Desert Garden at the Huntington Library
Some time ago I wrote a post about why I don’t plant succulents in my own garden. Ever since then, I have felt the presence of an invisible host waiting to pounce and shout, “Aha! Now you admit the error of your ways!”
We saw the Desert Garden at the Huntington Library on the Monday before Christmas. This garden is fun, exciting, fascinating, and visually powerful. But did it make me change my mind? Read on to find out.
Once the estate of a California plutocrat, the Huntington Library is now a privately run institution featuring extensive gardens, art displays, and libraries, all open to the public. The Desert Garden, covering 12 acres, was the inspiration of William Hertrich, the estate’s chief gardener in the earlier part of the 20th Century.
During our visit there two qualities to this garden that really stood out. The first was the complementary and contrasting shapes and textures of the plants.
The other was the way the spines (which are considered leaves by botanists, if you want to get technical) caught the light.
Flowers are a relatively minor aspect of this garden, but there were a few that caught our admiration. They stand out that much more since they are relatively scarce.
Sometimes the colors of the cacti themselves could be arresting.
On the other hand, some of the cactus flowers struck me as awkward or even comical.
There were a number of plants that seemed particularly strange.
The plants in this garden were collected from all over the world. However, they were grouped by aesthetic criteria only, not geographically. Even so, I have to say the garden was lively with birds, though we didn’t get any pictures.
This will give you some idea of scale (of me versus Danny and David, that is).
So do I recant my succulent heresy? Not really. I am thrilled to have visited the Huntington’s Desert Garden, it is a wonderful place, and yet I could never forget its essential strangeness. Strange to me, in any case. I have visited great gardens such as Giverny and Great Dixter and thought: if only this were home. Or at least, if only I could make my home more like this. I did not have that reaction to the Desert Garden, as marvelous as it is.