Huntington Botanical Gardens

Touring the Huntington with Brandon Tam

By Taeko Heiser

I fly to LA regularly as I have family in Pasadena.  We spend most of our time going to art galleries, opera, music at Disney Hall and eating.  My sister had been following the late Jonathan Gold, LA’s amazing food critic, so we eat like gluttons.  Growing up in Pasadena, I’ve spent many days at The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens roaming the grounds and the library’s art galleries. (It used to be free, way back then.) It continually changes with massive garden and gallery additions, so I still visit at least once a year.

Because OSNN scheduled Bandon Tam to come to Reno to speak at our monthly meeting, I contacted him to see if I could meet him at The Huntington.  Brandon is remarkable.  While an intern (age 14-16), the Robert Weltz collection of 7000 paphiopedilums was donated to the Huntington.  Brandon learned quickly because he is a motivated and hard-working genius (that’s my opinion of him).

Brandon was hired by James Folsom, Director of the Botanical Gardens, as the full time Orchid Collection Specialist after he graduated from high school at 16.  He’s built the reputation of The Huntington’s orchid collection and increased that collection to 10,000+ plants, winning hundreds of awards along the way.  They now have one of the largest most diverse collections in the United States.  He’s an open, welcoming young man with a B.S. in Plant Science and a passion for orchids and food.

Brandon arranged for my sister and me to meet for a tour of the greenhouses that are not open to the public. The three greenhouses are huge and filled to the brim with exotic orchids. The largest known Paphiopedilum (Paphiopedilum kolopakingii) is part of their collection, as well as Paphiopedilum vidiae, a small, slow-growing paph that is the last of its kind in cultivation.

Masdevallias are mounted and hung below bench height where it’s cooler.  George Hatfield is responsible for recruiting donors to add to this collection.  Donors know that orchids at The Huntington are in the good hands of Brandon and his team of 70+ trained volunteers.  Brandon says that without volunteers to repot orchids on a regular schedule, he could never manage the vast collection under his care.

Orchids in bloom are displayed, with weekly rotation, in the Rose Hills Foundation Conservatory. I was there in April when many paphiopedilums were in bloom. Most of the display phaphs were numbered without name tags.


If you are planning a trip to the Pasadena/San Marino area, I highly recommend you visit The Huntington, not just for the orchids, but for their spectacular new Chinese Garden, built by 200 stone experts, brought from China along with special stones, who worked for 2 years on this project.  They also have great art exhibitions, other outstanding gardens, restaurants, etc., etc.

I suggest you contact Brandon to see if he is available to give you a tour of the greenhouses. Tell him that you are an OSNN member and, if you’re lucky enough to catch him when he’s free, you’ll be rewarded with a fascinating tour from a knowledgeable, cool guy.