Beverly Hills’ oldest estate is open to the public: its history is intertwined with the social history of the city and the botanic garden is remarkably well preserved and maintained. The Virginia Robinson Gardens now belong to the County of Los Angeles, Department of Parks & Recreation. For 36 years, the Friends of Robinson Gardens have tirelessly raised funds to protect and preserve the grand 1911 built Beaux Arts mansion and its 6.8 acres of lush gardens divided into distinct environments including the largest palm garden in the Northern Hemisphere.
The story begins in 1903 when Virginia Dryden married J.W. Robinson’s heir Henry W. Robinson. The couple went on a three-year (!) honeymoon, crossing the globe. The bride’s father, Nathaniel Dryden, designed and built their home on sloping land, which once belonged to Burton Green, the founder of Beverly Hills. Throughout their travels, the couple collected seedlings and horticulture samples, often traveling with a botanist. Today, those specimens have blossomed and flourished, covering the terraced hillside and the grounds of this estate listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Mrs. Robinson died in 1977, just shy of her 100th birthday. She left the singular property to the county intended for the enjoyment and education of future generations.
A multitude of thriving exotic and sub-tropical plant species is found on the grounds supported by the mild climate. In addition to the grove of King Palms, there’s bougainvillea (brought from South Africa by the Robinsons), oleander, a rose garden, citrus and Cypress pines, fragrant gardenias, a multitude of magnolias, camellias, azaleas and a kitchen garden of herbs and other edible plants. Also of note: the 1924-built Renaissance style pool pavilion/guest house.
Mrs. Robinson was the doyenne of Beverly Hills society entertaining royalty, countless Hollywood stars like Fred Astaire, Ginger Rogers and Sophia Loren and hosting many fundraising events on the estate’s wide lawn. That tradition continues with the Friends of Robinson Gardens fundraiser and annual garden tour and showcase (scheduled for May 19, 2019) and other events.
I have a special memory of the Robinson family: as a child, all of our holidays began with a photo session with Santa Claus at the glorious mid-century Robinson’s on Wilshire Blvd. The Virginia Robinson Gardens were an amazing bequest—one that flowers to this day.
Docent led tours are open to the public; reservations must be made in advance. Information on tours can be found at https://www.robinsongardens.org