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Botanic gardens are reopening with superblooms — and a few new rules

Matilija poppies
A forest of Matilija poppies, aka fried egg plants, is just one of the many native plants blooming at California Botanic Gardens
(David Bryant)

Like butterflies from a cocoon, the botanic gardens of Southern California are slowly and carefully reopening their gates to the public, with new rules and limited access to keep everyone safe.

Some, such as the Arboretum and South Coast Botanic Garden, stayed open to outdoor visitors when sheltering at home began in mid-March. Most, however, closed because of the challenges of crowd control. A few, such as the Huntington Library, Art Museums and Botanic Gardens, are still trying to figure out how and when they can safely reopen.

Most are reopening this month, and the timing is great, since this has been a super-blooming spring, fueled by the heavy rains in March and early April, so the gardens are awash in colorful flowers. But be aware: Visiting will take some planning.

Visitors pose with a peacock amid the splendor of blooming jacaranda trees at the Arboretum.
Visitors pose with a peacock amid the splendor of blooming jacaranda trees at the Arboretum.
(Frank McDonough / L.A. County Arboretum)
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Almost all the botanic gardens have closed their ticket offices and now require online reservations and ticket sales, in part so they can control the number of visitors while they try out their strategies for keeping everyone at a safe distance.

Even members who enter for free will need to make reservations online at most gardens, but many are setting up special times for members only to provide an incentive for membership. In fact, a few gardens opened their doors only to members at the beginning, to test their reduced schedules and new requirements.

The popular La Cañada Flintridge gardens will require advance reservations, masks and social distancing.

Every garden has its own timeline for reopening, but most are following similar guidelines for visitors:

  • Online ticket sales only and reservations for staggered arrival times. Ticket offices are closed.
  • Face coverings required for staff and visitors ages 3 and older
  • Reduced attendance to ensure visitors practice social distancing — i.e. staying at least six feet apart from others not in their group.
  • Limited on-site parking to avoid crowding.
  • Water fountains turned off.
  • Limited access to restrooms.
  • Tables and benches closed to seating.
  • Indoor facilities, including meeting rooms, libraries, gift shops and restaurants, continue to stay closed, although a couple of gardens may have limited access to gift items outside and food. Check the websites and prepare to pay with a debit or credit card.

Bottom line: Garden visitors should bring their own water, check into restroom availability and plan to keep moving once inside.

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One final note: Check the website before you go to see what amenities are available and whether anything has changed. The rules are fluid right now, as the gardens work out the best way to encourage visitors while keeping everyone safe. They hope to gradually increase visitor numbers, “but the worst thing that could happen is if so many people come things get unruly and we have to close,” said Ari Novy, president of the San Diego Botanic Garden. “We don’t want it to be like what we’ve seen with the beaches, having to open and then close again.”

The L.A. County Arboretum is one of the few public gardens in the state, and the country, that has remained open throughout the shutdown. Here’s why.

Here’s a list of botanic gardens in Southern California and their current status.

Los Angeles County

California Botanic Garden reopens to the public on May 22, but members can start visiting on May 20 with reservations. The 88-acre garden of California native plants is blooming profusely now. The garden is open Wednesday-Saturday, from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. and 3 p.m. to 8 p.m. but visitors must get online reservations for a specific time since only 30 people can enter per hour. The nursery is closed, but if visitors order online before their visit, they can pick up plants in the parking lot at a scheduled time (orders take at least 24 hours to process). Restrooms in the garden will be open but those by the administrative offices are closed. 1500 N. College Ave., Claremont, calbg.org.

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Descano Gardens is open seven days a week from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. Descanso members can enter just by showing their card —"Membership has its advantages,” said Public Relations Director Kim Sudhalter — but if the member numbers get too great, she said, the park may have to require reservations for members too. “This is a work in progress.” The Kitchen restaurant will be open for a few hours, selling drinks that can be carried in the garden or food that can be eaten in designated picnic areas. 1418 Descanso Drive, La Cañada Flintridge, descansogardens.org.

Dominguez Rancho Adobe Museum & Gardens is closed through May 31 but expects to open its 17-acre gardens in early June, said director Luis Fernandez. Visits will be limited to 10 people daily with advance reservations. 18127 S. Alameda St., Rancho Dominguez, dominguezrancho.org.

South Coast Botanic Garden never closed, but all visitors, including members, must get reservations online in advance before they can enter. The 87-acre garden is open daily from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. 26300 Crenshaw Blvd., Rolling Hills Estates, southcoastbotanicgarden.org.

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The Arboretum has stayed open but now requires nonmembers to buy tickets online and members to make reservations. Visitors must stay on the paved 2.5-mile walking trail and follow directional signs. Hours for nonmembers are 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily. Members have additional time slots from 7:30 a.m. to 9 and 5 to 7 p .m. Bathrooms open at the entrance only; all other facilities are closed. 301 N. Baldwin Ave., Arcadia, arboretum.org.

The Huntington Library, Art Museum & Botanic Gardens remains closed. Spokeswoman Lisa Blackburn said the property is considered an outdoor museum, and the Los Angeles County Health Department has not approved the opening of such facilities, but an internal task force is studying ways to open the 120-acre gardens in June or early July, once state and county officials give their approval. “We’re a complicated property with complex operations, lots of paths and restrooms,” she said, “so a lot of details will have to be put in place and ‘pressure tested’ first.” She expects the Huntington will use timed entries and require face coverings and physical distancing. 1151 Oxford Rd., San Marino, huntington.org.

UCLA Mildred E. Mathias Botanical Garden is a free, 7.5-acre botanical garden that has remained open. However, the restrooms are closed. The garden is open 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. weekdays and 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. weekends and is closed on UCLA holidays, including Memorial Day, July 3 and Labor Day. 707 Tiverton Ave., Westwood, botgard.ucla.edu.

Orange County

Sherman Library & Gardens reopened May 11 from 10:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. daily with advance reservations required for members and online ticket sales for nonmembers. The library is closed to visitors but does accept research questions over the phone. The Café Jardin restaurant is closed to garden visitors but the chefs are selling fresh produce, eggs, breads, wine and takeout lunches and dinners on Dahlia Avenue, outside the garden. The food can’t be eaten inside the garden and there is no seating permitted. Visitors are expected to wear masks and walk one way through the garden with no backtracking, to ensure social distancing. 2647 E. Coast Hwy.Highway, Corona del Mar, thesherman.org.

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Santa Barbara County

Ganna Walska Lotusland opens to the public May 20 with new self-guided tours that last two hours. Online reservations are required with limited entry times around 10 a.m. and 1:30 p.m., said spokesman Bob Craig. The gift shop for the 37-acre gardens will be closed but some plants and books will be available for purchase on the patio. Cold Spring and Sycamore Canyon Road, Montecito, lotusland.org.

Santa Barbara Botanic Garden opens to members only on May 22. Director Steve Windhager said the 78-acre gardens of California native plants won’t open to the general public before July 1. Visitors are limited to 15 households or carloads per day Fridays through Tuesdays for two-hour visits between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. The gift shop and nursery are closed but visitors can order plants online and pick them up in the parking lot. The gardens are starting with members only, Windhager said, to ensure a slow start and “to thank our members for sticking with us.” 1212 Mission Canyon Road, Santa Barbara, sbbg.org.

San Diego County

Alta Vista Botanical Gardens, 1270 Vale Terrace Dr., Vista, altavistabotanicalgardens.org, reopened to visitors May 1, from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. on weekdays and 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. on weekends. The parking lot is closed, so visitors will have to park elsewhere and walk to the 14-acre gardens. Visitors must wear masks, and no large groups or gatherings are permitted.

San Diego Botanic Garden, 230 Quail Gardens Dr., Encinitas, sdbgarden.org, plans to reopen in June after making modifications to its entrance and ticketing software so visitors can reserve times online, said President and CEO Ari Novy. The gardens will be open 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily, and restrooms will be open, but all indoor facilities, including its conservatory and famous children’s garden, will be closed because it’s too difficult to keep people at the proper distance, he said. “This is uncharted territory for us, but we’re grateful to have an opportunity to open,” Novy said. “One of the untold costs of the pandemic has been the impact on our mental health and wellbeing. Gardens are just critically important places for people to regain their mental health and wellbeing.”


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