If you ask people to tell you what they are most wishing for during a health pandemic, watch out. More than 10,000 bright pink tags with the heartfelt hopes of Angelenos dangle from the Wishing Tree at Descanso Gardens in La Cañada Flintridge — so many that some had to be removed to make room for new messages.
The garden has been overwhelmed by the public’s response to the tree that was installed in mid-November. It was created for visitors to write down their wishes for the New Year. Children wish for a unicorn or to become a princess; others wish for good health for their families amid the COVID-19 crisis. All provide a snapshot of what’s in the minds and hearts of Southern Californians during the most devastating health crisis in a century.
“I wish for a return to normalcy!”
“I wish for my mom not to suffer as much from dementia, and to regain some perception of reality. It may be impossible, but I still hope. Love you, Mom.”
“I wish for more tolerance and acceptance and love in the New Year.”
“My wish is to have a quiet home with no arguments and no stress. A place to feel happy and safe.” “Amen” was added at the bottom, in different handwriting.
The garden’s executive director, Juliann Rooke, said Thursday that she was taken aback by the outpouring. “We weren’t really sure how popular it was going to be,” she said. “So we ordered 10,000 cards. We’ve already had to order another 20,000.”
The idea came about over the summer when the garden was planning activities for the holidays. The popular Enchanted Forest of Light had to be canceled because of the pandemic. Rooke said they wanted to offer something seasonal for visitors to see “without having that high-touch interaction.” The result is a series of activities called Reflections at Descanso, designed to encourage people to reflect on the beauty of the gardens during these difficult times.
Wishing trees are a tradition in many cultures, a place to leave offerings and messages. Japan, for example, holds annual Tanabata festivals in July and August in which people write their wishes on pieces of paper and hang them on a bamboo tree made for the occasion.
It took a few weeks to set up Descanso’s tree. Chunks of a native oak that fell down over the summer were installed and arranged by artist Kaz Yokou Kitajima to serve as the base. Branches were added to hold the identical pink cards.
Rooke said all the handwritten wishes will be saved but she’s not yet sure where they’ll find a home. Some may go to projects around L.A. that are collecting materials to document the pandemic. In the meantime, visitors can read the hopes of others and share their own thoughts through Jan. 10.
The garden is open 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily (except Christmas) at 1418 Descanso Drive in La Cañada Flintridge. Tickets cost $15 for adults, $11 for seniors and students, and $5 for children 5 to 12 years old. Because of the pandemic, visitors must buy timed tickets in advance of their visit. More info at descansogardens.org.