Descanso Gardens – La Cañada Flintridge, California - Atlas Obscura
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La Cañada Flintridge, California

Descanso Gardens

Hiding amid the largest camellia collection in the country lies a charming children's maze, donated by a secret admirer. 

“A maze is a path on which the end cannot be seen from the beginning. Mazes dating back to ancient times are found in all cultures. Some are intended to help the traveler reach enlightenment; others offer puzzles to be solved for fun. Can you find your way through twists and turns to the surprise at the center of this maze?”

-A Secret Admirer

Descanso Gardens offers so many delights for the discerning plant nerd that it could be easy to miss – a modest maze for the little ones, guarded by bucolic sculptures of woodland creatures eating snacks. It’s simple enough for those of us over three feet tall to see the bird’s-eye view of the twists and dead ends, as well as the surprises around the bends and the reward for those who reach the center (a lovely benched sitting area), but for the little minds it was created for, this boxwood labyrinth is magical.

Descanso Gardens used to be the home and estate of E. Manchester Boddy, publisher of the L.A. Daily News, an early Los Angeles mogul who came up from nothing to become one of the most powerful men in Los Angeles in the first half of the 20th century. As he aged, he preferred to focus on his gardens and horticultural interests and let the newspaper languish. Eventually the 150-acre property became unwieldy for the aging journalist, and he sold the property to the county in 1953 as a botanical teaching garden.

One of the still-remaining treasures of Descanso is the camellia collection. Boddy kept the collection in the shade of the towering Coast Live Oaks, intended for the cut flower industry. That collection now stands as the largest in all of North America, and contains a vast array of cultivars. The oaks themselves are treasures in their own right, a sadly disappearing keystone of coastal California’s intricate ecosystems.

A particularly child-friendly botanical adventure, Descanso features guided tours by tram and a menagerie of creatures to coo after, including squirrels, ducks, swans, soft and hardshell turtles, koi, and a varied display of bird specimens that are attracted to the garden’s tree cover, stream and small lake. A small choo-choo (not to be confused with the tram, which is much less fancy) takes children and grown-ups alike on a slightly precarious, rowdy tour of a portion of the estate. If you are a good explorer, and you can see that there may be something special just past the rose gardens and beyond the sparkling fountains, you just may stumble across the sweet maze created for the smallest of visitors, left by a secret admirer of the botanical wonderland Mr. Boddy left behind.