Life can be challenging…and death even more. My ninety-year old dad recently passed away. He had a stroke a while back, and his health progressively deteriorated. When it finally happened, it was a blessing. My mom had left this world over twenty-five years ago. They were married for thirty-seven years, and he adored her. After her death, he never even mentioned another woman. He gave up listening to opera and classical music, a mutual love that my mom and he shared, and repeatedly told my sister, brother, and myself that he was waiting to join her. Now he finally has.
Camellias, photo by Kathy Leonardo
I was in a fog, but happy to have the love and support of my family, friends, and my boyfriend. Everyone says, “Give yourself time,” “Take care of yourself,” but what does that really mean? I took that phrase to heart and decided to take care of myself. I took the afternoon off from work, called some friends and said, “Let’s go to tea!” Where? I had always heard about the English Tea located in the Rose Garden at the Huntington – the official name being: The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens. This is where I wanted to go. I loved flowers – after all, they reminded me of my mother – who I’d been talking to a lot more since my father’s passing. I certainly did not have a green thumb, but plants were a passion of my mom’s. In fact, she was an active member of various orchid, succulent and cacti societies in the New York area.
The 120 acre grounds were beautifully manicured, peppered with patches of Camellias, Clivia, and other varieties of seasonal flora. As soon as I saw the flowers, I thought of my mom and how she and my dad were probably hanging out right then in their own private rose garden in the sky.
English tea at the Rose Garden Tea Room, photo by Kathy Leonardo
The tea room was lovely, with its china set ups displayed on all the tables. I felt like a little girl again. I was joined by two of my most fun friends, who I knew would truly appreciate this genteel display of hospitality. A chilled Prosecco made a good first impression as we perused the tea selections. We each chose a different tea, so we could sneak a taste of the others. I chose the Huntington blend (their signature tea), which we all agreed was by far our favorite. It offered a subtle flora and jasmine flavor with a slight hint of vanilla. The Raspberry Nectar and Earl Grey Creme were also wonderful. As we sipped our tea and cherished the moments…I reminisced about my childhood…telling my companions about my father’s love of tea. That had been another tradition of his that somehow fell by the wayside. We toasted to him and my mom. “Live in the moment”…those are the words I kept hearing in my mind…now that my own mortality was staring back at me.
The house-made crumpets and scones were simply sublime They appeared with Devonshire cream, lemon curd, marmalade and fruit preserves…all exquisite. Then came the classic three-tiered offering of assorted finger sandwiches and petit desserts. It was a fantastic presentation! If you have never experienced an English tea, I highly recommend it. The variety of sandwiches included mushroom/arugula/tomato, smoked salmon with caviar, dill cream cheese, Persian cucumber, chicken salad sandwich, and a truffle egg salad in a delicate phyllo cup. The desserts were an exquisite celebratory finish. I do enjoy a guilty pleasure…when eating lots of little delicious bites, somehow I tell myself it’s not fattening. Whatever the cost – the miniature apple pie, tiramisu, profiterole, coconut macaroon, red velvet cupcake and the rose cookies were all worth the calories.
While we were there, we learned that Bon Appétit Management Company took over the dining portion of the famed Huntington Library Gardens. Executive Chef Marc Powers said he wanted to create a menu inspired by traditional English tea, with a locally and sustainably sourced flavor. He added, “We are working hard to offer a high-quality culinary and service experience that complements the surrounding historic gardens.”
With Ross Mapletoft; photo by @finnjun
We rolled back out to the gardens satiated by our tea and crumpet experience and finished our impromptu day of abandonment. The wisteria trees were in full bloom. The Japanese Garden was magnificent along with the Shakespeare Garden…we even stopped by the Children’s Garden as well as the California Garden and learned about the importance of growing native plants. We never made it to the art gallery, which I hear is fantastic, but we did see Alexander Calder’s Jerusalem Stabile decadently standing in all its glory on our way out. Alas, I’ll have to return for another visit.
What started as a gloomy day bloomed into an unforgettable one. With each new day comes a new lesson and mine was to be in the moment and cherish my loved ones.
Clivia, photo by Kathy Leonardo
The Huntington is located at 1151 Oxford Road, San Marino, CA 91108; Hours: 10am-5pm every day, except Tuesdays (closed). Call ahead to find out what is blooming and be sure to check the website at http://www.huntington.org