It doesn't surprise me that the landscape architect of Sunnylands Gardens, James Burnett, has received a 2012 ASLA professional award for his design of this amazing property. I've never heard of Mr. Burnett and I don't know anything about professional landscaping, but it was immediately apparent to me on my visit to Sunnylands last spring that the grounds had been arranged by a perfectionist. This is arid, desert landscaping. Much depends on strategic plant placement and an eye for texture and perspective, for one cannot always count on lushly blooming foliage.
Strolling through Sunnylands Gardens (there are 1.25 miles of walking paths) is a multi-sensory experience. Streams and reflecting pools, flaming yellow palo verde trees, barrel cacti, mesquite, and other native plants have all been artfully arranged to compete for your attention. I recommend spending at least a couple hours here. Stay for lunch: The salads are divine, and reasonably priced.
Sunnylands Center and Gardens is open Thursday through Sunday, and admission is free, as is parking. You can purchase tickets (way in advance) for tours of the house and for guided birdwatching, but if you're content to simply enjoy the spectacular gardens and dine on a fresh salad, you can't beat the price.
For years, Sunnylands has hosted world leaders on numerous occasions for private retreats, providing an amiable atmosphere for high-level political discussions and problem-solving sessions. Is world peace possible? May it be.