The Huntington

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I had visited Southern California once as a teenager and a few times in my early 20’s but it really wasn’t a place that called me. It is too populated and large and the glamour of Hollywood really wasn’t my thing. But now that Alexandra lives in Santa Monica, trips to California will be a regular part of my life. When I mentioned I was on my way to LA, everyone asked if I was going to Disney or Universal, I’m saving those places to enjoy when I have grandchildren but that is many years from now, I’d say around 2032. So in the meantime, I went searching for a place to feed my soul now. I’m happy to say I found a little piece of heaven on earth in the middle of the enormous urban sprawl.

Huntington Gardens and Library combines all my favorite things in one spectacularly magical place: extensive gardens, huge library, art galleries and a beautiful mansion. Really, everything in one amazing package. It was a clear, cool day in March and my precious girl was with me, the day was going to be perfect.

We started along the path and meandered by the buildings to the Shakespeare garden that was in full bloom with purple and white delphiniums. The tall flowers had every conceivable version of purple, lavender and white with a touch of blue. Alexandra’s favorite part was a vast lawn with tall classical statues lining the edges with a final view of the stunning mountains.

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Next to the delphiniums was the rose garden in full bloom, with its intoxicating smell. The large beds featuring hundreds of different breeds of roses with their fun names and unique colors, every color of the rainbow was there and some colors I didn’t know existed.

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We passed through the arches of climbing roses into the next level of heaven, the Japanese garden. The path wound past the Spirit House with a big bell and down into a small koi pond with a classic Japanese curved bridge. We walked up to the walled garden containing dozens of bonsai, miniature trees I had no idea could be miniaturized. The path lead to the Chinese garden with pagodas surrounding a peaceful lake.

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Our hearts and minds were full but it was lunch time and we wanted to see the library rested and fueled up. The library has a large room filled with rare manuscripts, from a Gutenberg Bible and Chaucer to Thoreau and Twain. It is so exciting to see the writing of people who changed the world with their words, ideas and stories.

The large mansion has an extensive European art collection. The most famous paintings are Gainsborough’s Blue Boy and Lawrence’s Pinkie. These large paintings are on either end of a gallery of other large portraits, each one a masterpiece. On to the next building with the American art. I loved the Mary Cassatt of the mother and rosy-cheeked daughter cuddling on the bed, and the Hopper of the sailboat peacefully sailing along the shore.

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Alexandra and I had the time and energy for one more garden, so off to the desert garden, a world we had never entered before. We didn’t know if we were on another planet or had entered a Dr. Seuss book. The plants had unique shapes, colors and patterns, none of the leafy, flowery abundance of our world but a strange beauty of odd confined shapes and prickles. A few acres of this alien world satisfied our curiosity and we headed to the ice cream shop to share a gelato

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I plan on many more visits to the Huntington Gardens, each trip will have new things to see and memories to enjoy, but most of all, I will be with my precious girl soaking up the beauty of our amazing world full of flowers, trees, art and words.

http://www.huntington.org

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Dogwoods

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East Tennessee is blessed with four equal and beautiful seasons. Summer is a bit hot and humid but perfect for lazy days by the pool or lake and evenings filled with fireflies. Autumn is one of the great wonders of the natural world with the summer green mountains turning into layer upon layer of reds, yellows and oranges. The air is dry and clear and intoxicating. Winter is gray but just enough snow to make everything crystal and an excuse for a day by the fire but the next day the snow is gone and the world gets back to being busy. But nothing is quite as glorious as Spring. That is when for a few truly magical weeks my world turns to an enchanted fairy land.

Knoxville is know for particularly special trees called dogwoods, pink or white, the blooms have four petals with small notches on each petal. Native to this part of the world the landscape is dotted with the living lace of these trees.

Dogwoods are slow growing and don’t get very large. So they stay close to the ground and mingle underneath the taller oaks, maples and pines. At the same time, the redbuds bloom interspersing the pink and white dogwoods with bright purple. The pure white Bradford pear trees bloom first along with the cherry trees. Denso is a Japanese auto parts manufacturer that has a presence here. With that comes a large Japanese community who are very active in the local life. Thanks to them we have a grove of cherry trees in a park that takes my breath away when I walk under the pink branches. Young Japanese mothers bring their children for a picnic in the pink grove for the cherry trees are sacred in the hearts of people so far from their ancestral home. When Japan sent cherry trees to the US as a gift, the US gifted dogwoods to Japan.

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A few days ago I took my mother on a drive on a local seasonal route called the Dogwood Trail. Pink lines and arrows guide the way in and around beautiful neighborhoods. My favorite trail is through an older affluent neighborhood that has dogwoods old enough to be large. Every few feet on this many mile route there is a blooming tree or flaming azalea bush or row of tulips. At this moment, there is no prettier place on earth. My mother says it “gives me a lift” to see so much beauty amongst perfect lawns leading to even more perfect homes with stone fronts, slate roofs, grand columns and even a turret or two. The beauty is almost too much to bear and I know for that moment I’m in heaven.

Last summer Hamilton and I planted three small dogwoods in our front yard, gifts from friends in memory of our fathers. I watered them daily so they would make it through the hot summer and hoped they would be OK in the snow. Small but growing, our special trees have now flowered and show signs of new growth. Everyday I go to my car and see these special memory trees, homage to great men, with deep spiritual lives.  I can’t think of a better tribute.

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