Virginia Robinson Gardens
Virginia Robinson Gardens
Beverly Hills, California
Driving through Beverly Hills, palatial mansions flash tantalizingly from behind ornate gates, but the Robinson Mansion practically established this iconic zip code. Similar to the nearby Greystone Mansion, it is an historic property that was once the playground of the ultra-wealthy and is now run by the city and opened to the public. Not only is Virginia Robinson Gardens an exercise in creative landscaping and garden design, but it is also deeply connected to the city in many fascinating ways. My own exploration of numerous California gardens and the difficulty of securing a reservation combined to make this visit especially rewarding.
We met the enthusiastic docent and began the tour at the lavish “pool house” of the main residence, once home to one of the most prominent couples of early twentieth-century Los Angeles. I was intrigued by the historical stories, but l was really there for the gardens. What first took my breath away was stepping out of the dark interior onto the bright green lawn that separates the ornate pool terrace from the Robinson’s living quarters. In the middle, a pair of cycads, male and female, stand on either side of a cherub fountain with branches and fronds jutting out in expressive poses. Flowerbeds brimming with roses and other flowering bushes line walkways on either side of the lawn, and rows of cropped, columnar cypress trees evoke architectural elements.
Carved into the hillside, with brick staircases connecting different levels, the Italian Terrace Garden takes up a large portion of the property and offers views all the way to the ocean. It was a perfect use of the sloping property. One of the lower terraces populated by various types of citrus trees overlooks a wild, colorful tumble of Mexican marigolds and lavender as they threaten to pour over the short stone columed walls. Other highlights in this section included the delicate white hibiscus tree and an overgrown organ pipe cactus that was donated by the Huntingtons (yes, those Huntingtons). I almost gagged to hear that the gigantic South African coral tree at the center happens to be the mother of each and every one of the coral trees along San Vicente Boulevard in Brentwood that I have been obsessed with since forever.
A dense, self-propagating forest of Australian King Palm trees was the final section of the tour, and was full of surprises. Their straight grey trunks broken only by concentric rings of growth appear almost artificial in their perfection. The forest floor is made up of a lush assortment of greenery including monstera plants and bursts of clivia. The whole ambiance is very tropical, surrounded by so much greenery.
Final Rating: It was not easy to get in, but Virginia Robinson Gardens is, happily, well worth the effort. I enjoyed that the garden was both ultra elegant but still approachable and warm. It was not a massive property, but there was a flow to the design that allowed for multiple distinct environments. I tend to be a little resistant to the constraints of a guided tour, but there were so many factoids related to Los Angeles culture and history. For me, it felt like a culmination of all of the gardens I have visited in the area. Oh, and spoiler alert: the largest bougainvillea in the United States is the tour’s big finish! FOUR BLOOM RATING