If you don’t believe in fairy tales, it may be because you haven’t yet heard of the Huntington Botanical Gardens, located in the Pasadena district of Los Angeles, California.
Enclosing the world in a garden
Originally, there was one man, Henry Huntington, whose career path was already well underway. In 1892, on his way to becoming one of the great railway tycoons, he came to spend a night at the home of friends whose property overlooked a ranch of several dozen hectares, composed of citrus fruit and vines. Like a small seed planted in fertile soil, the idea of owning this ranch became ingrained in his mind and never left him.
His dream was on the way: “Enclosing the world in a garden!”. Some twenty years later, this same man had become immensely wealthy and the ranch was for sale.
Henry Huntington now had the ideal place and an exceptional second wife, but life decided to give him more. It introduced him to the person he needed the most: a man who would allow him to achieve his greatest follies. His name was William Hertrich and he was 26 years old.
An incomparable team
From 1904 onwards, Henry the philanthropist and William the landscaper undertook a work rarely equaled to this day. They converted the 48 hectares of this “ranch” into one of the most wonderful botanical collections in the world, building a dozen themed gardens representative of the most significant species and environments on earth.
As Henry was a collector at heart and made constant contacts with botanical conservatories, he never ceased to locate, acquire and acclimate seeds or plants from all over the world. His aim was to create his own conservatory and William had the know-how and passion to accomplish this exemplary garden that Henry dreamed of ! To this tandem, Henry’s wife Arabella brought elegance, good taste and pragmatic ideas as well as revolutionary ones for the time, such as food self-sufficiency. We owe her the greenhouses, the vegetable garden and the orchard.
The garden of all superlatives
Today, this place is enchanting and all superlatives are allowed. The Chinese garden is one of the most important outside China, the Japanese garden is one of the most visited, the desert garden has more than 5000 varieties of succulents and cacti, the collections of palm trees, camellias and roses are exceptional. And then, there is the Australian garden, the Shakespeare’s garden, the jungle garden, etc.
And as if that was not enough, the estate also hosts a breathtaking library of 8 million manuscripts, 440 000 rare books, 454 000 reference works, etc, from the 11th century to the present. The art collections, largely designed by Arabella, consist of 270 paintings, 80 works of sculpture, 1 000 decorative art objects, etc, from the 15th century to the early 20th century.
A dream had come true thanks to the pugnacious determination of three people! But if this is a real fairy tale, it is also because Henry, William and Arabella put their vision, love and fortune at the disposal of future generations, making this place a paradise for researchers, students, enthusiasts, collectors, botanists and strolling visitors.
Text by Claudia Gillet-Meyer; Photos by Régis Meyer.