Shangri La Botanical Gardens & Nature Center Attractions
Stroll through the colorful sculpture gardens, observe lush trees sway above a scenic reflective pond, and enjoy a variety of hands-on things to do at the Shangri La Botanical Gardens & Nature Center. Located on 252 acres in downtown Orange, the nature center is full of a stunning array of attractions that celebrate nature’s many colors, shapes, and sizes. Visit the Discovery Theater to learn more about the nature center’s founder, H.J. Lutcher Stark, then tour the many greenhouses and art-themed gardens that showcase plants from all over the world. For some hands-on fun, visit the Here We Grow! Children’s Garden, an educational environment where kids of all ages will get their hands dirty.
Read on to learn more about Shangri La Botanical Garden & Nature Center’s attractions. To learn more, visit the nature center’s website.
The Discovery Theater is a 75-seat auditorium built with the sustainable design and construction methods that Shangri La promotes. Step inside to watch a short video about H.J. Lutcher Stark, a prominent philanthropist who founded the nature center in 1946.
Shangri La’s Exhibit Hall provides an introduction to the history of the nature center with its displays of interviews and accounts of the gardens from the 1940’s and 1950’s. Check out the exhibits, visit the interactive houseboat where you can see a live feed of Ruby Lake, then get an up-close look at the aquatic life found in the nature center at The Critter Motel. Don’t forget to rest a moment in the Meditation Pavilion, which features a soothing fountain made from petrified wood collected by Stark.
In many ways, the Epiphyte House symbolizes the multi-generational prominence of the Stark family in Orange. The greenhouse was built in the early 1900’s on the family’s property (now known as the W.H. Stark House) for Stark’s mother, Miriam Lutcher Stark. Today, it houses a variety of unusual plants, including several varieties of epiphytes, plants that grow on other plants non-parasitically. Along with the epiphytes, you’ll find a wide range of orchids including some from a species that was part of a historic collection dating back to Stark’s grandmother.
Lines, shapes, colors, and the other fundamental elements of art are explored in Shangri La’s five garden rooms. Visit the Shape Garden to see a variety of plants that naturally grow into pyramids, columns, and other shapes. Then stroll through the Contrasts Garden, a breathtaking showcase of the many colors of plants arranged like a living color wheel. Take your time and you’ll leave with a greater appreciation of nature’s beauty and diversity.
Here We Grow! Children’s Garden
A slew of fun and interactive exhibits await in Shangri La’s children’s garden, which consists of several areas that offer numerous ways to learn and play. In the Vegetable Garden, youngsters can get hands-on experience planting, harvesting, and tasting while learning where their food comes from and how it’s grown. Wildlife viewing opportunities abound in the Butterfly and Bird Garden and the Demonstration Bee Hive, and the Sensory Garden features displays that you can touch and smell. All these interactive experiences means kids (and grownups) will have a great time while learning a thing or two.
Pond of the Blue Moon
The mystical Shangri-La in the Valley of the Blue Moon in James Hilton’s 1933 novel Lost Horizon motivated Stark to create his own “Shangri La.” That inspiration lives on at Pond of the Blue Moon, a large reflective pool bordered by towering trees and, in the spring, blooming azaleas. Walk over the angled boardwalk to the picturesque Cypress Gate, a massive structure made with 60-foot cypress logs salvaged from the damage of Hurricane Rita in 2005.
Much like the Garden Rooms, the Sculpture Gardens combine art and nature to create a unique and immersive experience. The foundation for each of the four gardens is a steel sculpture that showcases the basic shapes found in nature. For instance, the branching room features a sculpture designed to represent the contorted branching of the Japanese maple tree, and the Circle Room highlights the natural form of plants like the silver dollar eucalyptus.
The Hanging Garden
Vibrant flowers like the Lily of the Nile and Amaryllis make up the lush Hanging Gardens, an area designed by Stark to demonstrate his affection for tropical plants. The giant cast iron pots, once used to boil down sugar cane into a syrup, are the originals collected by Stark himself.