Sunday, August 25, 2013


As we made our way back to Texas, after 6 weeks in cooler climes, we passed through Phoenix to spend a few days with our son and family. After driving through Death Valley, with a morning temperature of 113°, it was going to be relatively cool for our visit to the Desert Botanical Gardens. We arrived around 9am with temperatures hovering around the 95°.

Even in such searing temperatures there is color. The Santa Rita prickly pears with their pink glow and for the first time we catch the Fishook barrel cactus, Ferocactus wizliseni, in flower.

Several years ago we visited the gardens following the installation of these display beds. How these plants have grown! The generous edging allows the cactus to spill over without interrupting passage between the beds.

How can the photographer go wrong!

Tunas are ripe on the prickly pear cactus.

One thing I noticed this year was an increase in the number of plants being protected from the sun. Possibly this resulted from recent unusually high temperatures. These golden barrels are exposed to the full sun and need a little help to protect them from sun scald. I think I should be doing this with my Whale's tongue agave. They always end the summer looking a little sunburnt.
For some cactus it is because they come from places of higher altitude where air temperatures are cooler or where they receive less sunlight.

Many cactus grow at the base of trees and bushes, their seeds having been dropped there by birds. There are many trees in the garden but new structures are being erected where trees are absent.

Here's their solution to tempering the sun's rays in the vegetable garden. Further along vines are trained onto a sturdy arched arbor.

Larger structures are ready for the fence post cactus.

We welcome the filtered shade ourselves. Another time we might relax in this inviting spot - but not today.

Metal posts, their tops wrapped with sturdy rope, have been constructed to support the length of this yucca. I was just thinking of cutting off a similar Spanish bayonet Yucca. It does give an interesting sculptural effect.

I would never have guessed that this plant was a milkweed.

Until I saw the seed pods.

And the familiar orange aphids.

This is Asclepias subulata, the desert milkweed.

If you have ever wondered how the saguaro supports itself just take a look at this. This is how the saguaro looks when all the soft tissues are gone.

The last stop was at the shop where I was hoping to purchase my usual take-home plant. I was disappointed to find little of interest. I left empty handed. I had a similar experience at Baker's nursery where I planned to buy several bags of pumice. In the past they would bag their own at a local quarry and sell it for less than $5 bag. Now, because the quarry has closed it comes from Uni-gro and is $18 a bag! I left with one.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013


Following up on many of the comments on my last post, about my visit to Butchart Gardens, I decided to explore what it is I like about garden visits. Why some gardens excite me so much I will go back to them time and time again, given the chance, while others I don't need to give a second look. It seems that my other garden readers are of the same opinion, although we may actually differ in the kind of gardens we like.
I already knew before we went to Butchart that I was unlikely to be paying a return visit and not because of the distance and effort to get there. I am just not excited by mass plantings of the same plant. Much as I love geraniums and snapdragons one or two are enough for me, interspersed among other flowers and shrubs.
So what do I look for in a garden? Maybe what I like has something to do with where I grew up. I spent the first 23 years of my life in England. I never had my own garden but I was fortunate to grow up in a lovely garden.

 It was surrounded by walls. Within those walls the garden was divided into several areas of interest. The rose garden with crazy paving pathways, trellises and archways, the lawn, the vegetable garden hidden behind the rockery, and the greenhouse where we loved to go on a cold summer's day. You wanted to go explore, pass through the archway and see what was beyond. In those days almost every house in England was surrounded by either walls or fences. Some front gardens were barely 6' deep but you would still find a low wall separating the house from the street. When I came to North America I found a different kind of garden. Large expanses of grass flowing from one house to another, the space dotted with shrubs and trees. The same in the back garden. There were no fences on the street where we bought our first house in Canada and none across the back. I soon changed that. I needed my boundaries marked! We put in a post and rail fence around three sides of the back garden. Now I had something against which I could design a garden.

If I told you Sissinghurst, Hidcote, Snowshill, Stone House garden are some of my favorite gardens I think you would understand immediately. I like walled gardens and I don't want a garden to give  itself up in one glance.

Yes, these are large gardens but the same can be achieved in a small garden. It takes structure to separate a small garden into interesting places. More and more I realize that it is the structure I like more than anything and that is what I am looking for when I visit a garden. I want there to be enough interest to make me stop and linger, to sit on that bench and absorb what I see.

And I want to take home some ideas that I can incorporate into my own garden space.

Sunken garden October 2010
I know I picked up my idea for a sunken garden somewhere along the way but I did have to give it a Texas tweak.

Friday, August 9, 2013


I have been to Victoria, British Columbia on three occasions. The first was in 1981 when we took the ferry from Port Angeles to Victoria with our Volkswagen camper and 3 boys. We visited my cousin and his three boys who lived there. Gardener though I was, I had never heard of the Butchart gardens. The second time was 2 years ago, following the Seattle Fling, when we walked on the ferry at Anacortes for the foggy ride to Victoria, once again visiting my cousin! Yes, I had heard of the Butchart gardens, but with only a few hours, there wasn't time. The third time was last week. I finally got to visit the Butchart gardens. It took some effort to get there.

As you can see we are on a ferry again. The very same crossing we took in 1981. Port Angeles to Victoria. This time we are on foot, having arisen at 5:30am and driven over an hour from Port Ludlow, in order to arrive in time for the 8:15 am. ferry departure. Immigration/border patrol takes time! The journey takes 1½ hours, much of that time in dense fog, but by the time we arrived in Victoria harbor, docking opposite the Parliament buildings, the sun was out. We headed for an ATM machine and the bus stop for the 75 bus that would take us right into the gardens.

We paid our $31.70 entrance fee and joined the hundreds of tourists, who were pouring off the coaches, through the turnstiles and into the gardens. It felt a little like Disneyworld but with fewer children. First stop was the Plant Identification Counter. The colorful array of flowers gave us a taste of what to expect. Unlike our plant cart at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower center, which boasts only natives, the flower selection looked to be mostly ornamental.

You can't help but be bowled over by the floral displays. The hanging baskets full of fuschia and begonias are unlike anything we could ever grow back in Texas. Do I sound jealous!

One helpful thing about the visitor map, the gardens total 55 acres, was a suggested directional route. We were not going to miss anything. From a pathway through dense tree cover we soon arrived at the place where visitors stand in sheer awe. Looking down into the sunken garden. The place where it all began, where Jennie Butchart began her quest to tranform the abandoned limestone quarry which had supplied her husband's cement works. Now a National Historic site, the garden welcomes close to a million visitors each year.

In such clear, bright conditions photography was not going to be easy. We made our way down the switchback steps into the bowl of the quarry. The Butcharts were world travelers and brought many of the exotic shrubs trees and plants home from their travels. Jennie herself planted the steep walls of the quarry suspended from the top in a bosun's basket. Now the quarry sides are covered completely with trailing plants. In the far distance on the right of the photograph can be seen the kiln stack which is all that remains of the cement plant.

The route now took us down to the far end of the quarry where a once deep pocket of limestone was turned into a lake. The magnificent Ross fountain, named for their grandson, plays a magical dance reminiscent of the Bellagio hotel dancing fountain and the musical fountain in Dubai.

Moss growing on roofs and trees belies the weather we are having today. There must be many days when fog shrouds the garden and rains blow in from the Pacific.

I will have to admit to some disappointment in the Japanese garden which I felt to be overgrown, blurring the structure of the garden. Having said that this little bridge I found delightful.

As was the Boar chaser which mesmerized many a passerby.

Below the Japanese garden is the Star garden. Between the points of the star the beds are planted with showy annuals. The pond once held Jennies collection of ornamental ducks.

Through an archway in a very tall evergreen hedge we entered into the Italian garden. This area with its planted beds and water feature was once the Butchart tennis court. The building on the left with cascading floral baskets and window boxes once housed the bowling alley!

Now passing by the show greenhouses we had reached the end of the tour.

Imagine how many gardeners they have employ to care for the garden and I'll bet they are not all men!!!

For me this is a one-time visit garden. I am satisfied that I have visited and on a day on which the flowers were blooming in all their glory. It certainly is a showplace.