From Peru to Chile. From the high mountains to the low desert.
I began the second half of my South American journey at the garden of Ximena Nazal. She is a garden designer, nurserywoman and lover of Chilean flora.Her garden of four hectares is an eclectic collection of plants. Her design is both delicate and chaotically romantic. It is wonderful.
There is not a camera big enough to capture the dense beauty of her garden.
One of her many passions is the genus Puya. While at her garden,she introduced me to one that was in flower. We were to see many more in the wild.
When she is not designing, gardening ,and doing countless other things, she organizes and leads botanical trips to various parts of Chile. I wanted to see the Atacama desert, a 1,000 mile strip of land along the Pacific coast. It is the driest non-polar desert in the world but it had recently received rain and, rumor had it, was full of flowers. So, with Ximena leading the way, off we went.
We headed north, up Ruta 5 towards La Serena. Passing through rolling hills, she uttered an expletive – something to do with seashells and mothers – and screeched to a halt on the side of the road. There was a meadow of Leucocoryne coquimbensis (Glory-of-the-sun).
Growing with it was Schizanthus litoralis.
and many Alstroemeria, including Alstroemeria schizanthoides.
Echinopsis chiloensis , a tree-like cactus, was coming in to bloom.
as was Palo de yegua, Fuchsia lycioides.
We headed north to a nature preserve (Bioparque Puquén) at Los Molles, on the coast.
Flowering in great numbers was Calandrinia ( Cistanthe) longiscapa with Echinopsis chiloensis and another cactus, Eulychnia castanea.
As if this wasn’t bounty enough, large clumps of Puya venusta were coming into flower.
Traveling further north towards the center of the desert, things began to change.
Millions of tiny Helenium atacamensis covered the ground.
And hierba del salitre (Frankenia chilensis)
As the ground became more sandy, clumps of Quinchamalium chilense began to appear.
and in pure sand,
And dotted in between the yellows and oranges, Alstroemeria wedermanii.
Driving out of the desert, we stopped for a picnic and watched a herd of guanaco, a relative of llama, alpaca and vicuna.
Resting in the warm sun, I began to doze. Ximena on the other hand, had something else in mind. “You must see this”, she said. She pointed to a long, languorous plant drooping down the rocks. Bomarea ovallei is a member of the Alstroemeria family. It grows down the rocks with a terminal cluster of red flowers.
It was beginning to fade in the heat of late spring. So was I.
But there was one more plant I wanted to see – the Chilean Wine Palm. We left the desert and headed south to a preserve near Ocoa, Parque Nacional La Campana. Although not far north of Santiago, it is little visited by tourists.
Jubaea chilensis is one of the great trees of the world. To see it in the wild was a great honor.
There were Puyas on the rocks
and, flowering golden yellow, Cassia closiana.
It was a perfect trip. Made perfect by my guide and friend Ximena Nazal.