New Zealand November 2019

Photographs from a recent trip to New Zealand.

A walk alongside the Kerikeri River to Rainbow Falls.
Rainbow Falls

From Kerikeri to the other side of the North Island to Waipoua Forest and the great Kauri trees (Agathis australis).

Agathis australis

From Waipoua, south to Lake Taupo and the Tongariro National Park.

Further south to Wellington, then the ferry to Picton and the South Island and the Otago Peninsula.

New Zealand Fur Seal
A distant yellow-eyed penguin, hoiho. The most endangered penguin in the world.
Lindis Valley

Finally, from Queenstown, through the Lindis Valley to Christchurch and home.


New Zealand.

What unknown affinity

Lies between mountain and sea

In country crumpled like an unmade bed

Whose crumbs may be nuggets as big as your head

And it’s all snow-sheeted, storm-cloud fed?

Far behind is the blue Pacific,

And the Tasman somewhere ahead.”

The Search by Dennis Glover (9 December 1912 – 9 August 1980)

New Zealand lies in the collision zone between the Indo-Australian and Pacific tectonic plates, and more than 15,000 earthquakes a year take place although few are strong enough to be felt. A major exception was the Kaikoura earthquake of November 2016 which buckled the east coast of the South Island and moved the north-eastern tip of the island closer to the North by over two meters (6.5 feet). It was the most complex earthquake ever studied, ripping through 25 fault lines and changing the way fault ruptures are now measured. It also scared the shit out of a lot of people, including this writer who was present at the time.

 As pleasantly benign as New Zealand appears, with its English-style gardens, safely grazing sheep, and rivers of Sauvignon Blanc, it is a violent country, heaving and swaying, rising and falling through geological time. Those of us who don’t know, and that is most, may think of plate tectonics as a series of dinner plates rubbing up against each other rather politely until something breaks. But the plates are broken crockery hurled by violent forces as if in some argumentative Thanksgiving dinner, while all the time the dinner table itself bubbles with volcanic eruptions.

And what we humans feel is just the surface. Underneath the underneath, it is a different story. New Zealand as we think we know it keeps bouncing above and below the water line like a rubber duck in a child’s bathtub. What we see today is just a remnant of a continent formed about 83 million years – the continent of Zealandia. Now we know that New Zealand, Stewart Island, New Caledonia, the Chatham Islands, and other small islands are the tops of a submerged continent 1,900,000 square miles (4,920,000 square kilometers) in size.

75 per cent of New Zealand is mountainous or hilly, Aoraki / Mount Cook is the highest at 12,218 feet (3,724 meters). The Taupo volcano is in the center of the North Island and 26,500 years ago, it produced the world’s largest known eruption of the past 70,000 years. The fjord-like coastline is 9,300 miles (15,000 kilometers) long. About 15 per cent of the land is covered in plants, and 80 per cent of the plants are endemic to the country. It is this high rate of endemism plus its geographical isolation that makes New Zealand one of the most interesting countries on earth. Looking to New Zealand’s iconic plants, we can see why. Agathis, Pseudopanax, Cyathea, Dicksonia,Rhopalostylis, Metrosideros, Leptospermum, Nothofagus, and Podocarpus, give us clues to why New Zealand is so special.

In the Kaipoua Forest in the northwest of New Zealand’s North Island stands the Lord of the Forest, Tāne Mahuta (Agathis australis). It is estimated to be 2,500 years old and is 168 feet (51.2 meters) high. The genus Agathis belongs to Auracariaceae family, a family of tall coniferous trees, all but for a few south-east Asian species, growing in the southern hemisphere.

Agathis asutralis

The Lord of the Forest is not the tallest but with a girth of 45 feet (13.77 meters), it is the largest in New Zealand. To stand beside it is to experience something that can only be called awesome, in the proper sense of the word. To stand in awe of something so powerful, set apart from human time and human life, is a great and sacred gift.

In the Māori creation story, Tāne Mahuta created the earth by lying between Ranginui, the sky father and Papatūanuku, the earth mother. All forest creatures are Tāne Mahuta’s children. There are many children in the Waipoua forest. The forest shelters what remains of the endangered North Island kokako, sometimes called the blue-wattled crow; the brown kiwi, kukupa/kereru the New Zealand wood pigeon, and the very rare kākāpō, a ground-dwelling parrot.

The kauri is a successful species due, in part, to its ability to poison the ground around it. The leaf litter surrounding the trees is acidic, preventing other species of plants from thriving. That’s not to say that a Kauri forest isn’t abundant, away from the very base of the tree, is a rich and diverse flora.

In the forest grows dense stands of kauri grass (Astelia trinervia) growing to a height of 8 feet (2.5 meters) with a width of 6 feet (2 meters), and often seen with kiokio, crown fern (Blechnum discolor) a shuttle-cock shaped bright green fern. Ferns are abundant, Blechnum fraseri can develop slender trunks up to 3 feet (1 meter) high, while the shiny fronds of kidney fern – kopakopa (Hymenophyllum nephropyllum) reach to 4 inches (10 centimeters) tall. Mairehau (Leionema nudum) is a shrub with scented leaves and white flowers and grows up to   13 feet (4 meters).Hangehange (Geniostema ligustrifolium), looking a little like privet, has greenish-white scented flowers and was used by the Māori to flavor meat.

Hymenophyllum nephropyllum
Blechnum fraseri

Seen too, is the toothed lancewood, horoeka (Pseudopanax ferox), a sculptural small tree with juvenile downward growing fiercely toothed leaves, this and Pseudopanax crassifolius are grown by gardeners, a habit that endangers Pseudopanax in the wild.


Scattered throughout the forest and growing prominently around the edges are the tree ferns. To say that they are iconic is literal truth, the silver fern – ponga (Cyathea dealbata), is the symbol of New Zealand and is seen on the uniform of New Zealand’s rugby team, the All Blacks. Cyathea dealbata is a slow-growing tree fern with distinctive silvery undersides to the fronds. Mamaku, the black tree fern (Cyathea medullaris) is the most common of New Zealand tree ferns, it is also the tallest growing to a height of 65 feet (20 meters) and is identified by its black trunk and hexagonal bases of the frond stems. Wheki (Dicksonia squarrosa) tends to grow in colonies and grows to 26 feet (8 meters tall). Close to the Kauri forest, all three species can be seen growing with extravagance alongside riverbanks with another iconic New Zealand plant, nikau (Rhopalostylis sapida), the only palm native to New Zealand.

Cyathea dealbata
Cyathea medullaris
Rhopalostylis sapida

Along the coast grows the New Zealand Christmas Tree, (Metrosideros excelsa), pōhutukawa, the most colorful of trees in the islands, with bright crimson flowers in late December on a multi-trunk, spreading tree. An 800-year-old tree holds a special place in Māori mythology. The spirits of the dead descend the tree into the underworld (Rēinga) to begin the journey to the homeland of Hawaiki.  It is a widely cultivated tree but is under threat in the wild from possum (Trichosurus vulpecula), and stock browsing. Fortunately, Project Crimson, – a nonprofit organization set up to protect pohutukawa forest, has been very effective.

Metrosideros excelsa

Mānuka honey may well be the most sublime tasting honey in the world. Mānuka is the Māori name for ,a fast-growing evergreen shrub or small tree with oval pointed leaves, and white or pink red-centered flowers throughout the year. It and its cultivars are widely grown in gardens and it is widespread in New Zealand although the recent arrival of myrtle rust, a fungal disease, may become a serious problem. The honey, from bees feeding on Leptospermum, is very sweet and rich and is claimed to have antibacterial and immune boosting properties. These are claims that should be taken with a spoonful of honey.

Leptospermum scoparium

The Kauri forests are a rich and profoundly important flora, once covering almost 3 million acres (1.2 million hectares) before the first people arrived 1,000 years ago. The first European to sight the islands was the Dutchman, Abel Tasman. Captain James Cook  made landfall in 1769. European settlers followed and the Kauri forests were harvested for the timber and gum. Clearing for farmland and timber increased up to the mid-20th century. Today, the remnant population of mature kauri covers just 18,420 acres (7,455 hectares) and is susceptible to damage from possum and from Kauri dieback, a serious soil-borne fungal disease.

There is, for once, cause for optimism, conservation efforts appear to be succeeding and abandoned farms with regenerating secondary forest and scrubland contain an estimated 148,000 acres (60,000 hectares) of kauri and its associated flora and fauna. Well-managed timber operations are also contributing to the regeneration. Private organizations; the Waipoua Forest Trust (a joint partnership between the Forest Restoration Trust and Te Roroa, the Māori guardians of Waipoua), Kauri 2000, and the Puketi Forest Trust are working with the Department of Conservation establishing thousands of kauri seedlings on suitable sites.

There are two other key genera of trees in New Zealand. Both have significant flora associated with them and both connect to species elsewhere on the planet. The Southern Beeches, Nothofagus, consist of 37 species of deciduous and evergreen trees only found in Australia, Chile, Argentina, Papua New Guinea, Indonesia, New Zealand and New Caledonia. New Guinea has the most species, fourteen, while New Zealand has four with one additional variety; Nothofagus menziesii: silver beech, Nothofagus fusca: red beech, Nothofagus truncata: hard beech, Nothofagus solandri var. solandri: black beech, and Nothofagus solandri var. cliffortioides: mountain beech.

Nothofagus sp.
Nothofagus fusca

There’s an old bushman saying about southern beeches, ‘You’ve got three types of beeches – red, brown and black. The bark of the red is silver, and the wood of the red is pink when its green. The brown quite often has black bark, but the green timber is red. Sometimes the bark of the black is white, but the timber is yellow and sometimes brown when it’s green.’ Now that’s cleared up, taxonomists add to the confusion with virulent (if taxonomists can be said to become virulent) argument as to whether the New Zealand beeches are Nothofagus, Fucospora or Lophozonia. The argument is best left to science. In the meantime, Nothofagus will have to do.

Nelson Lakes National Park is situated in the north of the South Island. It is about 2 hours drive from the city of Blenheim and protects 252,000 acres (102,000 hectares) of the northernmost range of the Southern Alps. It was formed during the last Ice Age by glaciation and by the mountain up-thrust along the Alpine Fault. Now the valleys are forested with red and silver beeches in the lower elevations and the mountain beech at higher altitudes. Once threatened by over-harvesting, the pressure on New Zealand’s Nothofagus has now eased, thanks, in part, to national parks such as Nelson Lakes. The changing climate in New Zealand may have an as yet unknown effect but drier conditions are not in the trees’ favor.

Nothofagus fusca, tawhai raunui, the red beech, is the most commonly seen growing along the shores of Lakes Rotoiti and Rotoroa. It is an evergreen tree reaching a height of 114 feet (35 meters) tall. The leaves are characteristically double-toothed. The foliage of young trees has a reddish tinge while mature trees have bright green leaves. It is a dominant species, creating large forests, often colonizing exposed areas. In some areas red beech and silver beech, Tāwhai (Nothofagus menziesii), grow together although silver beech reaches into higher altitudes.

The New Zealand podocarps consist of eight genera with native species, Podocarpus, Dacrydium, Prumnopitys, Dacrycarpus, Halocarpus, Lepidothamnus and Manoao. Of the eight, Podocarpus is the most significant and in that genus, tōtara, Podocarpus totara var. totara is the most widespread. Tōtara is a slow growing evergreen reaching a height of 80 feet (25 meters). Pouakani, the world’s biggest tōtara, is 1,800 years old, and is 140 feet (42.7 meters) high and 41 feet (12 meters) in girth.

Podocarpus totara

Tōtara is almost indistinguishable from Podocarpus nubigenus, a species native to the Valdivian temperate rain forest of Chile, and therein lies the story and raging debate of Gondwana flora and plant colonization.

Where did the plants now growing on Zealandia come from? For some, the answer may be blowing in the wind, that is long-distance dispersal. And that means they blew in or came across the sea from somewhere else. For others, they were there when the super-continent, Gondwana, broke apart to form the continents as we know them resulting in differentiation of the original group into new varieties or species. That is vicariance. The Nothofagus in Chile are different species than the Nothofagus in New Zealand, for example.

Much has been published and will continue to be written about the origin of plants in Zealandia and this ever-unfolding story is why New Zealand is one  of the most interesting countries on earth.

Nelson Lakes


I moved to a suburb of Portland, Oregon just over a month ago. Two hours from where I live is Coffin Mountain. Recently, I drove to the trailhead and hiked to the summit.

“The trail is steep, but the effort is worth it. This hike is especially rewarding from approximately mid-June to mid-July when the wildflowers are blooming.

The trail climbs steeply up an old rocky Jeep track for the first 0.1 mile, then watch for the trail heading off to your left. The trail climbs through forest and meadows with intermittent views of Three Fingered Jack to your right. Wildflowers include paintbrush, larkspur, and pentsemon.

After 0.6 miles you will emerge into a huge expansive beargrass meadow. Beargrass blooms in cycles, so some years the meadow is full of blooms and other years there are just a few. Even if it’s not a banner year for beargrass the views from this meadow are spectacular. On clear days you can see Mt. Jefferson peeking up behind Bachelor Mountain to the east, a view which improves with every step up the trail. You can also see Three Fingered Jack, Mt. Washington, and the Three Sisters. “


A little way up the trail is an area of exposed rock -scree. Growing on it are a number of plants including : Castilleja miniata, Delphinium menziesii, Helianthella uniflora, and a couple of Eriogonum species.

Castilleja miniata, giant red paintbrush
Helianthella uniflora
Eriogonum compositum (?)
Eriogonum umbellatum

A little further up and in the shade, the yellowleaf Iris.

Iris chrysophylla

Higher up, the beargrass, Xerophyllum tenax, begins to grow in extraordinary profusion. BOOM !

This extraordinary flowering happens once every three or four years.
My traveling companions.

How fortunate we are to have these wild places.

Below is a plant list compiled by Tanya Harvey.

Coffin Mountain Plant List

observed by Tanya Harvey as of 7/12/16

westerncascades.com                                                                                                               * Non-native

botanical name common name family
Abies amabilis Pacific silver fir Pinaceae
Abies lasiocarpa subalpine fir Pinaceae
Abies procera noble fir Pinaceae
Achillea millefolium yarrow Asteraceae
Achlys triphylla vanilla leaf Berberidaceae
Agoseris aurantiaca orange agoseris Asteraceae
Agoseris grandiflora large-flowered agoseris Asteraceae
Allium crenulatum Olympic onion Amaryllidaceae
Amelanchier alnifolia Western serviceberry, saskatoon Rosaceae
Anaphalis margaritacea pearly everlasting Asteraceae
Anemone deltoidea western white anemone, Columbia windflower Ranunculaceae
Anemone oregana Oregon anemone Ranunculaceae
Antennaria racemosa raceme pussytoes Asteraceae
Antennaria rosea rosy pussytoes Asteraceae
Aquilegia formosa western columbine Ranunculaceae
Arctostaphylos nevadensis pinemat manzanita Ericaceae
Arnica latifolia mountain arnica Asteraceae
Asarum caudatum wild ginger Aristolochiaceae
Berberis aquifolium shining Oregon grape Berberidaceae
Berberis nervosa Cascade Oregon grape Berberidaceae
Boechera howellii flatseed rockcress Brassicaceae
Boechera retrofracta Holboell’s rockcress Brassicaceae
Cacaliopsis nardosmia silvercrown luina Asteraceae
Callitropsis nootkatensis Alaska-cedar, Alaska yellowcedar Cupressaceae
Calochortus subalpinus mountain cat’s ear Liliaceae
Calystegia atriplicifolia ssp. atriplicifolia night-blooming morning glory Convolvulaceae
Campanula scouleri Scouler’s harebell Campanulaceae
Carex sp. sedge Cyperaceae
Castilleja hispida harsh paintbrush Orobanchaceae
Castilleja miniata scarlet paintbrush Orobanchaceae
Castilleja rupicola cliff paintbrush Orobanchaceae
Ceanothus velutinus snowbrush Rhamnaceae
Chamerion angustifolium fireweed Onagraceae
Chimaphila menziesii little prince’s-pine/pipsissewa Ericaceae
Chimaphila umbellata prince’s pine/pipsissewa Ericaceae
Chrysolepis chrysophylla golden chinquapin Fagaceae
Cirsium remotifolium fewleaf mountain thistle Asteraceae
Claytonia lanceolata western springbeauty Montiaceae
Claytonia sibirica candyflower Montiaceae
Clintonia uniflora queen’s cup, bead lily Liliaceae
Collinsia parviflora small-flowered blue-eyed Mary Plantaginaceae
Comandra umbellata var. californica bastard toad-flax Santalaceae
Cryptogramma acrostichoides parsley fern Pteridaceae
Delphinium menziesii Menzies’ larkspur Ranunculaceae
Dicentra formosa western bleeding heart Papaveraceae
Dicentra uniflora steer’s head Papaveraceae
Douglasia laevigata smooth douglasia Primulaceae
Drymocallis glandulosa sticky cinquefoil Rosaceae
Epilobium lactiflorum white-flowered willowherb Onagraceae
Eremogone capillaris slender mountain sandwort Caryophyllaceae
Erigeron aliceae Eastwood’s daisy, Alice’s fleabane Asteraceae
Erigeron foliosus var. confinis leafy fleabane Asteraceae
Eriogonum compositum arrowleaf buckwheat Polygonaceae
Eriogonum nudum bare-stemmed buckwheat Polygonaceae
Eriogonum umbellatum sulphur buckwheat Polygonaceae
Eriophyllum lanatum Oregon sunshine, woolly sunflower Asteraceae
Eucephalus gormanii Gorman’s aster Asteraceae
Eucephalus ledophyllus Cascade aster Asteraceae
Eurybia radulina rough-leaved aster Asteraceae
Fragaria vesca woods strawberry Rosaceae
Fragaria virginiana wild strawberry Rosaceae
Galium oreganum Oregon bedstraw Rubiaceae
Gayophytum diffusum spreading groundsmoke Onagraceae
Gayophytum humile dwarf groundsmoke Onagraceae
Gilia capitata bluefield gilia Polemoniaceae
Hackelia micrantha blue stickseed Boraginaceae
Helianthella uniflora Rocky Mountain helianthella Asteraceae
Heuchera micrantha small-flowered alumroot Saxifragaceae
Hieracium albiflorum white-flowered hawkweed Asteraceae
Hieracium gracile alpine hawkweed Asteraceae
Hieracium scouleri woolly-weed, Scouler’s hawkweed Asteraceae
Holodiscus discolor oceanspray Rosaceae
Hydrophyllum occidentale western waterleaf Hydrophyllaceae
Ipomopsis aggregata skyrocket, scarlet gilia Polemoniaceae
Iris chrysophylla slender-tubed iris Iridaceae
Juniperus communis common juniper Cupressaceae
Lathyrus nevadensis Sierra pea Fabaceae
Lathyrus polyphyllus leafy pea Fabaceae
Lilium washingtonianum Cascade lily, Washington lily Liliaceae
Lomatium martindalei Cascade desert-parsley, few-fruited lomatium Apiaceae
Lupinus albicaulis sickle-keeled lupine Fabaceae
Lupinus latifolius broadleaf lupine Fabaceae
Luzula sp. woodrush Juncaceae
Maianthemum stellatum starry false Solomon’s seal Asparagaceae
Mertensia paniculata tall bluebells/tall lungwort Boraginaceae
Micranthes rufidula rustyhair saxifrage Saxifragaceae
Microsteris gracilis annual phlox Polemoniaceae
Mimulus breweri Brewer’s monkeyflower Phrymaceae
Mimulus moschatus musk monkeyflower Phrymaceae
Mitella breweri Brewer’s mitrewort Saxifragaceae
Mitella pentandra five-point, alpine mitrewort Saxifragaceae
Mitella trifida three-toothed mitrewort Saxifragaceae
Moehringia macrophylla bigleaf sandwort Caryophyllaceae
Nothochelone nemorosa woodland beard-tongue Plantaginaceae
Orogenia fusiformis turkey-peas Apiaceae
Orthocarpus imbricatus pink owl-clover Orobanchaceae
Osmorhiza berteroi mountain sweet-cicely Apiaceae
Paxistima myrsinites Oregon boxwood Celastraceae
Pedicularis racemosa sickletop lousewort, parrot’s beak Orobanchaceae
Penstemon procerus var. brachyanthus small-flowered penstemon Plantaginaceae
Penstemon rupicola cliff penstemon Plantaginaceae
Penstemon serrulatus Cascade penstemon Plantaginaceae
Phacelia mutabilis changeable phacelia Hydrophyllaceae
Phacelia nemoralis woodland phacelia Hydrophyllaceae
Phlox diffusa spreading phlox Polemoniaceae
Pinus contorta var. latifolia lodgepole pine Pinaceae
Pinus monticola western white pine Pinaceae
*Plantago lanceolata English plantain Plantaginaceae
Polemonium carneum great polemonium Polemoniaceae
Polygonum douglasii Douglas’ knotweed Polygonaceae
Polygonum minimum least knotweed Polygonaceae
Polypodium sp. polypody Polypodiaceae
Prunus emarginata bitter cherry Rosaceae
Pseudotsuga menziesii Douglas-fir Pinaceae
Pteridium aquilinum bracken fern Dennstaedtiaceae
Pyrola picta white-veined wintergreen, pyrola Ericaceae
Rainiera stricta tongue-leaf luina Asteraceae
Ribes lacustre swamp gooseberry Grossulariaceae
Ribes sanguineum red-flowering currant Grossulariaceae
Ribes viscosissimum sticky currant Grossulariaceae
Rosa gymnocarpa bald-hip rose Rosaceae
Rubus lasiococcus dwarf bramble Rosaceae
Rubus parviflorus thimbleberry Rosaceae
Rubus ursinus Pacific blackberry, dewberry Rosaceae
Rudbeckia occidentalis western coneflower Asteraceae
*Rumex acetosella sheep-sorrel Polygonaceae
Salix scouleriana Scouler willow Salicaceae
Sambucus racemosa red elderberry Adoxaceae
Sanicula graveolens Sierra snake-root, sanicle Apiaceae
Saxifraga bronchialis ssp. vespertina spotted, matted saxifrage Saxifragaceae
Sedum divergens spreading stonecrop Crassulaceae
Sedum oregonense creamy stonecrop Crassulaceae
Selaginella wallacei Wallace’s spikemoss Selaginellaceae
Senecio integerrimus western groundsel Asteraceae
Silene douglasii Douglas’ catchfly or campion Caryophyllaceae
Sisyrinchium idahoense var. idahoense Idaho blue-eyed grass Iridaceae
Solidago canadensis meadow goldenrod Asteraceae
Sorbus scopulina western mountain ash Rosaceae
Sorbus sitchensis Sitka mountain ash Rosaceae
Stachys rigida rigid hedge nettle Lamiaceae
Symphoricarpos albus common snowberry Caprifoliaceae
Symphoricarpos mollis creeping snowberry Caprifoliaceae
Taxus brevifolia Pacific yew Taxaceae
Trillium ovatum western trillium Melanthiaceae
Tsuga mertensiana mountain hemlock Pinaceae
Vaccinium cespitosum dwarf huckleberry Ericaceae
Vaccinium membranaceum thin-leaved huckleberry Ericaceae
Vaccinium myrtillus dwarf bilberry Ericaceae
Vaccinium parvifolium red huckleberry Ericaceae
Vaccinium scoparium grouseberry Ericaceae
Valeriana sitchensis Sitka valerian Valerianaceae
Veratrum sp. false hellebore Melanthiaceae
Viola adunca early blue violet, long-spurred Violaceae
Viola bakeri yellow prairie violet Violaceae
Viola glabella stream violet Violaceae
Viola orbiculata round-leaved violet Violaceae
Xerophyllum tenax beargrass Melanthiaceae

In which I move to a bordello

It has been a long time since I wrote anything on this site.

I have been busy. In April I traveled to Crete and the South of France. In between I have been giving talks about my book ,Gardenlust.

In May I moved from California to Washington State and then from Washington to Oregon and the bordello. To be accurate, the house is not a bordello now but was when it was built in 1884. It has seven entrances, handy for business at the time, and charming now. Home is where the heart is.

The house comes with a human and a dog.

This is the dog, Lady Gaga

I went to Crete and the South of France to look at wildflowers. After an unusually wet winter, Spring in the mountains was lush with flowering plants.

Asphodelus fistulosus

Ferula communis

Orchis italica
Gladiolus communis ssp.byzantinus

Phoenix theophrastii
Euphorbia acanthothamnos

Then to the Camargue, less rich in plants but full of horses and flamingo.

What next ?

Life at the bordello will continue and a big trip is coming. A trip around the world.


A passionate gardener who cut his roots and wanders the world.

A review of Gardenlust by Adrian Higgins of the Washington Post.

The skills of the actor and musician are wholly portable. Sculptors may place their work around the world but are tied to their studios. Gardeners, working in the trickiest medium of them all — life — are by definition rooted to one place.

That doesn’t mean they can’t go to see other gardens; such visits are essential to keep the creative juices flowing. But to pour your soul into gardening, you need your own garden and you have to shepherd it over many years. You’re stuck. That is the price of paradise.

If you are passionate about gardens but have wanderlust, that seems like a curse of mythological proportion. This might turn you into a plant explorer, a landscape photographer or, if you are Christopher Woods, into a horticultural sojourner and writer.


It was not always thus. I first met him almost 20 years ago at Chanticleer, the garden in Wayne, Pa., where he was the founding director of an enchanting place. It was — and is — one of the sweetest gardens around, and Woods was by the time I met him already established as a nonconformist and a creative beacon to the team of gardeners he led. But I should have guessed he was seeking change, possibly a warmer place close to a beach. He greeted me wearing a Hawaiian shirt and a straw hat.

He left soon afterward, to run one garden on the West Coast and then another, and then I lost track of his wayfaring. “I am a restless man at heart,” he announces, by way of his latest creation, a book named “Gardenlust: A Botanical Tour of the World’s Best New Gardens.”

Cerebral types (such as myself) have to be reminded that a garden, at base, is about attending to the senses, about creating an emotional response to aesthetic stimulation. Woods has always espoused this, as his book attests.

Over a span of three years, he visited approximately 50 gardens on six continents, viewing such landscapes as botanical gardens, parks, residential gardens, and commercial and civic landscapes. There is astonishing variety, such as the Naples Botanical Garden, whose creators are seeking to hold back the destructive forces of development in Florida; and the dramatic cliffside home and garden of Chilean architect Juan Grimm. There is the 568-acre Landschaftspark in Germany, where designed gardens grow amid the ruins of an abandoned ironworks in the Ruhr Valley. Here, a fern growing in a crease of rusted metal, Woods writes, “is the most beautiful thing I have ever seen. Until the next beautiful thing.”

All these places, though, have one thing in common: They were established since the beginning of the century, even if as part of existing landscapes. The imagination and effort that has gone into them must encourage anyone who thinks significant gardens are stuck in the past or, worse, fading from our distracted world.

At Alnwick Castle in England, the Duchess of Northumberland raised and spent millions to create un­or­tho­dox garden elements that left parts of the English horticultural establishment clutching their pearls. This included a $10 million treehouse and a grandiose water cascade. Woods likes its radicalism and the fact that many of the features are designed for people dealing with life in a depressed, postindustrial part of Britain.


I have no desire to see the Miracle Garden in Dubai, which seems to be the antithesis of contemporary garden sensibilities. It disregards its own desert environs and is a place groaning under 45 million exotic and thirsty petunias and geraniums. It seems as kitschy as it is environmentally unsustainable. Woods is a fan. However wrong this garden is to purists, it provides visitors a place to have fun, he points out, and to take children who have “such little access to truly green space.”

One place I’d like to see is a private, 990-acre sculpture garden on New Zealand’s North Island created by owner Alan Gibbs. Gibbs, an entrepreneur and serious art collector, shaped the land and created wide paths, using heavy equipment. “On occasion, he would blow things up,” writes Woods, “partly to remove them and partly for the fun of it.” 

I would like to follow in Woods’s footsteps to coastal Argentina, where Rolando Uria has created a display garden for his collection of salvias, a genus that is much richer than most gardeners realize. Would the ­
12-foot-high Salvia foveolata grow in a summer garden in Washington? It would be worth putting it to the test.

Woods, who resides near Berkeley, Calif., speaks of his early affinity for plants but, just as important, for kindred spirits who continue to define their own visions of a garden without being shackled to the past. The garden is a human artifice, he writes, but it connects to the rest of nature and stops us from thinking of other life-forms as being separate. 

“Gardens are to our hands what language is to our social structure: a constructed, artificial mechanism we’ve devised so we can explain things we see around us.”

Woods was on the other side of the world when I tried to reach him recently. He emailed me from New Zealand and a couple of days later from the South Pacific. “I am now on a beach in New Caledonia looking at Araucaria columnaris. A lot of it,” he wrote. That would be the New Caledonian pine.


In a subsequent email from Sydney, he addressed my question about garden sameness around the world. “While there is a great deal of homogenization, particularly in corporate and government landscapes, there is an abundance of individual creativity and even aesthetic eccentricity in contemporary garden design,” he responded. “The individual has not been consumed.”

He tells readers that he is at a point in life when “I have more or less replaced constant resettlement with near-constant travel. I continue to fall in love with this extraordinary world and its botanical marvels.” I wonder, is he running from his own mortality? Should we join him?


In the 18th century, the critic Horace Walpole spoke of the pastoral landscape movement transforming grand estates such as Alnwick. Of the landscape designer William Kent, Walpole wrote: “He leaped the fence and saw that all nature was a garden.” He might have been speaking of Chris Woods, a gardener who has always embraced the idiosyncratic world of avant-garde horticulture. “The only thing I really fear,” he told me, “is shopping malls.”





“This book is like the main course on a table of horticultural delicacies”

Arguably the best one line review of my book.Woods_Gardenlust_jacket Other reviewers are equally complimentary:

You’ll be ready to travel when you pick up Gardenlust by British plant expert Christopher Woods. . . . Every designer, everyone who loves gardens and plants will want a copy of this book. It’s the first real comprehensive survey of fabulous 21st century gardens.” —Garden Design Online

For many of us, gardens are where nature and human culture merge such that people experience life-altering epiphanies. No one gets this catalytic power of the spade better than Chris Woods, who has sleuthed and shared the world’s most numinous points of beauty in this book.

Through his travels, Chris Woods introduces readers to rich botanical centers and outposts and to the richness of the people in them. He also presents gardens that may be more familiar to some but though a new lens. I had imagined that I might not get to the vast offering of exceptional gardens in Australia and New Zealand, but after reading the book, I need to find a way. If you appreciate the exposure of travel and the wonder of gardens and design, and understand the wonder of getting lost in what you don’t know and haven’t yet experienced, here’s your book.

I thoroughly enjoyed the range of gardens from extreme modernism, with glass sculptures forming part of the garden, to the traditional wilds of China and everything in between. I learnt about plants, structure and form but mostly, the importance of having a clear purpose for the garden. This line summarizes the book best: “What makes modern landscape design different from most other forms of contemporary art is our growing understanding of the effects of deforestation and climate change, the lessons to be learned by studying ethnobotany, the importance of an urban forest, and the impulse to use what we hope are ecologically appropriate or native plants.

This is most certainly full of gardens every plant lover would lust after. It could be awarded 5 stars just for the photography alone but that isn’t all of its content. This great book is divided into 8 parts of the world and the beautiful gardens in them. Christopher Woods has chosen them well.

This book seems to be a table top book so I don’t think it is something you’d want to curl up with to read. However, it is not only full of beautiful pictures. It’s filled with history. The history of some of the plants, the gardens, even the science of how some of the plants grow in certain climates.

It’s such a beautiful book and so educational at the same time that I was really delighted to be able to read it.

I love books about gardens almost as much as I love visiting gardens. Christopher Woods has given us a book that brings to us the deep connection between humans and plants. His vast experience and extensive travels give him a perspective that helps us interpret our own need to surround ourselves with the beauty of nature. He given us a taste of 50 contemporary gardens and the gardeners/designers that created them. It will resonate with you and the next time you step outside or visit a garden you will see it through new eyes! I am very fortunate to have a job that lets me connect people to nature and their own private outdoor spaces. I believe gardens are a journey and like them this book will take you on a fabulous journey.


It is not unseemly to brag a little, is it ?

I am pleased that the book is now available worldwide.


My book is born

It has arrived. My advance copy. The publication date is September 18, 2018.

It took me ten minutes to open the package.

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Part of  the book’s dedication is –

And for the gardeners of the world.

You with the crazy eyes and rough hands.

You who are so much in love with growing things.

You artists and scientists, poets and painters, protectors and advocates.

You who fall in love again and again.

You know who you are.

It has arrived.   它已经到达 Det er kommet  זה הגיע     Het is aangekomen Il est arrive Sie angekommen ist Έφτασε Ini telah tiba Ito ay dumating È arrivato  それが到着した  Chegou  Он прибыл Ha llegado Den har anlänt มันได้มาถึง O geldi  Mae wedi  cyrraedd    Він прибув Je prišel To prišlo Stiglo je Dotarł 그것은 도착 했다  Nws tau los txog  Stigao je     وقد وصلت   Dit het aangebreek.

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I will let it sit on the table for awhile. And then I will approach it with caution. But don’t you do the same because this is a lustful book and you, lustful reader, should devour it.

Or, you could just read it.









Some plants and animals of Sarawak

I have just returned from ten days in Sarawak, Borneo. As jet-lag befuddles my brain and words come up short, here are a few photographs.

Alocasia robusta (2)

Alocasia robusta

Ficus rosulataFicus rosulata 1 (2)

Nepenthes veitchiiIMG_6043 (2)

Licuala orbicularis 2 (2)

Licuala orbiculata

Nepenthes albomarginata (2)

Nepenthes albomarginata

Flying lemur (2)

Flying lemur

Bako 1 (2)

Bako National Park.

Kerangas 2 (2)

Kerangas (Heath Forest)

Bornean Keeled Pit Viper

Bornean keeled pit viper 2 (2)

Octomeles sumatrana 3 (2)

Octomeles sumatrana in Mulu National Park.

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Nepenthes reinwardtiana2 (2).jpg

Nepenthes reinwardtiana

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Fishtail Palm (Caryota no) outside the Deer Cave, Mulu National Park.

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Twelve ( possibly thirteen) species of bats live in the cave.

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The bats come out in waves.

My thanks to Chien Lee http://wildborneo.com.my/

for helping me with my itinerary.


There ain’t nuthin’ like a good swamp.

 The Green Swamp Preserve, 17,424 acres (7051.24 hectares) in Brunswick County, North Carolina is owned by the Nature Conservancy. It is an area of pocosins, Algonquin meaning “swamp-on-a hill”. Pocosins are dense with shrubs such as black titi (Cliftonia monophylla), gallberry (Ilex coriacea) and sweetbay (Magnolia virginiana). Thousands of years of muck have produced acidic, nutrient deficient soils where a carnival of carnivorous plants grow, notably the Venus flytrap (Dionaea muscipula), a member of the sundew family which opens and closes its hinged leaves in response to an insect brushing against tiny trigger hairs on the leaf’s inner surface. In half a second, the trap shuts and the plant secretes digestive juices, taking about a week to fully absorb the insect.  Charles Darwin called the flytrap “one of the most wonderful plants in the world”.

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  There are fourteen known species of carnivorous plants in the preserve. The yellow pitcher plant (Sarracenia flava) is perhaps the most dramatic with 20 to 36 inch (50.5-91.5 cm) yellow tubes veined red and a red-purple throat at the base of its hood. They are modified leaves, curled to make a tube.The flowers come up in spring and are angled or pendulous and a vibrant green-yellow.

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Sarracenia purpurea is also present in great numbers.

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Surrounding the pocosins are long-leaf pine savannas. The pine (Pinus palustris) grows from southeastern Virginia, all the way to the Florida panhandle and west to the Piney Woods of Texas. “A magnificent grove of stately pines, succeeding to the expansive plains we had long time traversed, had a pleasant effect, rousing the faculties of the mind, awakening the imagination by its sublimity, and arresting every active, inquisitive idea, by the variety of scenery”, wrote William Bartram in 1791.

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 Longleaf pine 1 (2)

Now, longleaf pine savanna is one of the most endangered ecosystems in the United States with only about 12,000 acres (4,856 hectares) of fragmented old growth remaining of a pre-colonial population of 90 million acres (364,21,707 hectares). The pine’s demise is due to its usefulness to humans and to human greed. Tar, pitch, rosin and turpentine, four products derived from pines that protect wood and rope from rotting, caulk planks, and deter wood-boring insects and mollusks. Perfect for ship and house building. The high resin content of Pinus palustris, made it especially useful to the expanding colonies. Business boomed, especially with the cheap labor of slaves. But within sixty years of the end of the “war between the states” (1861-1865), the once great forests were gone, chopped down, sawn up and boiled.

Nearby are wetter areas, home to the occasional alligator and surrounded by one of America’s finest trees, the swamp cypress (Taxodium distichum).

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There ain’t nuthin’ like a good swamp.


Heat and dust.

I went to India again. In August. In monsoon season. Not surprisingly the heat and humidity was a wall.

I started in Delhi where I met old friends and went to visit Delhi’s new Central Park, the former Sunder Nursery.

Sundar Nursery is flanked by the World Heritage Site of Humayun’s Tomb (Above) on the South and the historic Purana Qila on the North and aligned to the historic Grand Trunk Road on the West. It was originally established in the early 20th century when the Imperial Delhi complex was being planned and constructed. It was used as a place for propagating trees and other plants to be used in the new capital city, and also for testing species brought from other parts of India and from overseas, to pick those which successfully thrive in Delhi’s harsh climate. A large number of these trees, some of which are only occasionally seen in the city, are still flourishing here. A few others, perhaps those found unsuitable and not used at all, are only to be found within the nursery, as rare specimens.
The nursery is in fact an archaeological site – there are scattered remains of Mughal period structures including three nationally protected monuments, together with pavilions, tombs, grave platforms, wells, and a mosque platform.

Bauhinia tomentosa. Widely planted in the former nursery.
Alstonia scholaris. A common tree of India.

From Delhi to Rishikesh, the home of gurus, ashrams,yoga training, and many lurid and wonderful idols.

And people.

Every evening, as dusk descends, the Ganga Aarti is performed. An aarti is a devotional ritual that uses fire as an offering. It’s usually made in the form of a lit lamp, and in the case of the Ganges River, a small diya with a candle and flowers that’s floated down the river. The offering is made to the Goddess Ganga, also affectionately referred to as Maa Ganga, goddess of the holiest river in India.

The next day, the journey to the Valley of Flowers began. That’s another story.

Resplendent Costa Rica

Howler monkeys begin their earthy growl just before dawn and, as the sun warms, their sound becomes louder and more urgent. Territory, territory.

Scarlet macaws soon appear, screaming through the sky. As the sun rises and temperature too, an electric buzz of thousands of insects, rubbing their wings and legs reaching a crescendo of sexual invitation.

Dawn at the Corcovado National Park in Costa Rica.

It gets hot and humid quickly on the Osa Peninsula. Take a walk and you will see White-faced monkeys peering down at you and a Lesser Anteater, indifferent to you but not indifferent to a nest of ants. Breakfast.

I stayed at Luna Lodge , a lovely eco-resort on a steeply wooded slope in the forest. It is not inexpensive but if you get a chance to visit, do so. https://lunalodge.com/  

A few hours east and at the edge of the Talamanca Mountains, I stayed at the Wilson Botanical Gardens. https://www.lonelyplanet.com/costa-rica/san-vito/attractions/wilson-botanical-garden/a/poi-sig/1198175/358366

The Gardens are a jumping off point to the Talamanca Mountains, home to more species of trees than the United States, and home to the elusive bird, the resplendent quetzal. I joined an old friend, Alan Poole, an ornithologist who is writing a book about the Quetzal.

We spent many hours hiking the forest, seeing many species of plants and evidence but no sightings of the bird. As is not uncommon when birding, we were on the way back to our car when I walked up to a large fig tree with soft orange fruits. There were five quetzal flying from the fig to a small-fruited avocado.

We jumped up and down like young boys, excited by this beautiful bird.

It was as good a day as good days get.

Back at the garden there were more good days, and many good plants.

Aphelandra golfodulcensis
Heliconia ramonensis
Palicourea padifolia

Framed by a large Cecropia, a view of the Talamanca Mountains.

I have visited Costa Rica many times. I will visit again.

Travels in Oceania (part 2)

From New Caledonia to Australia. Then across Australia to Perth and a long drive to Fitzgerald River National Park.  https://parks.dpaw.wa.gov.au/park/fitzgerald-river

With such an extraordinary flora from which to choose, here are a few highlights:

Anigozanthos manglesii

Hakea Victoria

Calothamnus quadrifidus

Banksia coccinea

From Australia to Fiji.

Breadfruit (Artocarpus altilis)

And finally, from Fiji to Samoa where breadfruit is a street tree,

and taro (Colocasia esculenta) is cultivated,

and where the left over rubber from flip-flops is used as shade cloth.

If fortune favors my boldness, there will be many other travels.