18 plant and gardening activities in L.A. that’ll get you in the holiday spirit

Hand holding wine glass in a red wreath dressed as turkey.
(Micah Fluellen / Los Angeles Times)

It’s almost Thanksgiving (How did this happen?!), and the holidays are definitely upon us, with festive light shows blooming at many SoCal botanic gardens. My neighbors are already lacing their yards with lights.

There’s still time to make your holiday wreath. (Tree of Life Nursery has an excellent video explaining how, if you can’t make one of the classes below.) November is also a great time to start a compost pile, even if it’s just raking a pile of leaves into a corner of your property to break down over the winter.

Many municipalities offer free or low-cost composting lessons and bins. Some have suspended classes because of the pandemic, but Los Angeles County Public Works, for instance, still offers classes online and bins for $40. Smaller worm composting bins, a good size for a balcony, are $65. Check what’s available from your local jurisdiction.


Don’t have leaves? Offer to rake a neighbor’s yard or gather them from the street before the sweepers come. Leaves break down over the winter, nourishing the beneficial microbes that create good soil and help plants thrive. Worms love leaf litter too and their castings — poop — are a nutrient-rich amendment to any garden (and much cheaper than buying by the bag at nurseries).

Taft Gardens & Nature Preserve is a (semi) secret garden near Ojai that should be on everyone’s “Go!” list.

Nov. 4, 2021

Here are 18 plant-related events and activities in the L.A. area from mid-November into January. Email garden- and plant-related events to at least three weeks before the event, and we might include them in the calendar.

Through Dec. 5
The California Native Plant Society’s Wreath Masters competition invites individuals and organizations to create wreaths mostly (51%) composed of California native plants in a free monthlong contest. Winners in the six categories receive a limited-edition foil print by botanical artist Justina Freel; the best-of-show winner gets a framed original work of art by Freel. The categories are “Most ‘I want to hang this on my door,’” “Most avant-garden,” “Most naturalistic,” “Most whimsical,” “Kid’s category” for entrants under 18, and “Best in show” (all entries will be considered in this category). Photos of the completed wreaths must be submitted by Dec. 5. Last year’s entries and instructions for making wreaths are on the website, as are wreath-making workshops around California.

Through Dec. 10
Palos Verdes Peninsula Land Conservancy’s fall butterfly gift packages are available for pre-order for $40, with pickup between 10 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. on Dec. 11 at the George F Canyon Nature Preserve, 27305 Palos Verdes Dr. E. in Rolling Hills Estates. The gift packages include four flowering native plants that are good for pollinators in Southern California: seacliff buckwheat (Eriogonum parvifolium), the host plant for the El Segundo blue butterfly; purple sage (Salvia leucophylla), the California bush sunflower (Encelia californica); and the golden poppy (Eschscholzia californica), all grown in the conservancy’s nursery. A spring pollinator gift basket of native plants is also available for pickup in March, which includes milkweed (Asclepias fascicularis), host plant for the monarch butterfly; wishbone (Mirabilis laevis); succulent lupine (Lupinus succulentus)
and bladderpod (Peritoma arborea).

Through Jan. 16
Lightscape at the Los Angeles County Arboretum & Botanic Garden, 301 N. Baldwin Ave. in Arcadia, is the resumption of the arboretum’s annual nighttime holiday event, which was canceled last year because of the pandemic. This year’s show is a new collection about a mile in length, including a walk-through winter cathedral of white lights and a “fire garden.” The paths are wheelchair accessible. General admission tickets start at $32 or $30 for adults, $20 or $18 for ages 3-12 and free for children 2 and under (weekends and dates closer to the holidays are more expensive). The tickets have timed entries every 15 minutes between 5:30 and 8:45 p.m., but visitors can stay until the park closes at 10 p.m. Members save $3 per ticket, and advance purchase is recommended due to high demand. VIP tickets ($70) permit flexible, priority entry on the ticketed date and VIP parking. Food and drink will be available for purchase on-site.

How do we come up with ideas for our Made in L.A. Gift Guide every year? By attending these events.

Nov. 12, 2021


Nov. 19-Jan. 9
L.A. Zoo Lights, 5333 Zoo Dr. in Griffith Park returns after a COVID-19 hiatus with more oversize glowing animals, a “magical disco ball forest” and the world’s largest illuminated pop-up storybook, among other displays, every night except Nov. 25, Dec. 24 and Dec. 25. Tickets have timed entries at 6 , 7 and 8 p.m., and the zoo stays open until 10 p.m. Tickets are $22-$24 for ages 13 and older, $16-$17 for ages 2-12 and $15 for members (except Dec. 17-23). Children under 2 are free.

Nov. 20
Replant Love at Paramount Ranch is the Malibu Foundation’s second effort (with support from the Clarins cosmetic company) to replant portions of the Santa Monica Mountains scarred by the 2018 Woolsey fire. The group is capping the number of volunteers to 350 this year because of COVID concerns, said foundation founder and executive director Evelin Weber. (The first event in 2019 attracted more than 700 volunteers.) Volunteers will help plant 5,000 native trees, shrubs and flowering plants at the Paramount Ranch, 2903 Cornell Rd. in Agoura Hills, starting at 8 a.m. The project will also include creating “Monarch Way Stations” with milkweed and other native plants good for pollinators such as the endangered monarch butterflies. Food, water and coffee will be provided to volunteers for the day-long event, which will include music and activities for children such as storytelling and making native plant seed bombs. Participants must wear a mask except when eating and drinking and should bring their own reusable water bottles, sunscreen, sturdy shoes and clothing good for getting dirty. Register online.

Wreath Masters: Wreath Making Workshop at Sherman Library & Gardens will be taught by Jen Aguilar, education program coordinator for the California Native Plant Society, from 10 a.m. to noon at 2647 E. Coast Hwy., in Corona del Mar. Participants will receive the hardware and tools needed to create their own wreath as well as access to an array of plant materials. Attendees are welcome to bring their own equipment and cuttings from their garden. Tickets are $25 ($20 for members).

Garden Seed and Sip Workshop at the Cook’s Garden, 1033 Abbot Kinney Blvd. in Venice, from 4:30 to 6:30 p.m. Owner Geri Miller will help participants plant seeds in a coir seedling tray with seed-starting soil mix and an assortment of seeds. They will also get to sample two glasses of beer or wine with a selection of cheeses, dried fruit and nuts. Participants must be 21 or older and present a COVID vaccination card at the door. $65.

Autumn Centerpiece workshop at the L.A. Arboretum, 301 N. Baldwin Ave. in Arcadia, from 10 a.m. to noon. Instructor Kelley Benes helps participants create a fall centerpiece made from natural materials collected from the arboretum’s gardens. Register online; $50, $40 for members.

Succulent pumpkins are all the rage at nurseries and workshops, but this living holiday decor is easy and relatively inexpensive to make.

Oct. 29, 2021

Nov. 20-Jan. 17
South Coast Botanic Garden’s GLOW (Garden Lights & Ocean Waters) show, features thousands of lights throughout the garden designed to evoke bayous, beaches and a kelp forest. This year’s event also includes food and drink and music. Open daily between 5:30 and 8:30 p.m. except Dec. 24 and Dec. 25. Tickets are $24.95 for members and $34.95 for nonmembers. Children 4 and under enter free.

Nov. 21
Wreath Making Workshop at South Coast Botanic Garden, from noon to 2 p.m. at 26300 Crenshaw Blvd., Palos Verdes Peninsula. This workshop, taught by Jen Aguilar, education program coordinator for the California Native Plant Society, will supply equipment and plant materials for making a wreath. Participants are encouraged to bring their own plant cuttings and tools. Tickets are $20, $15 for members.

Nov. 21-Jan. 9
Descanso Gardens’ Enchanted Forest of Light, 1418 Descanso Dr. in La Cañada Flintridge, features an interactive evening light show that stretches a mile through the gardens. This year’s exhibit includes a new “town” of stained-glass buildings in the Rose Garden created by sculptor Tom Fruin, along with favorites like the field of glowing tulips that are constantly changing colors. Timed entry every half-hour between 5:30 and 8:30 p.m.; open until 10 p.m. daily, rain or shine, except Nov. 24, Dec. 24 and Dec. 25. Tickets are $25 to $28 for members, $32 to $35 for nonmembers.

Dec. 3-4
Theodore Payne Foundation’s Holiday Marketplace, 10459 Tuxford St. in Sun Valley, is a chance to purchase “locally made, nature-inspired, and eco-friendly” art work and gifts for the holidays from pop-up vendors, along with native plants from the foundation’s nursery. Special feature: native plant wallpaper, prints, notecards and other items by artist and illustrator Lesley Goren. Admission is free, but reservations are required for each vehicle containing up to four people to ensure adequate room for parking.

Here are our suggestions for unique gifts and other ideas for the 2021 holiday season.

Nov. 4, 2021

Dec. 4
The (Re)place Exhibition Workshop at California Botanic Garden is inspired by artist Brandon Lomax‘s installation at the garden, featuring dozens of sculptures resembling tall, whimsical armless figures made from fired and unfired clay. The unfired sculptures, studded with native plant seeds, will eventually break down and help grow new plants over the seven-month, three-season installation, and the fired pieces of art will remain as permanent fixtures in the garden landscape. You can make your own seed-studded clay sculptures at a workshop taught by ceramicist and botanist Peri Lee Pipkin from 10 to 11 a.m. at the garden for $15, $10 members and $5 children 2-12. The (Re)place exhibit runs through June 1 and is available with general admission to the garden, 1500 N. College Ave. in Claremont. It’s open 8 a.m. to 5 p.m Tuesday through Sunday. Nonmembers can reserve tickets online: $10 adults, $6 seniors 65 and older and students with ID, and $4 for children 3-12. Members and children under 3 enter free.

Holiday Wreath Workshop from 10 a.m. to noon at the Los Angeles County Arboretum & Botanic Garden, 301 N. Baldwin Ave. in Arcadia, provides natural materials gathered from the arboretum grounds and the Los Angeles Flower Market along with forms and wires for participants to make their own holiday wreath. Bring your own clippers and gloves. Space is limited, and preregistration is required. $50 for members, $60 nonmembers.

Habitat Restoration at the Los Cerritos Wetlands is the topic of a volunteer event hosted by the Aquarium of the Pacific to restore 66 acres of wetlands by collecting seeds from rare plants, planting varieties native to the region and removing invasive nonnatives from 10:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Volunteers should meet at Pacific Coast Highway and 1st Street in Seal Beach at 10:15 a.m. Children under 14 must be accompanied by an adult. Closed-toe shoes are required; hats and sunscreen are strongly recommended. Water will be provided, but this is a plastic-bottle-free event, so bring your own reusable water bottle. Registration is not required.

Dec. 5
Succulent and Sip Workshop and Brunch at the Cook’s Garden, 1033 Abbot Kinney Blvd. in Venice, from 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. Participants will get guided instruction in the care and design of succulent arrangements, along with materials to create their own arrangement. they will also get a light brunch prepared by the Butcher’s Daughter along with two glasses of wine, Prosecco or juices with a selection of breads, bagels, pastries, spreads and fruit. Participants must be 21 or older and present a COVID vaccination card at the door. $75.

Dec. 10-11, 17-18
Luminaria Nights at the California Botanic Garden lets visitors wander the state’s largest collection of California native plants at night with special holiday lights, live music and food and beverages for purchase from 6 to 9 p.m. at 1500 N. College Ave. in Claremont. Admission is $15 adults, $12 seniors age 65 and older, students with ID and children 3-12. Members pay $10 for adults and $8 for seniors, students and children 3-12. Children under 3 enter free.

Dec 11
Garden Craft and Sip Workshop at the Cook’s Garden, 1033 Abbot Kinney in Venice, from 2 to 4:30 p.m. Participants will learn how to harvest herbs like rosemary, thyme, safe, bay leaf and oregano to make an herb wreath for pillar candles. They will also get to sample two glasses of wine or garden-made botanical infused water with snacks. Participants must be 21 or older and present a COVID vaccination card at the door. $70.