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Amid shelter-in-place restrictions, Descanso brings its gardens to the people

Descanso Gardens' public relations marketing coordinator Shannon Dillon captures records coordinator Roy Jenkins leading a virtual tour video of lilacs at the botanical showplace on Thursday, March 25.
(Tim Berger/La Cañada Valley Sun)

Although Descanso Gardens closed on March 19 to help battle the spread of the novel coronavirus, spring blooms are arriving right on schedule — and since people can’t visit the garden, officials are finding ways to bring the garden to the people.

A small crew of horticultural and maintenance staff is keeping the 150-acre La Cañada Flintridge botanical garden in working order, and now some are playing a production role as Descanso rolls out virtual tours of some of the garden’s popular spots.

On a recent Monday morning, Descanso’s records coordinator Roy Jenkins stepped in front of the camera to lead a tour of the area’s lilac garden. In under three minutes, Jenkins visually identifies different varieties of the fragrant flower, including a still unnamed mystery species.

Records coordinator Roy Jenkins hosts a virtual tour video highlighting lilacs at Descanso Gardens.
(Tim Berger/La Cañada Valley Sun)

“This here is a lilac we haven’t identified yet,” Jenkins says into the camera. “We have some speculations, but we’re not quite sure.”

Public relations manager Jennifer Errico said garden officials have been retooling during the coronavirus closure to offer the public opportunities to explore the grounds virtually.

“Our job right now is to show everyone what they’re missing,” Errico said. “But we don’t want them to feel bad about what they’re missing. We want them to feel inspired by the beauty.”

Beni hoshi and Akebono cherry blossoms at Descanso Gardens on March 25. The blossoms will be featured on one of the virtual tours of the gardens that have proven to be very popular during Descanso's closure.
(Tim Berger/La Cañada Valley Sun)

In addition to this week’s lesson on lilacs, other virtual tours tiptoe through Descanso’s shadowy Ancient Forest, resplendent tulip beds and into a forest of delicate cherry blossoms.

“We’re trying to put up new pictures of what’s blooming,” Errico said. “Our members and visitors have been so supportive and are asking for more, so we’re trying to show them every day what’s happening in the garden.”

To uplift and entertain home-bound parents and children, who cannot walk La Cañada’s 23-mile trails system but are permitted to take recreational walks through residential areas, Descanso has created a “Descanso at Home” page on its website.

Closed signs at the entrance to Descanso Gardens in La Canada Flintridge last week. An end date for the closure, which is due to coronavirus social-distancing goals, is not known at this time.
(Tim Berger/La Cañada Valley Sun)

In addition to educational resources that help turn neighborhood walks into nature walks, children of all ages can print out coloring pages adapted from photos taken inside the garden.

Errico said despite the natural beauty that continues to abound, there’s only one thing missing at Descanso.

“We love our visitors — we cannot wait to have people back soon,” she said.

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