Mildred E. Mathias Botanical Garden
Mildred E. Mathias Botanical Garden
Los Angeles, California
From the street it doesn’t seem there could possibly be much of any garden tucked into the narrow strip along the massive UCLA campus, which led me to put off visiting the Mildred E. Mathias Botanical Garden for some time. Yet, to wander into the university’s garden from any of its entry points is to descend into an immersive, semi-tropical environment containing all sorts of rare botanical specimens from all over the world. Before you know it, the nearby sorority houses and passing blue city busses recede into the background and nature truly commands your attention.
Mildred E. Mathias Botanical Garden serves as a sort of public park for the university’s students, wandering tourists, and surrounding Westwood community, while also functioning as a research and teaching aid for the UCLA botany and biology departments. But with its wooded areas and many various pathways through specialized plant collections, it never feels overcrowded. Perhaps the unassuming entrances allow the garden to be overlooked and less known to the greater public.
A naturally-formed dry creek bed that would only seasonally be filled with water now is a continuously-flowing stream, which moves through dense plantings of ferns, banana, and ginger plants and is home to whole communities of box turtles and koi fish. The paths along the stream are some of the best places to properly look up to admire the gigantic eucalyptus, gingko, and dawn redwood trees jutting into the blue sky above.
The trees steal the spotlight in this garden, since many of the species were introduced in the early days of the university and therefore have grown to astounding heights over the years. The giant eucalyptus trees were obvious standouts in both the painted rainbow variety and the more traditional silvery white bark of the Australian rose gums that seemed the tallest in the garden. I also really took note of all of the distinct variations on the palm tree, which I am still trying to learn as a recent California resident. Elsewhere, the flowering hibiscus, pink trumpet, Japanese cherry, Chinese fringe and every other kind of blooming tree compete for attention with wild colors and intoxicating fragrances.
On earlier visits, I had somehow entirely missed the pathways to the upper section of the garden. I happily found it by following the path lined with California native poppies ranging from the common orange variety to the gigantic Matilija poppies with their white, crinkly petals and giant glowing-yellow center.
Almost hidden behind a greenhouse is the entire Mediterranean and Desert gardens section, populated with otherworldly aloe plants and all kinds of cactus and succulents from as far as Africa and Australia. This removed nook of the garden became my favorite over subsequent visits. It feels more fully-realized in its playful design filled with so many unique plants, not to mention that it tends to be less populated with the human varieties.
Final Rating: I tried my best to be unimpressed with the Mildred E. Mathias Botanical Garden before I really gave it a chance, and it took a few visits to really appreciate its charm. But it got me, and now I am eager to return often and to experience it throughout the year. While there are plenty of flowers and trees hung with seasonal blooms, this is predominantly a green space with countless shades and variations of verdant lushness on display in a jungle-like setting. This unrefined, no-frills botanical garden and public park is just the right complement (or antidote?) to the perfectly-coiffed hedges and tidy lawns of the nearby, ultra-wealthy neighborhoods. THREE BLOOM RATING