Four photos of gardens layered
SuihoEn Japanese Garden, the lake at SoFi Stadium, the Getty garden, and flowers and statues at Dodger Stadium.
(Photos by Mary Forgione/Los Angeles Times, Nic Lehoux / HKS, Gary Coronado/Los Angeles Times, Christina House/Los Angeles Times)

9 gardens hidden in unexpected places around L.A.

Did you know L.A. has landscaping rules for gas stations? Yes, gas stations (what could be more ungreen?).

In 1996, city planners rolled out rules requiring at least 5% of a station’s “vehicular use area” to be landscaped “with one 24-inch size tree for each 250 square feet of interior landscaped area or fraction thereof.” (Smaller areas may be allowed if “horticulturally more appropriate.”)

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I have to admit I’ve seen some inspired mini-gardens and planters brimming with flowers while pumping gas. Bottom line: You can find greened-up spaces where you least expect them. Here are nine places around Los Angeles that are worth rediscovering.

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small garden with cityscape in the background
(Christina House / Los Angeles Times)

Botanic garden at Dodger Stadium

Elysian Park Garden
Many Dodger fans likely don’t know the stadium doubles as a botanic garden, complete with tags listing common and botanical plant names.

“The slopes and giant concrete martini-shaped planters around the stadium have been transformed into beds of fragrant salvias, agaves of multiple colors and size, and boulder-sized century plants sending their towering blooms into the sky,” according to this Times story. “The boxes outside the Dodgers Team Store at the Top Deck are overflowing with succulents of every color.”

It’s the work of 36-year-old landscape manager Chaz Perea, who spent five years fulfilling the requirements to turn the stadium into the country’s first sports arena with an accredited botanic garden. Botanic garden tours are on select Fridays and Saturdays at 10:30 a.m.; $25 for adults.
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lake in a Japanese garden
(Mary Forgione / Los Angeles Times)

SuihoEn Japanese Garden (adjacent to the Donald C. Tillman Water Reclamation Plant)

Sepulveda Basin Public garden
The Japanese Garden in Van Nuys is one of the places I seek out when I crave a quiet, serene landscape. It’s also the site of a wastewater treatment plant. Really.

The garden is small — just 6 ½ acres — with islands of green and a Zen meditation garden. It’s a place to stroll and savor the views and the vibe — no rushing allowed. It’s also a “chisen”-style garden, meaning water is vital to its design as “a symbol and expression of the sea,” the garden’s website says. Where does the water come from? The nearby Donald C. Tillman Water Reclamation Plant, which treats 40 million gallons of wastewater every day.

The garden is open Monday through Thursday with free admission, though reservations are required.
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a little pond in a botanic garden
(Brian van der Brug / Los Angeles Times)

Ethnobotanical Garden at the Autry Museum of the American West

Griffith Park Garden
The outdoor garden at the Autry Museum of the American West serves as a microcosm of the surrounding Griffith Park (and parts of greater California). The small space, just 7,000 square feet, is packed with 60 native plant species, as well as a little pond, waterfall and a native oak tree. But the big basalt rock columns — meant as a nod to Devils Postpile National Monument in the Eastern Sierra — steal the show. You’ll be thinking about volcanic rock formations while walking past Catalina cherry, wild strawberries and elderberry. Use this little garden as a place to learn how to identify California plants and think about the geology of L.A. and the state.

You can experience the garden while visiting the Autry (museum admission is $16 for adults).
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little green forest in the middle of a city
(Dylan Patrick / Doubletree by Hilton Los Angeles)

Kyoto Garden at the Doubletree by Hilton Los Angeles Downtown

Downtown L.A. Garden
Kyoto Garden opened in 1977, long before rooftop bars were a thing in L.A. Stepping outside the third floor of the hotel to discover the secret half-acre garden takes you into a world of ferns and flowers amid dripping rock walls and a boulder-lined path to an enclave of trees (yes, full-size trees). What I love most is the complete disconnect with DTLA.

By the way, the hotel was originally the New Otani Hotel & Garden, which became the Kyoto Grand Hotel and Gardens and later the DoubleTree by Hilton. Today, the Kyoto Garden is used for weddings and other events but is also open to hotel guests and maybe a discreet hotel wanderer.
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A sets of steps, seen in afternoon light, is flanked by palm trees and a column, with a park in the background
(Carolina A. Miranda / Los Angeles Times)

Gardens at SoFi Stadium

Inglewood Garden
Football? Yes. Sleek landscape? Yep. L.A.’s landmark stadium in Inglewood put its gardens and green spaces front and center.

The greening includes the stadium and nearby Lake Park. It was a big job transforming “12 acres of public green space surrounding a six-acre lake, as well as myriad landscape elements around the stadium,” this Times story said. “Mini-botanical gardens — complete with didactics that explain what every plant is and where it comes from — hug the southeastern edge of the lake. Around the stadium, plazas are flecked with jagged fingers of garden lined with benches that provide game-day spectators a place to rest, as well as spots to hang out at times when the stadium is quiet.”

You can see it all when you attend a game or event, or you can tour the stadium; tickets start at $39.
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people on a paved path in a garden
(Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times)

Central Garden at Getty Center

Brentwood Garden
The outdoor gardens are just about as impressive as the art at the hilltop Getty Center. Like at the new SoFi Stadium, the gardens were not an afterthought. The Central Garden, which covers 134,000 square feet, was designed by California artist Robert Irwin. Plants change with the season, though I’ve pretty consistently seen the maze of azaleas surrounding a pool fed by a stream and stone waterfall. It opened with the center in 1997 and remains an ever-changing artwork. There’s also a cactus garden and other green spaces.

Take the time for a free Central Garden tour on weekdays (museum admission is free, though parking costs $20).
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Amir's Garden
(Michelle Woo / Los Angeles Times)

Amir's Garden at Griffith Park

Griffith Park Garden
Some might say that a garden in Griffith Park, one of the nation’s largest urban green spaces, isn’t exactly unexpected. But that’s only if they haven’t set foot into the lush, enchanting oasis created by the late Amir Dialameh.

Located above the Mineral Wells picnic area, Amir’s Garden is
Dialameh’s decades-long labor of love. In 1971, after a brush fire had scorched the area, he thought, “Somebody ought to build a garden here,” and proceeded to do just that, planting a myriad of trees, plants and flowers — rose bushes, oleander, geraniums and yucca — that make up the shaded five-acre grove.

To get to the garden, you’ll have to choose your adventure: Walk up the fire road or, if you’re up for the challenge, climb a series of steep steps. I counted 220 of them on my last glute-busting visit.
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woman and two children sit on wooden furniture beneath a tree
(Mel Melcon / Los Angeles Times)

Arlington Garden

Pasadena Garden
The site that’s now Pasadena’s beloved Arlington Garden? That could have very likely been a freeway.

Once upon a time, a grand 50-room mansion known as Durand House was demolished after 1964 so Caltrans could extend the 710 Freeway. When community opposition halted that project, the 3-acre lot of compacted dirt stood vacant until 2005. That’s when the garden’s founders, Betty and Charles McKenney, worked with Pasadena officials to create a public, water-wise Mediterranean-style garden.

Its designers used organic and regenerative growing techniques such as leaving leaf litter on the ground to help build up the depleted soil. They also packed in nearly as many garden “spaces” as there were rooms in the old mansion, with lots of quiet shady spots for reading, trails and a labyrinth to stroll, a citrus grove, an oak grove, a vegetable patch, a pond, a cactus garden, a pine forest and a French-feeling allée or alley lined with silvery olive trees and furniture you can move about for personalized seating. And, of course, the garden is laced with lots of habitat-creating native plants, as is obvious from the birdsong and pollinators flitting throughout.
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a stone flower statue
(Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times)

Blue Ribbon Garden at Walt Disney Concert Hall

Downtown L.A. Garden
Whether you’re waiting for your “Infinity Room” time slot to open at the Broad or you want to enjoy your Wexler’s Deli sandwich from Grand Central Market in peace, head to the Blue Ribbon Garden, which still feels like a secret despite being in the middle of downtown L.A.

Perched atop the Walt Disney Concert Hall, the 1-acre hideaway is a modern masterpiece of thoughtfully arranged trees and plants that look especially vibrant against the building’s curved steel frame. (In the winter, look out for the lovely pink flowers blooming from the Snowball Trees.) There are tables and chairs, ribbon-like walkways and, in the center of it all, a Delft porcelain fountain called “A Rose for Lilly,” designed by Frank Gehry as a tribute to Lillian Disney. A visit to the garden is especially enchanting at night after a show.
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