SoCal: A glimpse of Descanso Gardens’ new 5-acre oak woodland

You’ll soon be able to walk through a part of Descanso Gardens that has been off-limits to visitors for three decades and recaptures some of what the L.A. Basin looked like in its native state.

Five acres that will reopen to the public on Saturday have been re-envisioned as an oak woodland at the La Cañada Flintridge gardens.

The new green space starts at the edge of the existing Rose Garden and connects to the California Natives Garden. Though still a work in progress -- some plants and grasses have yet to fill in -- it’s a sweet area with a woodsy feel that’s very different from other parts of the gardens where camellias and roses abound.

It begins near a small lodge that faces the lake and was built in the 1940s by then owner E. Manchester Boddy. Trails wind past recent plantings of hummingbird sage, coast sunflowers, monkey flowers and toyon.

Mulch covers sparse patches that next spring should erupt with wildlflowers and native grasses (and keep a lid on invasive plants too).

“The great thing about the oaks in this section is they were already here,” Juliann Rooke, chief operating officer, said during a media preview Monday.

Engelmann, or Pasadena, oaks were planted here too, but it’s the coast live oaks that dominate what’s referred to as the savanna.

The oaks in this section are healthier than the ones on the other side of the 160-acre gardens. The famed camellia bushes planted in the trees’ understory decades ago require watering, which damages the oaks.

It’s a struggle the oaks may not win, Rooke said, which makes preserving the woodland specimens all the more important.

Along the trails, you can catch views of the San Gabriel Mountains in the distance and bird-watch along the  lake.

The landscaping project at the L.A. County park cost $1.2 million and took about 18 months. But clearing the area started earlier.

In the 1980s, it had been planted with eucalyptus trees, which towered over the oaks and started crowding them out. About 100 eucalyptus trees were removed over time, making way for plans to rethink how to landscape and preserve the area.

The woodland opens Saturday when visitors may take a family walk at 10:30 a.m. and guided walks at 11:30 a.m. and 2 p.m.

There’s also a model of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory’s Mars rover that will be on display from 9 to 10:30 a.m. (You can lie down and let the rover roll over your body.)

Admission to Descanso Gardens costs $9 for adults and $5 for children 5 to 12. It’s open 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily except Christmas.

Info: Descanso Gardens, 1418 Descanso Drive; (818) 949-4200