Thursday, March 3, 2011

Secret Garden

Virginia Robinson Estate

"I love my garden.  I am writing in it now in the late afternoon loveliness, much interrupted by the mosquitoes and the temptation to look at all the glories of the new green leaves washed half an hour ago by a cold shower.  Two owls are perched near me, and are carrying on a long conversation that I enjoy as much as any warbling of nightingales." --  Elizabeth Von Armin from "Elizabeth and Her German Garden"


Now that it is March, our thoughts are turning to gardens and warm weather.  I can't think of a more inspiring place in Los Angeles for gardens or a more exciting event for garden lovers than Virginia Robinson Gardens and the Garden Tour that this group puts on in May.

Virginia Robinson Gardens is a hidden gem in Beverly Hills, six acres of gorgeous gardens and a Beaux-Arts mansion, that many people are unaware of.  It was the  home of Virginia and Harry Robinson, owners of Robinson Department stores.  Built in 1911, it was the first luxury estate of Beverly Hills.

Walkway to the entrance of Robinson Gardens

Virginia and Harry Robinson married in 1903.  When they returned from their three year honeymoon to Europe, India, and Kashmir, they commissioned Virginia's father, Nathaniel Dryden , to design their house on a beautifully sloped parcel of land, originally owned by the founder of Beverly Hills, Burton Green.  After the completion of the home, Virginia Robinson created her beautiful gardens.  They include an Australian King Palm Forest, a bucolic Rose Garden, and the tranquil Italian Terrace Garden.

Swimming Pool and Pool Pavilion at Robinson Gardens

The estate was once the site of lavish Hollywood parties, whose attendees included Marlene Dietrich, Fred Astaire, Sophia Loren,  and the Duke and Duchess of Windsor. Virginia's neighbors were Glen Ford, Lillian Disney and Elvis Presley.  She played tennis with Charlie Chaplin.  She hosted many philanthropic benefits, but one that really stands out for those of us who live in Los Angeles was her Hollywood Bowl Patronesses Benefit. Each year after the opening of the Hollywood Bowl season, the orchestra would repeat their performance on the estate's Great Lawn.  Amazing!

    Great Lawn

Gardens at Robinson estate

Shortly before her death, Virginia Robinson bequeathed her estate to Los Angeles County.  The County, along with the not-for-profit group Friends of Robinson Gardens, preserve and maintain the estate and its gardens.


Palm Forest

Rose Garden

Virginia Robinson


But a few years ago, all of this was unknown to me.  At that point a friend invited me to go on the Robinson Gardens Tour.  I had no idea what this was, but I said yes.  It was a beautiful day in May, we got dressed up, and we drove to the first of five incredible private gardens in west Los Angeles.  We handed in our tickets at the entry and we wandered through a gorgeous garden at a residence in Bel-Air.  We walked through magnificent native oak trees and an English rose garden, all adorned with superb Italian garden ornamentation.   I was completely entranced by the gorgeous grounds I saw and my brain went into overdrive with  plans for my own garden, though on a much smaller scale!

We got back into our car and drove to four more private residences where we toured additional exquisite grounds.  There was  a gorgeous Spanish style garden that evoked the eclectic spirit of the 1920's; a French Mediterranean style garden with endless parterres filled with roses; an impressive and large Gertrude Jekyll-inspired garden; and even a small cottage-style garden that could have been in the English countryside.  I had no idea that these kind of gardens existed in Los Angeles.

Front Entrance at Robinson Gardens decorated for Garden Tour

After our garden treks, we drove to the Robinson estate.  As we entered the house we walked through room after room, each one transformed by Los Angeles florists and designers into a world of color, style, and a bit of whimsy through floral arrangements and decor.  There was the living room, the morning room, the library, the galleria, the dining room, all adorned with flowers and beautiful accessories.  Each one a fantasy creation of the florists and designers.

Master Bedroom

The Library

Mrs. Robinson's Bathroom

Master Bedroom

The Library (from a different year)

The Loggia

Beautiful Detail

Next we walked outside to the Great Lawn and enjoyed a wonderful Garden Party that included a sumptuous lunch, a fashion show, floral demonstrations, a boutique, book signings, and a high tea.  Women were dressed up for a garden party, with big hats and floral dresses. Everyone was sipping a marvelous looking drink called a "Peach Fuzz" and nibbling on cucumber sandwiches.  I thought, hmmm...where exactly am I? I felt transported to another era, the 1920's perhaps, when lavish garden parties like this were more common.

It really was a day of elegance and beauty, filled with magnificent gardens, creative and interesting  design, delicious food, and high spirits.  This year's tour is May 13 and the theme is "Under the Tuscan Sun."  If you would like to get tickets, just click on to Robinson Gardens.

Photos from Robinson Gardens website


  1. Stunning! one of the prettiest places in LA.

  2. wait wait wait...three year honeymoon?

  3. Sunday - what an interesting and beautiful post!! I had never heard of this - how absolutely gorgeous. I hope you're going again this year so you can report what they do with their Italian theme!!

  4. And can we mention that you were the co-chair of last year's very successful garden tour?

  5. Thank you Margo! After going on the tour all those years ago, I joined the Friends of Robinson Gardens and I will be co-chairing the garden tour again this year. I'm very excited about our "Under the Tuscan Sun" theme.

  6. Did you know that Mrs. Robinson was once a lover of monkeys and had several as pets? Many years ago, when I was a budding teen, I had the opportunity to meet Mrs. Robinson and chat about our favorite little primates. She took my Mother and me on a private tour of the gardens which included a large enclosure for the monkeys. What a wonderful treat that was! I look forward to this year's tour and returning to the place of one of my fondest memories.

  7. I love this posting Sunday. The best of the best with more to come next Friday, May 13th featuring the Friends of Robinson Gardens 23rd annual "...into the garden" benefit garden tour, "Under the Tuscan Sun." Where I might add you are Co-Chair of the event!