California is filled with many paradises, and I'm lucky enough to have one of them very close to where I live. It's called Descanso Gardens, and according to Mapquest, it's 1.7 miles from my house, four minutes by car. Less than two miles to Paradise.
Descanso Gardens is a botanical garden of about 150 acres, in the Crescenta Valley tucked between the San Rafael Hills and the San Gabriel Mountains. It's one of the lesser-known treasures of Los Angeles County (although the "THE 10 BEST OF EVERYTHING: An Ultimate Guide for Travelers" called it one of the Ten Best Gardens in the World.) I think that's an exaggeration, but it gives you some idea of the quiet spell that Descanso casts of over its visitors.
"Descanso" means rest or repose in Spanish, and these gardens are the perfect place for resting. Or strolling. Or light hiking up in the Oak Woodland that recreates the heritage landscape of the Los Angeles basin. Or feeding the koi in the pond in the Japanese garden. Or checking out the wildlife in the bird sanctuary. Or sniffing one of the more than 3,000 rose bushes in the five-acre Rosarium. Or riding the one-eighth scale "Enchanted Railroad," preferably with a toddler in your lap.
Descanso has other uses. It's popular for weddings, parties, special photography, and movie locations. In fact, I shot my short film LUNCH WITH LOUIE there, on three glorious days in the Oak Forest. (If anyone hasn't seen it, here's a link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=29CbHYUjJVs)
I had a filmgoer tell me that he knew exactly where I shot the movie: "Budapest!"
Descanso Gardens might be best known for having the largest collection of camellias in North America. The story of how it acquired such a collection, however, is less than admirable. The founder of the Gardens – E. Manchester Boddy, who owned the Los Angeles Daily News and ran a commercial camellia garden at the location that his family owned since 1927 – bought out at bargain prices two local Japanese nurseries whose owners were interned during World War II.
But there is the vague aroma of larceny in the entire California dream. The Tongva people lived here for 10,000 years – in thirty defined villages, some of which had as many as 400 huts -- before Cabrillo and the Spaniards "discovered" California in 1542. Then came the feudal system from Spain and The Church. The rest is Hollywood.
Descanso is a quiet place, perfect for children and those who take care of them ... so that's why I expect I'm going to be spending a lot more time there. The TG and I took Calder there this weekend, and he had a blast. He loves flowers.
Of course, I feel that I have "paradise" every day, in my very own backyard. Because, as Mark Twain's Adam said, "Wherever she was, there was Eden."
Here's the website for the Gardens --
and a couple of other fine slices of Mother Nature:
The New York Botanical Gardens – in the Bronx, not too far from my old stomping grounds in Westchester
Central Park – in NYC – one of my favorite places on the planet
Kew Gardens – in London
The Gardens at Schoenbrunn Palace – outside of Vienna
Images of the Gardens at Schoenbrunn
Images of the Villa d'Este – I wonder if I'll ever see this one in person.