You don’t have to go to a public garden to enjoy formal gardens. Sometimes you can enjoy gardens at different settings, such as museums. The Getty Villa, which is located on Pacific Coast Highway just north of the Santa Monica pier, in Pacific Palisades, Calif., is one of those museums. The museum is filled with 44,000 Greek, Roman and Etruscan antiquities dating back from 6,500 BC to 400 AD. (Don’t confuse the Getty Villa with the Getty Center, the larger art museum in Los Angeles. Both museums were started by oil tycoon J. Paul Getty, who originally opened an art gallery next to his home at this site of the current villa.) The museum itself and its grounds are designed as an archaeological dig of a villa similar to the Villa of the Papyri at Herculaneum, an ancient Roman town that was destroyed by Mount Vesuvius along with Pompeii in 79 AD. Walking down from the parking structure into this archaeological dig, we walk through the doors of the villa and into the past.
The art is what enthralls most visitors, but don’t forget to appreciate the gardens. The garden was an important part of ancient Roman villas. The 64-acre site boasts several gardens:
Inner Peristyle. (A peristyle is a covered porch with columns surrounding a court with a garden.) Formal gardens with bronze replicas of Roman sculptures and a reflecting pool. In Inner Peristyle garden, you can find acanthus, boxwood, foxglove, English ivy, yew and more.
Herb Garden. In the herb garden there are fruit trees and plants that ancient Romans used in cooking, ceremonies and medicine. There’s also a small pond with fish. In the Herb Garden, you can find fig, fennel, lavender, peppermint, spearmint, oregano, pear, roses, rosemary, thyme, grapes and more.
Outer Peristyle. This is the largest and most famous garden because of its 220-foot-long reflecting pools surrounded by sculptures. At the end of the pool past the Dionysos and Hermes statues, there is a fantastic view of the Pacific Ocean. In the Outer Peristyle, acanthus, Japanese boxwood, iris, oleander, creeping thyme, grapes and more.
East Garden. The East Garden is a small, cozy, walled-in garden with two fountains. One fountain along the wall has a fantastic mosaic. The other fountain has faces of civets (I always thought they were lions) that spit out water into a small pond. This tiny garden feels like a cozy patio, and one day I’d love to have something similar on my patio whenever I have the space (and the money to get a townhome or condo with a nice big patio!). In the East Garden there are bellflowers, bay laurel, mullberry and more.
Make sure to take a garden tour when you visit the Getty Villa to see the more than 300 plant species!
Make a reservation at getty.edu/visit before you go. Tickets are free, but parking is $15 per car.
Getty Villa Quick Info
17985 Pacific Coast Highway, Pacific Palisades, CA 90272
Free ($15 for parking)
Open 10am-5pm Wednesday through Monday. Closed Tuesdays, January 1, July 4, Thanksgiving and Christmas day.