This seven-acre botanical garden at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) Westwood campus was established in 1929 as a teaching facility and laboratory. Originally encompassing 31 acres, the garden was sited in the southeastern corner of the campus near an arroyo lined with willows. The arid hills were planted with coastal sage scrub, to which collections of eucalyptus and ficus were added. The area’s microclimate allowed for the propagation of tropical and subtropical plants; flora common to Australia and Hawaii were displayed in thematic gardens, including gymnosperms, palms, succulents, aquatics, and camellias. The first manager of the botanical garden, George C. Groenewegen, obtained specimens by donation, largely from the United States Department of Agriculture, the California Botanical Garden, and the Huntington Botanical Gardens.
The garden flourished under the direction of landscape architect Ralph Cornell from 1937 until the mid-1950s. His partner, Howard Troller, designed the subtropical conservatory and a lath house that was constructed for research purposes in the northwestern corner of the garden in 1952. Between 1956 and 1974, the garden was managed by Mildred Mathias, for whom it was named in 1979. Plants are arranged by geographic, taxonomic, or cultural themes, and special collections include Malaysian rhododendrons, bromeliads, cycads, ferns, and shrubs found in Mediterranean climes. “The nest,” is a small amphitheater designed by the garden staff and constructed from Northern California incense cedar and boulders in 1996.The most recent feature added to the garden is the LaKretz Entrance and Medicinal Plant Garden.