Blooms Beneath the Oaks

One day we drove to Descanso Gardens, located about an hour north of downtown Los Angeles. I was interested mostly in seeing the Camellia collection and the forest of Coast Live Oaks (Quercus agrifolia). Conveniently, the two occupy the same space.


Descanso Gardens was once the country home of a California businessman and Camellia lover. The gardens were opened to the public in 1950.


Formal gardens and preserved natural areas, a kid-sized railroad, and a 22-room mansion built in the late 1930s are all available for exploration.


We stopped at a small lake that had a bird observation deck.


There were quite a few aquatic birds, but the light was such that it was hard to get any good photos. Anybody have an idea who this fellow is?


Judy, who grew up in the Buckeye State, refused to believe that this tree with its smooth white bark is also a Buckeye. But there it is on the sign: Aesculus californica, the same genus as Ohio Buckeye (Aesculus glabra).


Along the path there were places where the vista opened up to reveal the mountains of the Angeles National Forest to the west.


Another view.


I guess this is some kind of Prickly Pear (Opuntia). The pads make think of hands in mittens.


Here’s David with an improvised walking stick, submitting to the indignity of being photographed.



Daniel affecting a look of amazement, purporting to demonstrate how fascinated he is by his surroundings.


Eventually we came to the Oak Forest. Forests of Coast Live Oaks were once a common landscape in Southern California. Their bending, twisting shapes suggested to me that they were stretching or reaching for something.


Some of the Oaks at Descanso are hundreds of years old. These are evergreen Oaks that support many other species – birds and insects, mammals and fungi, etc.


Thousands of Camelias are planted as an understory in this Oak forest. Sorry, but I didn’t even try to keep track of all the species and varieties. I’ll just say that there were many.


In late December we were just at the very beginning of the Camelia blooming season, so there were far more buds than blooms.


A large share of the Camellia collection at Descanso was obtained in 1942, when the owner at the time bought out all the stock of a successful Camellia nursery owned by Japanese-Americans. The owners were forced to sell as they faced deportation to internment camps as a result of the anti-Japanese hysteria of World War II.


In the dappled shade of the Oak forest it seemed cool and misty, even as the surrounding area was dry and arid.


I liked this one, rose speckled with white.


This one also. An unusual shape, I think.


At the edge of the Oak Forest we came upon this patch of ferns. Most of them seemed to have an unusually rigid habit for ferns, the leaflets not as soft. Anybody know what species this is?


We walked along the edge of Descanso’s Japanese Garden. More Camellias are planted along the water here.


On the way out we noticed this nifty wreath made with live succulents.

Alright, so I think there is material for just one more post on last year’s California trip. In the meantime, here’s a question: what is your favorite kind of Oak?

58 Comments on “Blooms Beneath the Oaks

  1. Your photo of the aquatic bird looks to me like a female Hooded Merganser.

  2. The gardens look enchanting. Will have to make a note to visit when I visit that part of California.

  3. I love the oak forest, I can’t say I have a favourite oak…I’m always just amazed at the huge old oaks in the English countryside, spreading across entire meadows (almost). Also love the camellias …such a pretty flower and they don’t seem to need much attention.

  4. Wonderful pictures! I don’t have a favorite oak, either. I love them all.

  5. Poor David. I’m sure he enjoyed being in the bosom of his family, even if the garden and picuture taking was a bit much. I don’t have a favorite species of oak, but I do have a strong preference for a deciduous type if it is in my garden. Live oaks (evergeens) are more challenging, I think, because they cast a deeper shade and shed their leaves in spring.

    • David does not like to be photographed. We have very, very few good pictures of him after the age of 10. He did actually say more than once that he enjoyed the trip, though.

  6. You’re lucky Jason to see Camellia collection in bloom. I’d love to!
    I see your sons love visiting gardens as well, I liked them too and especially Japanese garden.

  7. What a nice space. I adore all the oaks. I don’t think I could pick a favorite, they all have such great characteristics. I am surprised that the cameillas bloom under such a heavy tree canopy. I suppose I am just use to seeing the more sun loving varieties here in the South.

  8. I’m so glad to see this post. I had somehow absorbed the idea that Descanso didn’t have much to offer and had never made a point of visiting despite multiple LA-area trips; how wrong I was! I love live oaks, but my very favorite oak is Quercus garryana, Oregon White Oak. Like most oaks, they can get very old, and seeing a mature specimen, or better yet a grove of them in the Willamette Valley, just makes my day.

  9. I’ll bet the garden visits are growing on your family. I’m often surprised by the things my kids bring up as memorable when at the time they seemed blasé, at the very least.
    I’m amazed at the variety of Oaks available, some of them quite unoak-like. Bought my first at Cistus’ Tough Love Sale, but can’t seem to find the tag to tell you which one it is.

  10. Oh, the Camellias are gorgeous! And that succulent wreath is impressive. I’m always fascinated by the Live Oaks when I visit locales where they are prevalent. Like the various Aesculus species, it’s hard to believe some of the warm-climate Quercus species are of the same genus as our common Midwestern Oaks.

  11. I like white and red oaks because that’s what grows here but I also love seeing the others from different areas of the country and I enjoyed seeing the southern live oaks dripping with Spanish moss in Florida.
    The fern looks like a type of sword fern but I don’t know which one.
    My mothers middle name was Kamellia with a K, so I’ve always had a special fondness for camellias. I just wish they weren’t so hard to grow indoors.

  12. Lovely trees, mountains and camellias, you certainly found a beautiful spot. My favourite oak has to be the English oak, Quercus robur, we have 6 in our garden, they are huge and quite a few hundred years old.

  13. This looks like a wonderful place to visit! Do I really have to choose a favourite oak? How can I do that? We have three massive old oak trees in a field by our house. One is particularly mighty. I sit beneath it and wonder at all the wildlife it shelters. That is my favourite oak. Quercus robur ‘The one I see from my bedroom window every day’.

  14. I have to say, you have had a wonderful visit with some really beautiful places to see. I really love those expanses and borrowed views. Although quiet different than here in the east, there is quiet a bit of beauty out on the west coast with those rolling hills.

  15. What a lovely place. Thank you for sharing. The wreath made with live succulents is amazing. We could attempt something like this in our respective cold climate, but it would not get so lush.

  16. The photos of your boys made me smile – my children show similar expressions when being taken to/dragged round gardens. I haven’t read all the comments to see if anyone has already said but I think that bird is some kind of Merganser (a type of duck). My favourite oak has to be the English oak. I’m not a fan of evergreen oaks – our neighbour has three on his boundary and they cast annoying shade and shed their leaves into our garden. We’ve had a conversation about pruning them but he’s rather fond of them… I love the twisted bark archway and the second photo. Looks like a fine place.

      • I’m not familiar with the term ‘live’ oaks but the species is Quercus ilex (holm oak) – big, bushy and annoying if you have them casting shade into your garden! Lovely in the right place though.

  17. I just love that oak forest, what beautiful trees and pictures! The camellias sure are pretty too. I must say, your boys do make me smile!xxx

  18. Gorgeous! Live oaks are among my most favorite trees in the whole world. I was going to ID your bird, but I see your first commenter already did. I saw Hooded Mergansers at my recent visit to Wheeler National Wildlife refuge!

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