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!