Lily Ponds

A Lush Retreat

The first garden established in 1904 by William Hertrich had natural springs that emerged from rocks on the Raymond Hill Fault. The solution to an unsightly gully in the southeast corner of the gardens, the four acres that make up the lily ponds were a perfect place to build two large and three small ponds. The pond water, which is circulated and recycled, is home to turtles, bullfrogs, Japanese koi, aquatic plants, and an occasional mallard family.

The bronze St. Francis, patron saint of animals, was sculpted by Clara Huntington (Henry's daughter), cast in 1924-26, and bequeathed to the Huntington in 1965. Two other sculptures at the east side of the lily ponds were purchased by Mr. Huntington in 1910. One, a stone fountain ornament depicting a seahorse emerging from an acanthus leaf, and the other a gothic vasque (stone basin) on eight columns from the 15th century.

After centuries of cultivation, today’s water lilies are a mixture of many cultivated kinds. They bloom in various hues from mid-spring through mid-autumn. Along the shores of the uppermost pond is the very same type of papyrus that was used to make writing paper in ancient Egypt. Don’t miss the summer flowering lotus, which usually blooms in mid-July. First planted here in 1905, these magnificent relatives of the water lily unfurl pink and white flowers eight or nine inches wide.

West of the ponds is the conifer collection with several landmark trees, including one known to be the largest specimen in the United States: Taiwania, a redwood relative native to Taiwan and China, planted about 1908. Another landmark, the dawn redwood, had been known only from fossils until the discovery of a living tree in 1948. Native to a small area of China, it is a relative of California’s coast redwood.

Other notable trees to look for in this area are the araucarias, tall cone-bearing trees native to South America, the Pacific Islands, and Australia, and the largest southern magnolia on the grounds, which dominates an area northeast of the ponds.

The Huntington grows more than seventy-five kinds of bamboo. Six species form dense groves and passages around the lily ponds. Most are either clump-forming, which send out underground stems, called rhizomes, a short distance before sending up vertical stems; or running, which also send out underground stems but for a longer distance. Two large stands of punting-pole and beech bamboo are prominent west of the lower ponds. Among the clumps of giant timber bamboo east of the ponds is a specimen planted in 1906 as one of Henry Huntington’s first garden acquisitions.

The Collections

Warm temperate & subtropical, Conifers (gymnosperms) differ from flowering plants (angiosperms) because they have naked seeds (no ovary). Cones house the pollen (male gamete) and the ovules (female gamete). Conifers produce seeds without a flowering stage.

Gymnosperms are a smaller group (1000 species) than angiosperms (½ million species). Examples include Sequoia sempervirens, Taxodium mucronatum. 

Bamboo belongs to the grass family, Poaceae. After bamboo culms emerge, they expand in height, not in diameter. Bamboo reaches its ultimate height in 2 to 4 months, depending upon species. They rarely flower and when they do, it can be fatal to the grove. The Lily Ponds’ bamboos are tropical and clumping. Some are 100 years old. Examples include Bambusa tuldoides, B. beecheyana, B. oldhamii, B. glaucescens ‘Silver Stripe,’ Thamnocalamus spathiflorus (panda bamboo), Dendrocalamus brandesii (tallest in the world), Indocalamus tesselatus (largest leaves of bamboos). 

Aquatic plants

Shoreline plants like wet roots but can tolerate flooding and short dry spells. Examples include Juncus, Phormium, swamp iris, Miscanthus, and dwarf papyrus. Emergent plants grow in shallow water with roots and part of stems underwater. Leaves, stems, flowers and seeds are above water. Examples include water lilies, and lotus. Free-floating plants are small, even tiny, and do not stay in one place. Their tiny roots do not reach the bottom of the pond. Examples include water hyacinth and algae. Submerged plants grow entirely underwater and are rooted in the bottom mud. They can grow in shallow water if there is enough light.