The change in scenery from freeway madness to Mother Nature in bloom hit quickly. Just steps from the car, a peacock greeted us at the entrance to the Los Angeles County Arboretum & Botanic Garden (www.arboretum.org) in Arcadia, CA. The proud bird, serene and calm, mesmerized me with its vibrant blue and green plumage and delicate blue head crest. My pulse slowed and I forgot all about the freeway.
Most L.A. residents may know suburban Arcadia as home to Santa Anita Race Track. What I didn’t know is that across the street from the track sits the 127-acre Arboretum. Wear your walking shoes, bring your camera and join the stroller pushers, walkers, art students and photographers who come to enjoy the 127-acre property. The oasis of unique plants and wildlife makes for a great day escape.
A few hours strolling the Arboretum gave me a dose of nature and city history. In a beautiful old barn and horse stall on the property, we found display cases containing photographs and information on Elias Jackson Baldwin (now I know where the L.A. cities of Baldwin Hills and Baldwin Park get their names) who purchased the property in 1875. Baldwin wanted Arcadia to be a vacation destination, hence the city’s racetrack, a nearby hotel and the garden property, where he lived and entertained. A centerpiece to the Arboretum is the Queen Anne Cottage, the grand home where Baldwin threw parties. You can peer through the windows and sometimes tour the home, with original stained glass, art and furnishings. The home has been featured in movies and TV shows including the opening sequence for TV show “Fantasy Island” and the film “Meet The Fockers”.
The Arboretum came into existence in 1947, when the state of California and the city of Los Angeles jointly purchased much of Baldwin’s land. It opened to the public in 1956. Today, the Arboretum hosts tours, classes, family bird walks and a host of ongoing programs designed to cultivate the area’s horticultural and historic resources.
You can tour the entire property in about two hours, not including a stop for lunch at the Peacock Café. Sit on the café’s patio and enjoy a salad or freshly made sandwich and watch those peacocks strut their stuff.
A stroll through the gardens is filled with beautifully colored foliage and unique herbs, plants, trees and flowers in bloom. Plants are grouped geographically throughout the Arboretum in areas known as Australia, Africa, Asia and the Prehistoric Forest, among others. While I missed a popular area of the Arboretum that features a waterfall, my favorite stop of the day featured several tropical greenhouses where one of the largest public collections of orchids in the nation is lovingly tended. Everywhere, in trees and at your feet, are the peacocks. The 200 peafowl are descendants of a group that Baldwin originally imported from India. The next time the city has me seething, I’ll be back for a little peace amid the peacocks.