Huntington Botanical Gardens is widely considered to be one of the finest botanical gardens in the country. Located on the outskirts of Los Angeles, Calif., in the swanky neighborhood of San Marino, the 120-acre site of developed gardens was formerly the home of railroad tycoon Henry Huntington and his wife, Arabella, who founded the institution in 1919. In addition to the plant collections, there is also an extensive library of rare books and several art galleries such that it can take tourists three days to experience everything.

A modest glass conservatory displays the blooming orchids that are rotated regularly and placed along the pathways. There are also naturalized orchids or those that have been taken out of their pots and permanently tied to trees. Visitors will not see common hybrids at the Huntington, for the emphasis is on hard-to-find plants, most of which are species from the wild.

The orchid collection itself consists of about 10,000 plants and is kept in three production greenhouses — cool, intermediate, and warm — to mimic the native jungle temperatures. The peak roof-style structures are packed with a wide variety of unusual tropicals and are off limits to the public. Throughout the day, fogging systems dispense moisture into the air and it really does look and feel like a jungle inside.

Orchid specialist Brandon Tam cares for the collection and has been working at The Huntington since he was 14 years old. Now, 10 years later, Tam is in charge of all orchid-related activities and is able to concentrate on his true passion — making the garden a world class orchid attraction. His plan got off to a good start when a local renowned orchid hobbyist donated 6,000 mature lady slippers.

Paphiopedilums, or lady slippers, have unusual flowers that feature a pouch which assists in pollination. Exotic, multifloral types have as many as six flowers on a stem and long petals that gracefully twist as they unfold. It is unexpected and exciting to see so many lady slippers in a botanical garden.

Tam’s vision is to add sizable quantities of other orchid genera including Cattleyas, Cymbidiums, Dendrobiums, Epidendrums, Masdevallias, Pleurothallis, and Stanhopeas to the collection. In addition, he would like to see a much larger conservatory and expanded production greenhouses. The timetable for all this — by 2030.

The Huntington takes an active role in promoting orchids in Southern California. It hosts the Orchid Digest Speaker’s Day each June, an International Orchid Show and Sale each October, and is the regional judging center for the American Orchid Society.

Admission is $25 on weekdays and $29 on weekends. Parking is free and there are two restaurants on the property. For more information, visit www.huntington.org.

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Arthur Chadwick is president of Chadwick & Son Orchids Inc. You may send questions to 1240 Dorset Road, Powhatan, Va. 23139, 804-598-7560 or by email at info@chadwickorchids.com. Previous columns are on his website, www.chadwickorchids.com.

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