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Arboretums, Botanical Gardens Dreaming of a Green Christmas


People love Southern California's weather and all it represents--sun, warmth, a year-round growing season--until about Nov. 20 of each year. Then a yearning for things Midwestern seems to set in.

The city of Beverly Hills stretches Christmas decorations that depict ice skaters and wintry little Alpine villages across Wilshire Boulevard. Residents from Costa Mesa to Altadena spray snow drifts on their front windows and pray for temperatures cool enough to warrant a Duraflame fire on the hearth.

But a white Christmas isn't the only kind of Christmas. The Hawaiians celebrate the holidays with their own rich and colorful traditions--traditions that glorify their anything-but-icy climate.

If you'd like to quit emulating the folks shivering in their overcoats and start building your holiday celebrations around the special beauty here, our arboretums and botanical gardens are superb places to start.

Almost every public garden in the area sponsors some kind of holiday festivity. All of them can give you ideas for decorating your home and yard in a way that is uniquely Southern California--and you can see most of it while outside enjoying the blue skies in your shirt sleeves.

The biggest gala of them all is at Descanso Gardens in La Canada Flintridge. The "Joys of Christmas" started last weekend and finishes up today and Sunday; it's open from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. each day.

The plant-propagation experts at Descanso are demonstrating wreath making each day; they use a variety of materials, including redwood, bay leaves and 20 different spices, all grown at the gardens. You'll be able to try your hand at making the wreaths, and finished versions will be for sale.

A little steam train will take you through the rose garden, your last chance to see the shrubs before they're pruned back in January. As usual, Descanso Guild members will be around to answer questions about your own roses; next year, yours can look as lovely for the holidays as these do.

Hospitality House, the mansion on Descanso grounds, is decorated this year in an "art spirit of Christmas" theme--each room has a different look. You'll see more ways to drape evergreen garlands than you've ever imagined possible. This year, Guild members are doing their own decorations rather than having the house professionally designed; you'll be able to duplicate many of the effects you'll see.

(The house, by the way, is open until Dec. 28.)

General admission to Descanso is $3; seniors and students, $1.50; children 5-12 are 75 cents and those younger than that are free. The gardens are at 1418 Descanso Drive, La Canada Flintridge.

Sunday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. is the only day of the year you can get inside the Queen Anne cottage on the grounds of the Los Angeles County Arboretum in Arcadia.

The beautiful home, best known as the mansion in television's "Fantasy Island," will be decorated with fresh Christmas trees in every room. Each will have a different look: Glass peacocks and antique postcards will adorn the one in the music room; the children's room will feature one covered with dolls and wooden blocks from the turn of the century.

You might have a treasured collection that would be splendid as Christmas ornaments--even old baseball or playing cards would make an unusual display.

Also on Sunday, the Arboretum will feature farm implements--actually used at one time in Southern California--in the Coach Barn. Volunteers will be demonstrating the use of a blacksmith's forge and hand-operated drop seeder.

The Arboretum's Hugo Reid adobe will be decorated in a Mexican Christmas theme, and trees there will be festooned with straw ornaments.

For another kind of Christmas, visit the depot at the Arboretum. It will be decorated as the middle-class homeowner might have done around 1900, complete with period kitchen implements and charming little trees.

The Arboretum is running an experiment for an Israeli bulb distributor this year; by the holidays, there should be up to 10,000 narcissus bulbs blooming on the banks of the Meadowbrook stream.

The Arboretum is at 301 N. Baldwin Ave., Arcadia. Admission is $3 for adults; $1.50 for seniors, students and youths from 13-17, and 75 cents for 5-12. Younger children are free.

At the South Coast Botanic Garden, you'll see a rich variety of blooming plants not on view anywhere else--the hospitable coastal climate of the Palos Verdes Peninsula sees to that. The gardens are not specifically decorated for the holidays, but their gorgeous colors certainly capture the spirit of the season.

On Sunday at 2 p.m., you can hear the Ellis-Orpheus men's chorus, the oldest non-university male singing club in the nation. Holiday music will be the highlight of the program. On Dec. 17 at 2 p.m., the Palos Verdes Symphonic Band will give a concert of traditional Christmas carols.

The concerts are free. Admission to the park is $3 for adults; $1.50 for seniors and students, 75 cents for youngsters 5-12 and free for children under 5.

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