Camellia festival returns to Descanso Gardens

Manchester Boddy, founding father of La Cañada's Descanso Gardens, saw within the humble camellia blossom a great beauty and a reliable source of revenue.

In 1941, the amateur horticulturalist hired camellia and propagation expert Howard Asper to take over his growing personal collection of camellias. Over the years, that collection grew to include more than 34,000 plants, many of which were harvested by Boddy and sold in the cut-flower market.

"He actually had rail cars that he collected them in, and they were shipped out to the East Coast," Descanso Chief Operating Officer Juliann Rooke said in a recent interview. "It was very fashionable for women to wear camellias as an adornment to their clothing. And in winter, not many flowers bloomed."

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In the decades that followed, the public garden came to celebrate its 20-acre Camellia Forest with a festival that, each year, crowned a Camellia Queen as part of what was essentially a beauty pageant, according to Rooke.

Today, the botanical garden pays homage to the hearty winter flower with the two-day Descanso Gardens Camellia & Tea Festival — the annual spectacular returns this weekend, from 9:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. both days.

Those interested in learning more about the more than 600 varieties in Descanso's Camellia Forest can participate in guided camellia walks through the grounds, beginning at 9:30 a.m. each day of the festival.

The weekend celebration also includes a tea tasting, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., by Pasadena's Chado Tea Room of tea varieties crafted from the leaves of Camellia sinensis. Young visitors can take part in creating flower-themed crafts, while a "Camellia Exploration Station" will give guests an up-close look at some of the Camellia Forest's finest samples.

On Saturday and Sunday, at 11 a.m. and again at 1 p.m., members of Invertigo Dance Theatre will thrill audiences with a live music and dance performance, followed by an interactive dance workshop.

Rooke said a good thing about the festival is that it lets visitors be as structured or spontaneous as they wish.

"You can go and watch dancing and be a little free, or you can learn a lot, or just taste tea," she added. "There are a lot of different ways you can interact with the garden."

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The Descanso Gardens Camellia & Tea Festival activities will take place Saturday and Sunday, from 9:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. (Descanso, located at 1418 Descanso Drive, admits guests up until 4 p.m. and closes its gates at 5 p.m. both days). All festival activities are free with the price of admission, $9 for adults, $6 for seniors over 65 and students with ID and $4 for children ages 5 to 12. Descanso members and children under 5 get in free. For more, visit descansogardens.org or call (818) 949-4290.

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Sara Cardine, sara.cardine@latimes.com

Twitter: @SaraCardine

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