With spring upon us, the Gardens of the World in Thousand Oaks is alive with an amazing array of flowers, trees and shrubs that define the multiple areas of the Gardens’ 4.5 acres. Annually, the city’s centerpiece hosts thousands of guests visiting the cultural and educational landmark, and one of the very best times to take in all its beauty is when everything blooms in April and May.
The lush hideaway across the street from the Civic Arts Plaza is a wonderful place to relax during the day and stroll through the authentically designed, beautifully manicured gardens that represent England, France, Italy, Japan and even the California missions. The recent rains have prompted early budding of the plant life, and there is much more to come this spring.
The Gardens of the World is privately owned and operated by the Hogan Family Foundation and was completed in 2001 by Ed and Lynn Hogan, former owners of mega travel company Pleasant Holidays. Today, the Gardens is a striking monument to commemorate the Hogan’s love of travel and various cultures of the world they encountered.
“We have been fortunate to have traveled much of the world and we wanted to bring back some of the beauty and culture we encountered,” Ed Hogan explains. “With the Gardens, we can showcase glimpses of a world many may not have yet discovered. We hope their experiences here will prompt them to explore new countries, meet new people and learn more about the world around them.”
Noted landscape architect Wendy Harper developed the inspired design, and local builder Chuck Melber turned the concepts into a blossoming reality.
The five sections of the Gardens are connected to a meandering, quarter-mile pathway that traverses the grounds, which is perfect for a leisurely stroll at lunch or on the weekend. Visitors can “brown bag it” and enjoy their lunches in the permanent picnic area.
Linda Seaman, who became the Gardens’ Volunteer Coordinator in 2003, has seen an enormous amount of growth and maturation of the hundreds of plants curated in the wonderfully colorful gardens. Today, she is in charge of some 40 docent volunteers, who guide visitors on excursions Tuesdays through Sundays.
Some 14 years later, she still loves coming to the Gardens every day. And who wouldn’t enjoy spending time outdoors in beautiful, relaxing surroundings communicating with people from all walks of life and from throughout the world?
The Gardens welcomes new volunteer docents throughout the year and encourages those interested to contact Seaman for information on this rewarding opportunity. Training is provided for each volunteer.
Each area in the Gardens is unique and features both perennial and annual plant varieties representative of the part of the world they depict. The English Cottage Garden is rich in vibrant colors displayed in casual array throughout some hedged areas. The Italian section is formal and emphasizes more structure than color, with hanging grapevines and towering cypress trees.
The area dedicated to France is dominated by a multi-terraced fountain that cascades down the center of the Gardens, surrounded by trimmed hedges, topiaries, jasmine and more. The symbolic Japanese Garden is a serene oasis surrounded by a bonsai tree, bamboo forest, gentle waterfall and brook, and a koi pond. An open-air pagoda makes a restful place to retreat for contemplation and reading.
Beautiful year-round, the Gardens truly blossom in April and May, when the roses are in full bloom in the English Garden. In addition to the English rose, yellow, pink, white and orange varieties brighten the landscape. Then there are the colorful perennials, including foxglove, iris, hollyhock, alstroemeria, wisteria, California poppies and butterfly bush, to name a few, that present a more informal look.
The Gardens’ many trees are also in their full glory in spring. London Plane trees flank the Gardens’ drive entrance and the terraced French fountain, which provide seclusion and welcome shade for the picnic area, where guests can eat at tables or bring a blanket to the American Bandstand lawn.
Seeds of a Vision
“People are often amazed to learn the Gardens are privately owned and operated, yet, open and free to the public to visit,” Seaman says. “They wonder why this beautiful site is in the middle of Thousand Oaks.”
Hogan notes, “When we first saw the area across from the Civic Center, there was an abandoned car and a dilapidated former bar on the lot, with a lumber yard next door. It was a distressful eyesore. We bought the entire 4.5-acre area. We felt we should do something civic minded to not only clean up the mess, but build something that could be shared and enjoyed by everyone.”
Garden of Education & Music
Throughout the year, the Gardens also serve as a backdrop for community activities paid for by the Hogan Family Foundation. The location is ideal for education, and since 2003, the Gardens has hosted more than 50 schools and 10,000 fourth-grade students participating in a special program to teach them about early California history.
In the Gardens’ California Missions area, the lessons come to life, as noted performer Bruce Bounauro dons the robes of Father Junipero Serra. The pioneering priest is credited with helping settle California and building nine missions from San Diego to Sonoma in the late 1700s, along the famed Camino Real.
To end the summer in August, the Gardens brings a series of jazz concerts to its iconic American Bandstand in the heart of the Gardens, which can host 40-piece bands like the United States Air Force Band. Thousands of visitors come to enjoy picnics and lounge on the grass, while enjoying first-class performances.
The Gardens also brings in local artists to display their works at the Resource Center, where visitors can take in the talents of area artisans. The artists essentially have one-person shows for periods of five to six weeks.
The Gardens does not charge for the programs, but takes reservations on a first-come-first-served basis for docent-led tours. Groups of six or more requesting tours must call in advance for reservations.
Open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesdays through Sundays, the Gardens is closed Mondays, most national holidays and during inclement weather. Admission is free and docent tours are available six days a week. Donations are gratefully accepted.
The Gardens of the World is a true oasis in Thousand Oaks and a wonderful place to commune with nature and learn about other parts of the world.
For more information, call 805.557.1135 or visit GardensOfTheWorld.info.