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Huntington Botanical Garden & The Letterbox!

My boys and I took a trip to The Huntington Botanical Gardens a few weeks ago.

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It was an impromptu excursion, with very little planning involved. It was one of the last days of summer and I needed to come up with an inexpensive day trip that would keep us occupied for several hours. So, I told the boys we were going on a "Garden Adventure Trip" and they jumped at the idea.

Now, my boys are 7 and 9 years old and they love to garden. They love to visit gardens/nurseries and being boys…they love adventures. Put the words GARDEN and ADVENTURE together and they were IN! They had never been to the Huntington before, so it was perfect! (I didn’t even tell them about the letterbox hidden at the garden until we got there!)

In case you don’t know, The Huntington Library, Art Collection and Botanical Garden is a collections-based educational and research institution in San Marino, CA. It was established by Henry E. Huntington (a railroad tycoon) in 1903. The library portion is one of the worlds greatest independent research libraries with rare books, manuscripts and photographs. The Art collection is housed in three different buildings and consists of works from the 18th through 20th centuries. Many famous works are there including The Blue Boy by Thomas Gainsborough.

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But we were there for the 120 plus acres of gorgeous gardens! There are over 12 different themed gardens including the Desert Garden, Rose Garden, Herb Garden, a Botanical Conservatory, Camellia Garden, Japanese Garden and the new Chinese Garden. And our most favorite garden? It was the Children’s Garden, of course!

Here is the entrance to the garden…

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Through that door, a child enters a garden of sensory and science exploration. The garden taps into their sense of wonder with hands-on investigation. There are water fountains, a fog grotto with mist blowers (great on hot days), and a sonic pool where vibrations make ripples in the water.

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The kids are encouraged to touch, feel and experience the garden. Here is the prism tunnel where the kids can see sunlight turned into colored halos…

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What a wonderland garden for children…So rich for the senses! Here is the playhouse/greenhouse covered in climbing fig…

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For detailed information about the children’s garden go here.

My boys also enjoyed the Japanese Garden, especially when I explained how it is designed to relax the mind and that every vista is meant to be a beautiful picture. They ran around to different points in the garden to see if they could "see the beautiful picture" and were amazed to find there was not a bad vista in the bunch. It was hoot to see them "get it".

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I got many comments like, "This botanical garden is the coolest garden adventure EVER!!!" and "Why didn’t you ever take us here before, Mom?" So, I was happy!

Their second favorite garden was the new Chinese Garden.

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I told them how this garden was supposed to enrich their spirit. Again, they quickly discovered that every spot created a picture, especially through the openings in the walkways. My youngest commented that the view through the windows looked like paintings. EXACTLY THE POINT!

The garden was created as a work of art and the boys noticed the "art" in everything from the mosaic stone walkways to the intricate decorations on the walls. I was surprised when my youngest said that this was his favorite garden at The Huntington. They did not want to leave.

We spent almost four hours wondering the gardens and we did not see it all. Perhaps next time, we will also visit the museums. They do not allow picnics on the grounds, but there is a cafeteria style restaurant as well as a very nice Tea House that serves tea sandwiches, fruit and scones in a buffet style. You set at tables and are served tea (or lemonade for the kids), but can choose what you want to eat from the buffet. Perfect for a fancy meal with the kids.

The Letterbox we found!

We ended our garden adventure by searching for a letterbox I knew was hidden outside the main botanical grounds. Letterboxing is something we took up about a year and half ago. You use your navigational skills to follow clues to a small box hidden on public property. (The Letterboxing.org website lists the clues for boxes in North America.)

Inside the box is a small journal and a rubber stamp (usually hand carved). You bring your own notebook, a stamp pad and your own rubber stamp. When you find the box, you stamp your notebook with the stamp to document your find. Then you stamp the letterbox journal with your own stamp. It is fun to see stamps from people who visited from all over the world. For more information, visit Letterboxing 101.

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We found the box and stamped our notebooks without anyone seeing us. (That is part of the fun. It is like a spy mission.) After returning the box to its hiding place, we left for home, tired and full of garden memories!

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About the Author:

Theresa Loe is the founder of Living Homegrown® and the Canning Academy®. For 9 years, Theresa was the Co-Executive Producer & Canning Expert on the national PBS gardening series, Growing A Greener World®. Theresa homesteads on just 1/10th of an acre in Los Angeles with her husband, two sons and several disorderly but totally adorable chickens. Learn more about Living Homegrown here and about the Canning Academy here.