The Hortense Miller Garden

The Hortense Miller Garden

Hortense Miller Garden, one of the best private gardens in the country resides in Laguna Beach, California. Hortense Miller, caretaker for several decades died at the age of 99, just six weeks short of her 100th birthday. Her garden, however, continues to thrive and that is exactly what she wanted.

At the age of 67, she deeded her garden that covers 2 1/2 acres on a steep slope of Boat Canyon, to the city of Laguna Beach. Her terms were simple: the city would maintain it as a public garden and, to this day, you still can tour her property for free and, depending on the season, check out some of the more than 1,500 species of plants.

With Miller’s creative and environmentally sensitive touch, the garden has evolved into a montage of plants of all shapes and species that can grow in Southern California’s climate. Native coastal sage-scrub covers one large swath, in an effort to preserve the species. Another section is chock-full of perennials, providing a burst of colorful flowers year-round. There are eucalyptus over here and coral trees over there, and large succulents and golden bamboo. Every half a step you take you will see a different plant: soaring Torrey pines and ground-hugging pink Allium. Skyscraping Puya stalks and reclining white oxalis. Towers of sunflowers and clusters of squat succulents. And although organized into sections—arboretum, perennials, Xeriscape—it’s not, by any means, sculpted. Some natives rooted here long ago. The exotics were gifts from horticulturists around the world who were awestruck by the variety they had heard about. But most plants landed here as crowns or seeds after riding piggyback on something else.

The land, described as an intensely personal garden by House & Garden magazine, has been showcased in many books, including Stanley Schuler’s “America’s Great Private Gardens” and “Beautiful Gardens” by Eric Johnson and Scott Millard. It was also the focus of Miller’s book, “A Garden in Laguna.”

An editor of Fine Gardening magazine once wished to be dangled from a helicopter to be able to see the entire sloping property and its 1,500 species of plants. Horticulturists, garden writers and hobbyists made pilgrimages to see Miller and her creation, but she never kept track of them. She said her land wasn’t impressed with fame.

“Age hasn’t done a thing for me,” she once said of the land she nurtured for five decades. “But it’s done wonders for the garden. It gets better all the time.”

The Hortense Miller Garden has become a local treasure that attracts visitors from around the world. Its rambling landscape has a personality and charm all its own, just like the artsy village down the hill with its many and the wisp of a woman who has been nurturing it all these years. So come stay at one of the many Laguna Beach vacation rentals but before you do make sure to book reservations with the city at 949-497-0716 to see this incredible work of nature and its hortense (Latin meaning gardener). If you have questions about the garden contact Marsha Bode at 949-244-2010 or