstated. Photo: A path through the oak forest (Alice Zrodlo)

Nature's Table

An edible garden planted with fruit trees and seasonal vegetables along with herbs, edible flowers and other tasty accoutrements. The area is enveloped with vines, bushes, shrubs and greenery. Like the home garden, the bounty varies from season to season, including citrus, pomegranates, pumpkins and squash, herbs, greens, amaranth, corn -- even apples!

The design of Nature’s Table came with help from students enrolled at Cal Poly Pomona’s Landscape Architecture Design Studio who used the idea and space as a “real world” class project. Paths meander past planting beds filled with bright green produce. Arches, fences and trellises made from vines and fallen wood add a whimsical touch to this garden.

Camellia Collection

Before the area was opened to the public as Descanso Gardens, the land was an oak forest. In the late 1930s and 1940s, when newspaper publisher E. Manchester Boddy was building his estate called Rancho del Descanso, he planted thousands of camellias in the shade of the oaks to provide blossoms for the cut-flower industry. Those camellias, and others added in later years, continue to thrive.

Today Descanso Gardens is home to North America’s largest camellia collection. The Camellia Collection boasts rare and familiar camellias and has been designated an International Camellia Garden of Excellence by the International Camellia Society. Camellias at Descanso bloom from early autumn to spring, with the most dazzling floral display in winter, from January through February. Photo: Camellia japonica 'Pink Perfection' (Mike Zrodlo)

California Natives Garden

Showcasing the delights of the Southern California landscape, this original 8-acre garden was designed and dedicated in 1959 by a core group of California native plant lovers who wanted to cause a revival of interest in California flora, educate school children in native plants and create a demonstration landscape for home owners.

Many hands went into creating this new garden, including famed native plant advocate Theodore Payne who led the way by donating 1,000 plants and playing a major role in its design. Likewise, Percy Everett of Rancho Santa Ana Botanic Gardens offered many plants and expertise as well. Today, some of those original plantings are still here and many others have been added through the years.

Spring to early summer is the best time to see native flowers in bloom. California wild flowers, current, mountain lilac and the bright yellow flannel bush come into bloom in the spring.

The Matilija poppy, monkey flower and sage bloom into the summer. In late summer and fall, the garden is mostly greens, grays and browns because many natives go dormant to survive the hot, dry summers in Southern California.

Visit the garden any time of the year to find the unmistakably California aromas from these plants. You can either relax in the cool shade of Redwood Rest or visit the “Little House” which overlooks an open field and the distant San Gabriel Mountains. Pull up a chair and rest a while in a truly Californian experience.

Lilac Garden

With more than 400 plants featuring 250 different types, Descanso Gardens’ Lilac Garden blossoms into life in spring. From mid-March to the end of April (all depending on nature, of course!), the lilacs put on spectacular showcase of blooms.

With shades of white, violet, blue, pink, magenta and purple, Descanso lilacs have been staging these beauty pageants for more than 50 years in Southern California. It all started in 1953 with a single hybrid, Lavender Lady (Syringa vulgaris 'Lavender Lady').

Many lilacs in the Lilac Grove come from Lavender Lady ancestry: Forrest Kresser Smith in the early 1960s (named after the first board president of Descanso Gardens Guild) and the beautiful pure Angel White from the 1970s.

Descanso Gardens has sent lilacs to the National Arboretum and introduced varieties to the nursery trade in 1965. Some of those lilacs include: Guild's Pride, Descanso Princess, Descanso Giant, Chiffon, Forrest Kresser Smith (all shades of lilac); Sylvan Beauty (pink); and Descanso King (blue).

Other lilacs were hybridized from crossing Lavender Lady: Dark Night, a stunning purple bloom; California Rose, with subtle pink flowers; and Sensation, a bi-color lilac with deep purple and delicate white edging.

As you wander through the Lilac Garden, just remember that these lilacs may seem to not have as much fragrance as those from cooler regions. But there are some sweet days when you can smell them from far away; it’s then you immediately know that spring has arrived. Photo:  'Sensation' lilac (Mike Zrodlo)