The Coastal Gardener:

Take step back in time at garden

January 29, 2010|By Ron Vanderhoff

Avid gardeners like to visit great gardens, wherever they may be. Many local petal pushers occasionally set down their shovels and make the drive up to Huntington Gardens in San Marino, the L.A. Arboretum in Arcadia or even Descanso Gardens in La Cañada. We all like to visit these great botanic gardens, finding something new on every visit.

Unfortunately, many gardeners overlook the Rancho Santa Ana Botanic Gardens, in Claremont, less than an hour away.

For uncertain reasons, Rancho Santa Ana is often overlooked by gardeners. It seems to be the stepchild of Southern California’s big botanic gardens.

That’s a shame, because this is one of the best places to discover and appreciate plants and to get a sense of what Southern California was like before suburbia took over.


The beauty of Rancho Santa Ana is understated and unpretentious. It is a relaxed place, with plants, people and wildlife all in harmony. No clipped hedges or contrived designs.

The Huntington and the L.A. Arboretum separate their gardens into plant collections, organized either by a region of the world or by a plant type.

At these gardens you’ll find the Chinese garden, the Japanese Garden, the Australian collection, the tropical collection, the desert collection and so on.

But at Rancho Santa Ana Botanic Garden you’ll only find one collection: the California collection. This garden is exclusively a celebration of California’s immense plant diversity and heritage. Near the foothills of the San Gabriel Mountains, this huge garden is devoted entirely and exclusively to California’s native plants.

A walk through the gardens at Rancho Santa Ana is almost like a walk back in time. A time when California was really California, not pretending to be someplace else. There you will discover thousands of local native plants, most of which will be far less familiar to you than distant plants like foxgloves, boxwoods and agapanthus.

On the garden’s 86 rambling acres is the most extensive collection of California native plants assembled anywhere in the world.

The garden is also alive with wildlife. While walking through the garden last week I saw California quail, a great horned owl, squirrels, jays, monarch butterflies and much more.

Now through May is an ideal time to visit Rancho Santa Ana. The temperatures are cool and the plants are at their peak.

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