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.


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.





Travels in Oceania (part 1)

In November, I traveled to New Zealand, New Caledonia, Australia, Fiji and Samoa.

The following is a photographic record of some of the things I saw. It was a big trip in many ways and I am just beginning to digest my experiences. Please forgive the sparse text.  My mind is turgid from jet-lag. This trip and others to follow, are part of my research into a book I have just begun to write.

I flew from San Francisco to Auckland and then drove north-west to the Waipoua Forest, home to some of the largest trees on earth, the Kauri (Agathis australis).

The Waipoua Forest is a sanctuary full of understory trees, shrubs and ferns.

The underside of the silver fern ( Cyathea dealbata) is particularly beautiful.

From the North Island, I flew to Blenheim in the South Island and attended Garden Marlborough, a four-day garden festival. I was invited as the guest international speaker and gave two talks. They seemed to go well. I had the audience dancing.

My hosts, Rosa and Mike Davison, are the creators of Paripuma, a garden of New Zealand natives designed in formal European style.

While at the festival, I took a boat trip along  Queen Charlotte Sound to visit the spot where Captain Cook first landed in New Zealand – ship cove.

On another day, I was taken into the Kaikoura mountains to see tōtara ( Podocarpus totara).

From New Zealand, I flew to Noumea, New Caledonia. If current geological thinking stands up, New Caledonia is the northernmost tip of Zealandia, the eighth continent. https://www.livescience.com/60538-zealandia-eighth-continent-once-above-ocean.html

With only three days in New Caledonia, I explored the Parc Provincial de la Riviere Bleue  .

In the park is a thousand-year-old, forty-meter-tall  Agathis lanceolata.

and an exceedingly rare palm Pritchardiopsis jeanneneyi  (now named Saribus jeanneneyi ). Storckiella pancheri was in bloom.North and west of the parc, a stand of New Caledonian pine (Araucaria columnaris) grows from cliff to beach.

Along the shore, mangroves.

In the mountains, giant tree ferns.

From New Caledonia, I flew to Sydney. The streets were full of Jacaranda in bloom.  That’s another story –  in part 2.




An interview with Tom Oder


Tom Oder

October 20, 2018, 11:35 a.m.
Gardenlust Sunnylands Center and Garden Rancho Mirage, California

Palo verde trees are underplanted with swaths of aloe, agave, and hesperaloe, with the San Jacinto Mountains in the distance. (Photo: Annenberg Foundation Trust at Sunnylands)

How would you like to visit the 50 most different and inspiring gardens created worldwide since the start of the 21st century? And what if you could visit those gardens with one of the world’s most accomplished and respected garden directors?

Unlike many things that sound too good to be true, this one isn’t.

Gardenlust book coverChristopher Woods offers gardeners this unusual opportunity through his book “Gardenlust, A Botanical Tour of the World’s Best New Gardens” (Timber Press, September 2018). Woods wrote the lavishly illustrated coffee-table-style book filled with what he considers to be the world’s 50 best contemporary gardens by trading a life of constant resettlement in managing gardens for three years of almost non-stop travel. Those trips took him in person or through extensive research to 120 gardens on six contents. From those, he chose the 50 he found the most inspiring, of which he visited all but three.

Interestingly, Woods says the book isn’t a book at all. Instead, he call it a long love letter to the planet and its people, particularly gardeners who have created beauty and devoted their lives to helping others see that beauty. A self-described globalist, he considers the book a love letter, he said, because he is “a romantic fool and fundamentally at this point in my life I wanted to write a love letter about the world that we are in.” He wrote it for gardeners because he believes that gardeners of any culture are people who, like him, fall in love repeatedly. “There’s not a plant person, or a person interested in plants, who doesn’t fall in love again and again, either with an individual plant, a design, a garden, a landscape or a natural landscape,” said Woods from his home in the Bay Area of California.

Falling in love with plants

Woods is uniquely qualified to write a book of such a daunting global scope. Born in London in 1953 while Britain was still recovering from World War II, his father introduced him to plants as a child during visits to a small village in Northamptonshire where they would go on walks picking and eating mushrooms and blackberries. That introduction became a plant addiction that led him to his first gardening job as an apprentice gardener at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew. He fell in love with growing things after leaving Kew and taking a series of jobs at English nurseries where he learned about the fascinating history of gardens and the bureaucratic drudgery of garden management.

Woods loved his work but, recognizing that he was born with a restless nature, began to find Britain too confining. That combination prompted him to move to the United States in 1981 where he discovered a new world of plants — not to mention sunshine! — and took a position as a gardener at Chanticleer Gardens near Philadelphia. Two decades later, during which he was promoted to executive director and transformed Chanticleer’s 35 acres into what Garden Design magazine called America’s most inspiring garden, the restless nature resurfaced. In 2003, he moved to California to what he describes as a two-room shack on the edge of the Los Padres National Forest to take on a project with the Santa Barbara Botanical Garden. Some years and a few jobs later, he once again gave in to his restless nature and was drawn in another direction.

“I was for most of my life a gardener, and then I got promoted and promoted and started to move towards administration and away from the things that I really loved,” explained Woods. “So, I decided after having managed gardens and having been the executive director at a number of gardens to get away from that and be a writer, which is what I wanted to do for years. And, so, I wrote this book to really turn people onto what is out there in the big world on this planet.”

What makes a contemporary garden different

Gardenlust The Garden of Flowing Fragrance, Huntington Botanical GardenSAN MARINO, LOS ANGELES COUNTY, CALIFORNIA The Jade Ribbon Bridge in California is a faithful re-creation of an ancient Chinese style. (Photo: Christopher Woods)

What is out there that most interests him are gardens created in the new millennium that he finds different and inspiring. An internationalist with a strong interest in bio- and cultural diversity, he said the book is “very personal for me and how I see the world.” Accordingly, he refuses to be pinned down to what he calls “a concise and succinct sound bite” about how he defines a contemporary garden and what makes them “different and inspiring” from traditional or classic cottage or estate gardens. Instead he talked about four things he thinks make new gardens different and inspiring.

One that clearly emerges is that the term “contemporary garden” doesn’t mean that the entire garden or, in fact, any portion of the garden was created in the new millennium. The Huntington Botanical Gardens and Library in San Marino, California, is an example of a long-established garden that added a new garden to its landscape. That garden is a classical Chinese garden that was created to recognize the profound influence the large Chinese population in Los Angeles has had on the cultural life of the region.

Gardenlust The Alnwick Garden Northumberland, United Kingdom The Grand Cascade in Ainwick Garden, designed by Wirtz International, clearly builds on great estate garden tradition but updates it with clean lines that suggest ornamentation rather than slavishly including it. (Photo: Christopher Woods)

The Ainwick Garden in Northumberland, England is an example of a garden that is hundreds of years old that Woods considers to be contemporary because it has adopted a contemporary use with a strong social message. “One of the gardens I found most inspiring was one of the oldest in England, which is the second-largest occupied castle in Britain, and it goes back 700 years,” he said. “The history of the family of the Northumberlands is basically the history of England, but the Dutchess of Northumberland has been instituting social programs in the garden such as programs for early onset dementia and programs for youth so that young people can get discipline and be inspired during a time of high unemployment.”

Another way he thinks of a contemporary garden is in landscape and architectural designs that use plants in ways that aren’t intended to be a garden in the traditional sense of a garden. Public parks, such as Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park in London, Parc Clichy-Batignolles/Martin Luther King in Paris and Xi’an Expo Park in Xi’an, China, do this. There’s architecture that features living walls, such as One Central Park in Sydney, Australia, that consists of two buildings, 16- and 33-stories high, draped in hydroponic gardens of tens of thousands of plants, many of them native to Australia, that constitute the world’s largest vertical garden. And there are plant nurseries like The Aloe Farm in Hartbeespoort, South Africa.

A third theme is how a garden bridges the past and the future. The origins of the Chinese garden at The Huntington, for example, go back 3,000 years, and the gardens at the castle of the Northumberlands, as Woods said, reflect the history of England. Each of these gardens has adapted its use in different ways to meet the needs of the 21st century, as have others in the book such as Orpheus at Boughton House, U.K. One of the grand estates of England that dates to the 17th century, it has added with the aid of computers and laser-sights an inverted pyramid as a symbolic opposite to Mount Olympus. The landscape architect who created this interesting feature named it Orpheus, after the Greek mythical figure who descended into Hades in an attempt to bring back Eurydice, his wife.

Woods also looked for how people use gardens when he was paring down his initial “long list” of 120 gardens to 50. One that stood out to him was Landschaftspark in the Rhur Valley in Duisburg-Nord, Germany. He was drawn to this garden by how he saw people using the park by attending concerts or walking their dogs there. The park is also an example of a bridge to the past as it is built among the rusting skeletons of an iron smelting plant that once turned out munitions for the Third Reich. To Woods, these metal hulks from another era provide a contemporary backdrop as giant pieces of garden art.

In each of these broad areas, Woods looked for five specific themes: beauty, nature, plants and people, nativity and urbanization. All the gardens he included in the book had more than one of these themes and most had them all. These gardens range in scale from private gardens not open to the public — such as Rose Bay, a tiny residential patio looking out on Sydney Harbor — to botanic gardens to an ornamental and research garden in Mar de Plata, Argentina, that specializes in breeding salvias to attract hummingbirds, to a forest that has been planted in the middle of Tokyo. Here is how Woods defines each theme and an example of gardens he found most inspiring that fit them.


Gardenlust Landschaftspark Duisburgnord, Germany Landschaftspark is a mixture of industry and arcadia, where visitors can walk among the trees and the metal skeletons of the ironworks. (Photo: Christopher Woods)

Woods’s approach to beauty is arguably the most contemporary message in the book. He believes the key feature of any garden is aesthetic beauty, something he thinks people the world over tend to devalue or undervalue as a benefit of the human condition in what he sees as an increasingly technologically fraught world. “Beauty stands on its own, but beauty for us humans produces all kinds of good things … it makes us feel better and it makes us happier.” He thinks the beauty of a garden also makes people quieter because when they are surrounded by so much beauty there’s simply not much left to say.

“So, I think beauty is a very powerful force, and if a garden isn’t beautiful what is it for?” he asked. “Even if you don’t like the garden, all gardens are beautiful in their own way.” And there are some gardens in the book that Woods doesn’t particularly like — such as Olympic Park in London because it has what he considers an institutional feel. He included it, he said, because like other parks it provides a place to play, to be outside and to escape from the incessant demands of the electronic world.

And where he finds beauty, he confirms the saying that beauty lies in the eye of the beholder. He calls a fern growing in the rusted metal of Landschaftspark, for example, the most beautiful thing he has ever seen — “until the next most beautiful thing.”

Gardenlust Vallarta Botanical Garden Puerto Vallarta, Mexico Day-blooming water lilies from Vallarta Botanical Garden open as the sun rises, then silently fold their flowers in the late afternoon. (Photo: Christopher Woods)

Some other modern gardens he finds beautiful are the Golden Rock Inn in Nevis, West Indies, which he calls one of the most botanically enthusiastic small hotels in the world; Sunnylands Center and Gardens in Rancho Mirage, California, in the Sonora Desert at the foot of the San Jacinto Mountains, which features a contemporary, sustainable and colorful desert garden he likens to a painting because of the way the natural light of sunrises and sunsets falls on cactuses, agaves, ocotillo, mesquite and palo verde in a landscape that has earned a LEED Gold Certification; and the Vallarta Botanical Garden in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, which he describes as “like going to your grandmother’s house with really good food and guacamole because its beauty creates a feeling of just being in a place that is life preserving and supportive of good thoughts.”


“Government agencies and others debate what percentage of plants are in danger of disappearing, but it’s substantial,” said Woods, who writes in the introduction to the book that the Center for Biological Diversity estimates 68 percent of the approximately 300,000 species we know are threatened with extinction. “So, in terms of plant conservation, that is a very strong theme in the book.”

Even though much of the natural world is being destroyed, he believes botanical gardens and gardeners in general are getting better at being good gardeners and good stewards of the plant world. “Gardeners are an evangelical force for plant conservation and sustainable design, and I think that’s really crucial.”

Gardens that impressed him with their efforts at plant conservation, ecological design, smart uses of resources such as water and an awareness of putting the right plant in the right place are Vallarta Botanical Garden, Parque Explorador Quilapilún in Colina, Chile; Oman Botanic Garden in Al Khoud, Oman; and Pha Tad Ke Botanical Garden in Luang Prabang, Laos.

Plants and people

Gardenlust One Central Park Sydney, Australia Patrick Blanc installed plants on every balcony of One Central Park in Sydney, as well as large mosaic panels of more complicated arrangements at rhythmic intervals on the buildings’ surface. (Photo: Christopher Woods)

Woods defines gardening as the interaction between plants and people, so it’s easy to understand why he would include plant and human diversity as a central theme of the book. And being a person who sees himself as a globalist, it’s also easy to understand why he would seek out the best examples of human and plant interaction in contemporary gardens among what he calls the “international family of garden people.”

His favorite examples of gardens that emphasize human-plant interaction include A Garden of Shape and Light in Marrakech, Morrocco, which was designed for a New Zealand couple who live all over the world by an Italian who works in London; One Central Park in Sydney, the tallest vertical garden in the world, which was designed by a French botanist; two 21st-century gardens in Singapore, Gardens by the Bay which is one of the most visited public gardens in the world; and the Parkroyal Hotel, where an extraordinary street-side facade of intensive and innovative plantings contribute to the greening of the city, half of which is recognized as a green space; and Ichigaya Forest, the urban forest in Tokyo, designed by an American to change the environment of people who live and work among the huge crowds in Central Tokyo.

His theme is particularly special to Woods because it led to one of his favorite moments during his three years of travel to research the book. That occurred during a trip to the Oman Botanic Garden in Al Khoud, Oman, which he includes because of its role in plant conservation. He had trekked 2,000 meters up into the mountains to Wakan Village where he recalled “sitting in a little room with three elderly men and an ethnobotanist from the Oman Botanic Garden talking about lentils. I felt like I was actually stepping back 2,000 years. One of the elderly men pulled out a cellphone that looked like it was from the Stone Age and was discussing with a farmer some miles away the specifics of a rare variety of lentils. Lentils, of course, have been grown for thousands of years. And this young man, the ethnobotanist, was so excited he just barely could control himself. He said he was going to come back the next week to meet the farmer with the lentils and get seed for this new botanic garden. So, there we have something brand new and modern, this Oman Botanic Garden that steps back two or three thousand years. That excited me. That was one of the best days.”


Gardenlust Paripuma Blenheim, South Island, New Zealand Poor Knights lily (Xeronema callistemon) at Paripuma in Blenheim, South Island, New Zealand, is endemic to the tiny group of eponymous islands off the coast of northern New Zealand. (Photo: Michal Wells)

“I think our understanding and knowledge of native plants is something that has come up in the last 20 years, and it’s absolutely essential,” said Woods. “We need to know much more. In the tropics where the climate diversity is so much larger than in the temperate world, we still have areas of the tropics that haven’t been explored. We are still discovering plants on a weekly if not daily basis that are new to science, to horticulture and to plant design.”

Two gardens that he includes in the book that he especially admires for their use of native plants are The Australian Garden, a part of the Royal Botanic Garden, in Cranbourne south of Melbourne, which is a garden that he said tries to encapsulate and promote an entire continent’s worth of native plants in a clever, aesthetic and beautiful way; and Paripuma in Blenheim, South Island, New Zealand, a private garden that combines native flora with a very formal 18th century European design that crosses the boundaries of the idea that native plants should be used in an untamed way with the formality of design that Woods said, “I find just tremendous.”


Parc Clichy–Batignolles/Martin Luther KingPARIS, FRANCE Large rectangular ponds at Martin Luther King Park in Paris provide a much-needed environment for water-loving flora and fauna in this crowded city. (Photo: Christopher Woods)

“The world’s population is exploding and most of us live in cities,” said Woods, adding that “an increasing number will live in cities in the next 10 to 20 years.” Because of that, be believes that urban parks as an extension of the urban landscape are crucial to the well-being of city residents.

One that he really likes in this regard is Parc Clichy-Batignolles/Martin Luther King Park in Paris. He describes it as a kind of city center because a good portion of the population lives near it, the area has been redeveloped with apartment buildings, and Parisians use this park almost in the way that people in other cultures use the village green or the town square. “That’s where the interaction is, on the ground. Lovers tell lies to each other, lawyers tell lies to each other when they get together! I really like that interaction, and it is a pleasing garden design as well.”

Another example of an urban park in the book is Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park in London. He expects it will service several million people a year at some point because, “it’s an extremely crucial place to do what we do, which is to go for a walk, to walk the dog, where you go with the kids or the grand kids or where you go and sit under a tree and read a book … all of those fundamental needs we have as human beings.”

Which garden should you visit first?

“That’s an easy question to answer,” said Woods. “Locally! It’s amazing what we don’t see in our backyards, in our towns, villages and cities. Start in your own neighborhood. Go for a walk and then branch outwards.”

Then, he suggests, pick gardens in the book that are easiest for you to get to. Be aware, though, that the book is not a tour guide. “I don’t tell you how to get there or when a garden is open. You have to figure that out for yourself. And some gardens are not open to the public. You will never see them. You can go to Sydney Australia, and see the largest vertical garden in the world, but you can’t go to Rose Bay, the tiny little minimalist garden in Sydney, because it’s a terrace in somebody’s backyard.”

Even if you will never see the private gardens in person, you can visit them in the book and learn about and be inspired by them. Woods thinks that’s important because he believes they have something to say and, “hopefully I have something to say about what they have to say.”

Love letters are like that.


Re-blogged from Mother Nature Network.


The New Perennialist

Musings on plants, gardens, travel, food and sex. Mostly plants and gardens.


for people who want more than gardening from gardens


Musings on plants, gardens, travel, food and sex. Mostly plants and gardens.

View from Federal Twist

Ramblings of a New American Gardener