Another view from the Huntington Botanical Gardens: The Japanese Garden

I have abandoned “El Niño Watch.” At least for now. It’s a good thing I love summer, because we seem to have skipped right over spring. Who knows? Maybe it will return, which would be welcome, but at least the ease of being outdoors and enjoying a summer lifestyle is one way I choose to cope with drought weariness.

I also enjoy learning more about the places I explore. I’ve been interested in the Huntington family for a long time, but I realize I’m primarily curious about how they influenced the changes in the region at a time Southern California was rapidly exploding in population and economic growth.

I recently began reading a book I’ve owned for years, but never seriously studied.

The Huntington Botanical Gardens 1905-1949, chronicles the personal recollection of William Hertrich, H.E. Huntington’s landscape gardener.For more than forty years Hertrich was instrumental in transforming the working ranch at purchase, to the fabulous collection of diverse botanical specimens that make the current Huntington Botanical gardens a  destination that draws visitors from all over the world.


Hertrich describes his preparation to improve “the small canyon to the west of the rose garden” into a Japanese garden, installing bridges, walks and steps, while searching throughout “every nursery in California” for the appropriate garden plants and trees. It was difficult at that time, 1912, to find specimen plants appropriate to a Japanese garden.


To answer the need, Huntington purchased an entire Pasadena Japanese tea house, and transferred all the property contained back to the ranch. Japanese lanterns, miniature pagodas, and stone idols were purchased directly from “the Orient” and a Japanese craftsman was contracted to design the Full-Moon bridge.


A Japanese family of five were brought to live on the property and to care for the garden.


Many of the plants had to be removed or replaced even during Hertrich’s time as head landscape gardener because they grew too large to fit into the original scale of the garden.


In Hertrich’s description of creating an inviting landscape for the Huntington family and guests, he references deterioration due to exposure to the Southern California climate.


“Expansion and contraction caused by the extreme changes of temperature between day and night-time at certain seasons resulted, in some instances, in many fine hair-thin cracks, chiefly in stone and marble pieces,”  used as garden ornamentation. 


I’m not sure how water was managed on the Huntington properties in the early part of the twentieth century. The Huntington’s undoubtedly also lived through periods of extended drought. I may learn more as I get through this very informative book.


But establishing the Japanese garden as a place for refuge from the harsh sun must have been a very popular garden spot, as it certainly is today.

Once entered, the temperatures drop and people stop just to relax and enjoy the view. I


I often thank the Huntington’s for making provision to guarantee public access to this beautiful estate, but now perhaps, we should really stop to thank William Hertrich, as well.

And I’ll bring you on another little visit when the trees begin to fill out and some of the plants begin to change according to the season.

We’ll just have to see which season shows up first!

44 thoughts on “Another view from the Huntington Botanical Gardens: The Japanese Garden

  1. I have only been there once, Debra, in contrast to your years of visiting.

    I did not know they had brought in a Japanese family to live there. Incredible. And one thing I’ve always wondered about is how “Japanese” plants and trees could have survived all these years since the climates are so vastly different: rain, sun, heat, etc. Even the “tatami” mats are more for resisting mildew than sitting in dry heat.

    I also wonder how long they lived there. If still there in 1941, it was not possible for them to stay.

    1. You present some really interesting questions about how the Japanese garden flourishes under a very different climate, Kojji, but I’m glad you raised my interest in learning more. There are so many reference books in the Huntington bookstore and I am going to see what I might find to give me more information. I don’t think the Japanese family lived on the Huntington Estate very long, but your mindfulness of how impossible it would have been for them after 1941 is chilling, as always when that period is referenced. I am hoping to learn more!

    1. It’s so disappointing after being told for months we’d have more than enough rain. Apparently there’s a high pressure condition that is diverting all the rain elsewhere. I’m about to give up on trying to keep my poor garden going!

  2. Haha I just wrote a post about the joys of spring! I hope it doesn’t come off as four-season snobbish ;). Hope you guys get a little bit of it at some point! It truly is a beautiful season that reminds us of the beauty that is sometimes found in transition. Lovely photos again, Debra! Besides all of our friends, your pictures draw my heart back to Southern California!! 🙂

    1. I’m so glad I can share some SoCal with you, my friend. And you can brag all you want to me about four-seasons! I think that would be quite wonderful and should be celebrated, and I do. I’m also envious. LOL! I am still hoping we get some more rain between now and May, even if it doesn’t completely turn the drought around. Anything is better than nothing! 🙂

  3. I’m very aware and sorry that I have been absent from your postings for some time Debra. Life has stepped in and restricted my blog surfing somewhat. But this is just so you know I haven’t forgotten you and will be by whenever I can.
    This post is visually gorgeous through your photos and, as always, interesting in its information.
    Has the drought continued through your ‘winter’?
    We have, as always, endless rain, but spring is so close, if not here already…

    1. I’m so glad to see you here, my friend, and I have missed you as well! I understand when it just isn’t possible to devote the time it takes to post and to visit others. I am glad you have been able to recoup a little blogging time for now! We had some lovely rain in January that was promising of more to come, but it’s been bone dry through February. I’m speaking primarily of Southern California. The mountain areas and further north have had some rain, but not enough to turn the drought around! Looks like we’re in for one more year. I hope Canada has enough room for all of us! 🙂 When the taps get completely turned off…you never know! 🙂

    1. I love rock gardens, too, Nancy. I’ve thought about walking to the Huntington, but I never quite have enough time for that. It’s close enough…but not that close. 🙂 But it’s positioned where I drive by it almost every day, so very convenient!

  4. Your photos are simply gorgeous, Debra. Meanwhile, here I sit in the midst of a downpour. Yet the swallows are already returning at least a month early, so we’re not so far away from “summer” here, either.

    1. So this week the story is that the high pressure that is redirecting the storms up to you is shifting and we are going to get a good bit of rain, beginning this next weekend. Hmmmm. Should I bet on it? 🙂 I think it’s all a big guessing game at this point. But I’m delighted you’re seeing signs of spring. I always think that after a very cold or wet winter it must be delightful to begin sensing spring!

  5. Isn’t it amazing how books sometimes languish for a long while before we finally give them their proper due? They just seem to know when we are ready for them. 🙂
    How interesting that the actual house was transported, not to mention an entire family brought in to reside there and care for the grounds. Landscape architects are often overlooked, aren’t they?
    We recently read a book, a memoir, from the current gardener of Versailles, which is pretty much the title of the book. It is interesting to get such a personal insight into those who live on such lavish grounds. I wonder if there are any ancestors of the family that lived there.
    Great post, Debra. Hope you are have a good weekend.

    1. You might be interested in a movie we watched this week about the building of the gardens at Versaille in the late 1600’s ~> A Little Chaos starring Kate Winslet and Alan Rickman as the Sun King.

    2. I am really enjoying this book by the Huntington’s original landscape gardener, Penny. So much planning and intention went into making it a showcase, but it was also their home and Mr.Huntington wanted to please his wife! It’s so interesting to read references to landmarks that still exist, but to imagine what they were like in the early 20th century when most of this area was nothing more than orange groves. Your book club memoir written by the current gardener at Versailles would be incredibly interesting to me. I will check that out!

  6. There really is so much to do and see in the areas surrounding Los Angeles. I don’t remember seeing all the areas you show here, but it has been many years since I last visited the Huntington. Also, I’m glad I finally figured out how to leave a comment here. I must have missed that little note at the top, looking for a place down below. I hope all is well in your world.

    1. You know, Inger, I’ve had the same trouble finding the “comment space” on other blogs. I don’t think it’s very clear, either. But I’m so glad to hear from you. All is well with me, and I hope that you’re doing well, also. I’m sure some weeks are harder than others, my friend. I hope you’re getting some of the beautiful wildflowers out your way that we keep hearing about! I’m hoping they won’t all have disappeared before I get a chance to see them. I’m so glad you stopped by. I’ve been thinking of you. xx

  7. I don’t want to comment too much about our weather, having just completed a weekend where temps fell just shy of 65˚. It’s in the 50s now but a storm is coming, hence the lack of commentary. 🙂
    The more you show of the gardens, the more spectacular they become, Debra. What a wonderful asset for the area. It’s easy to see why it’s such a popular spot. What a drab world this would be if there were no visionaries like Huntington. He left a masterpiece.

    1. I do spend a lot of time watching and waiting on the weather to do something different, but that’s mostly because I’m really afraid of further water allotment cutbacks. I remember one cycle years ago when the family was all at home and I spent my days at the laundromat because I didn’t want any laundry water to be counted against what I could use in the garden. We take what we get and we figure out how to live with it! I’m learning a thing or two about adaptive gardening styles just by walking around the Huntington. For one thing, I don’t ever remember seeing the mulch as thick as it is right now in their rose beds, and I’m confident that I could do more in that area. So my weekly trips are informative as well as relaxing. I’m always so impressed and very grateful when a large estate turns the properties over to be enjoyed by the public. That it wasn’t all bulldozed years ago is something of a wonder. It could all be condos! I do hope spring is just around your corner and your garden can begin to wake up! I’ll take pleasure in that even if I’m sneaking ice cube trays out to give mine a little emergency resuscitation. LOL!

  8. There is a private home and large property called “Schoenberg Gardens,” which my ex-husband wrote a book about here in Ohio. It is only open to the public for 2 weekends a year. The similarities in the Japanese tea houses, (yours out where you live, ours here in Ohio) were amazing, Debra. They may have a Japanese gardener but not sure who takes care of their beautiful gardens. 🙂

  9. I’m curious about the Japanese family Debra. What happened to them? DId they come from Japan or were they already in America?

    WHat a beautiful place, I can see why it pulls in the people.

    1. I just realized that I hadn’t responded to your question about the Japanese family invited to stay at the Huntington, Colleen. Truthfully, I don’t know anything about them, but I suspect they were living in the Pasadena area, where a lot of Japanese resided. One of the internment camps was practically in walking distance of the Huntington home. I am also interested in this topic and would love to know more. I searched the Huntington bookstore this weekend to see if there were any books that perhaps would answer our questions, but I couldn’t find anything. I am going to contact someone in the research department and see if I can get some more information. If I do, I’ll blog about it. I think it would be particularly interesting. Thank you for spurring me on!

      1. You’re welcome. I hope you discover something. Or your blog makes it’s way around and finds someone who has information. I hope they were okay, if they got there before the war.

    1. You are certainly in tune with my thoughts, also, Joe. This recent rain was so welcome and I kept thinking of how the gardens were finally getting a good drink! Thank you so much for stopping by. 🙂

  10. I was struck by the idea of him installing a Japanese family, too, Debbie. When you mention the internment camp that makes sense. Give me a nudge if I miss your post about it? I don’t get over here as often as I’d like. Beautiful shots! It looks so appealing on this grey, wet English day 🙂 🙂

I always enjoy hearing from you!

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