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Seeing these beautiful Southern California gardens won’t break your budget

The cactus garden at Sherman Library & Gardens in Corona Del Mar
(Jim Edwards)

An Anna’s hummingbird is drawing crowds at the Sherman Library & Gardens in Corona del Mar after nesting atop a palm frond in full view of visitors. She feeds her two chicks, providing Instagram moments for all.

Fifty miles away at the Arboretum in Arcadia, garden fans are dusting off iridescent costumes for the March 28 Peacock Day celebration, an annual event when visitors and the organization’s 200 peacocks and peahens strut their stuff on pathways bright with spring blooms.

One hundred miles north at the Santa Barbara Botanic Garden, the Meadow Display is bursting into bloom, offering sweeping views of wildflowers, California poppies and lupine set against a backdrop of the Santa Ynez Mountains.

Such spring awakenings can be found throughout the state as gardens celebrate the season of renewal, offering spectacular opportunities to see brilliant montages of cherry blossoms, tulips, daffodils, azalea and roses.

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Yes, it’s possible to have plants without breaking the bank. Here’s how to spend less on your garden.

Some of the best-known gardens in the West are pricey; the Huntington, San Marino’s extraordinary library, art museum and botanical gardens, charges adults $29 on weekends and $25 on weekdays. Lotusland, an amazing botanic garden in Santa Barbara, costs $50 and requires reservations.

But you’ll find some bargains in Eden; a few gardens are free, and others charge as little as $5. Check out these inexpensive floral gems.

Los Angeles County

A hummingbird feeds its offspring at Los Angeles County Arboretum and Botanic Garden in Arcadia.
(Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times)

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Choose from among three large botanic gardens, all part of the Parks and Recreation Department. On March 1, admission increases to $15 for adults, $11 for seniors/students and $5 for children. It’s still a good deal, as all three offer activities, tours and classes. Also, all offer free admission on the third Tuesday of the month; call for reservations.

Los Angeles County Arboretum and Botanic Garden: This 127-acre public garden and historic site in Arcadia may look familiar even if you’ve never visited. Its Queen Anne Cottage appeared in the TV show “Fantasy Island” and its jungle-like landscaping was used in “Tarzan” movies. The land, once owned by Arcadia founder Elias Jackson “Lucky” Baldwin, now features walkways through sprawling gardens.

Info: 301 N. Baldwin Ave., Arcadia; (626).821-3222, arboretum.org

Descanso Gardens: Check out the tulips, irises and daffodils at this 125-acre garden northwest of Altadena, another Hollywood film set favorite. Descanso contains more than 1 million plants, including one of the world’s largest displays of camellias. Take a tram tour, ride on a mini-rail line designed for kids, watch Shakespearean productions among the flowers or listen to “Symphony for Trees,” an immersive sound installation played on 72 speakers scattered throughout the Oak Forest.

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Info: 1418 Descanso Drive, La Cañada Flintridge; (818) 949-4200, descansogardens.org

Ancient forest at Descanso Gardens.
(Mary Forgione / Los Angeles Times)

South Coast Botanic Garden: You don’t have to visit Hawaii to see a banyan tree or hike the High Sierra to see an alpine forest. Just visit the rolling hills of the Palos Verdes Peninsula, where the garden has transformed 87 acres of landfill into a green wonderland. Take a walk or a tram ride through the children’s garden, the California native plants garden, the desert garden and the fuchsia garden.

Info: 26300 Crenshaw Blvd., Palos Verdes Peninsula; (310) 544-1948, southcoastbotanicgarden.org

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Orange County

Colorful dresses mix well with the backgrounds at Sherman Library & Gardens in Corona Del Mar. (Photo by Jim Edwards)
(Jim Edwards)

One of the best buys in paradise is the Sherman Library & Gardens in the beachside community of Corona del Mar. The blocklong facility, founded in the ’60s, is small enough to let you keep track of children but large enough to offer a variety of themes and settings.

Wander among 100 species of palms and 130 types of begonias, visit the rose garden and orchid collection, hang out with turtles at the koi pond, have lunch at Café Jardin or at a tea garden crêperie.

Cost, info: $5 adults, $3 children 12-18, children 11 and younger free. 2647 E. Coast Highway, Corona del Mar; (949) 673-2261, slgardens.org

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Palm Springs

If you’re in Palm Springs, stop at Moorten’s Botanical Garden, founded in 1938 by Chester “Cactus Slim” Moorten, one of the original Keystone Kops, the bumbling officers of silent film fame. The family-owned garden has more than 3,000 varieties of desert plants plus Indian artifacts, rocks and crystals.

Cost, info: $5 for adults and $2 for children 5-15. 1701 S. Palm Canyon Drive, Palm Springs; (760) 327-6555, moortenbotanicalgarden.com

Santa Barbara

Santa Barbara Botanic Garden
Santa Barbara Botanic Garden
(Betsy Collins)

Travel to Santa Barbara for a look at stunning landscapes that include views of the Santa Ynez Mountains and the Channel Islands. The Santa Barbara Botanic Garden offers 78 acres of cultivated displays as well as scenic swaths of wildflowers and stands of natural coast live oak and woodlands. More than 5 miles of trails lure walkers.

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Cost, info: $14 adults, $12 seniors (60 or older), $10 students and military with ID, $8 children 3-17. 1212 Mission Canyon Road, Santa Barbara; (805) 682 4726, sbbg.org.

San Diego

Japanese Friendship Garden, Balboa Park, San Diego.
(Catharine Hamm / Los Angeles Times)

For a real bargain, visit Balboa Park, where 20 gardens offer a bonanza of spring blooms. Best of all, most are free. Only the park’s Japanese Friendship Garden charges admission. You can explore for free the park’s Botanical Building and lily pond, Inez Grant Parker Memorial Rose Garden, the desert garden and the Veterans Memorial Garden, among others. At the Japanese Friendship Garden, you’ll find stone arrangements, koi ponds, water features and traditional Japanese landscaping.

Cost, info: For the Japanese Friendship Garden, $12 adults, $10 for seniors, students, military and children 7-17. 2215 Pan American Road E., San Diego; (619) 232-2721, niwa.org


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