Three years and several thousand miles later,my book will be published on September 18, 2018. In the beginning I assembled a list of about 100 gardens. When practicality took over from imagination, the list dropped to 65. Then to 55. I wrote 55 pieces but then my editor, may she be blessed, excised some of the weaker pieces and now it is a book about 50 contemporary gardens around the world. There were very few misadventures. An earthquake in New Zealand woke me up and scared me. The earth trembled and so did I.
But aside from a few excessive taxi fares, a little too much food, and too many awful movies on long-haul flights all went remarkably well. I traveled everywhere I could think of, connecting with brothers and sisters in the plant-loving world. I was treated kindly everywhere.
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 (Cliftoniamonophylla), gallberry (Ilexcoriacea) and sweetbay (Magnoliavirginiana). Thousands of years of muck have produced acidic, nutrient deficient soils where a carnival of carnivorous plants grow, notably the Venus flytrap (Dionaeamuscipula), 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”.
There are fourteen known species of carnivorous plants in the preserve. The yellow pitcher plant (Sarraceniaflava) 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.
Sarracenia purpurea is also present in great numbers.
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.
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 Pinuspalustris, 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).
The island of Palawan, part of the Philippines, surrounded by the Sulu and South China Seas and 1,780 or so islets, is long and narrow. It is a mountainous island averaging 3,500 feet (1,066 meters) in altitude with Mount Matalingahan, the highest peak, rising to 6,800 feet (2,072 meters). Palawan still contains more than 50 percent of its original forest cover, much of it old growth forest on its mountains. The forest is thick with huge Ficus species, dipterocarps, palms, the tall conifer Almaciga (Agathis philippinensis), philodendrons and the clinging shingle plant (Rhaphiodora sp.)
I went for a week, curious to learn about mangroves. It is a long way to go to look at things growing out of mud. I thought it worth it.
I stayed at the Mangrove Resort, a place of eccentricity next to the Langogan River.
My host, a quebecois conversationalist of the highest order was enthused that I was interested in mangroves. He lead me down a path to the river and bid me look at a large tree. A very large mangrove (Rhizophora mangle),recently dated to be 350 years old, twisted and turned over the river.
The Philippines are home to 39 species of mangrove. There are about 110 species worldwide. The most widespread belong to the genus Rhizophora.Mangroves are extraordinary biomes. They grow in salty water, managing to filter the salt and exude it through their leaves. Some grow breathing tubes (pneumatophores), that act like snorkels, as well as aerial roots and stilt roots. Aerial roots obtain oxygen from the air and stilt roots helps stabilize the tree in the soft mud. They also have an unusual way of propagating, forming germinated seed pods while on the tree, that fall spear-like into the mud and then grow up 2 feet (.6 meters) in a year.
Mangroves are breeding grounds for much of the world’s fish, shrimp, and shellfish. They are nesting sites for millions of birds. They stabilize the shoreline and protect against extreme coastal weather. They are of great importance to the environmental stability of the world but are amongst the most threatened habitats in the world. According to the International Union for Conservation of Nature more than one in six mangrove species is in danger of extinction. Over half of the world’s mangrove forests have been lost during the last 50 years largely due to shrimp farming and intrusive development. Governments and conservation organizations are working hard to save what is left but it may well be a case of too little too late.
It is a rare pleasure to paddle a bangka – an outrigger canoe – up the Langogan river, through rolling forested hills dotted with coconut groves and small plantations of bananas. On the edge of the water grow mangrove palms (Nypa fruticans), a palm common to coastlines and riverine habitats of the Pacific and Indian oceans. Only the leaves and the flower stalk are above the surface, the trunk grows beneath the surface of the mud. 56 to 33.9 million years ago (Eocene period) the genus had worldwide distribution, now it is confined to a single tropical species.
Borneo is only 2.4 miles (4 kilometers) from Palawan but is separated by a deep channel, the Balabac Strait. I think I will go there soon.
Garden designer Cevan Forristt serves dinner on fifteenth-century Chinese pottery. He makes clothes of silk from Sri Lanka. All thirty-seven Burmese nats—spirits or gods with a human shape that guard objects—are scattered throughout his property in San Jose, California. Monumental remnants, architectural salvage of the San Francisco earthquake of 1906 are piled alongside stacks of Mexican roof tiles and fragments from the rectory of San Francisco’s Grace Cathedral.
Protruding from large granite columns clumped together, oil cloth sunshades, brought from Thailand, make a corner of his garden glow amber. Tree bamboo actively thrusts its way through pilings of distressed concrete, granite gravestones, and chunks of stone rescued from abandoned quarries in the Sierra Mountains of California.
Forristt is a collector of experiences, objects and plants. He believes in using and reusing, and he likes stuff—lots of stuff. The term eclectic might have been invented just to describe the way he brings the world, ancient and modern, East and West, local and far-flung, to his own garden as well as his clients. While many contemporary garden designs have moved sharply toward minimalism, his have evolved in the opposite direction. He purposely overpopulates his gardens with objects and plants, relics of the sacred as well as the secular.
His work can be seen as continuing in the tradition of artists and thinkers who assembled in the 1950s and 1960s under the auspices of the American Academy of Asian Studies at the California Institute of Integral Studies. The luminaries of this period include philosopher Dr. Haridas Chaudhuri, Zen Buddhist teacher and writer Allan Watts, artist Gordon Onslow Ford, sculptor Ruth Asawa, and Rudolph Schaffer, the founder of the Rudolph Schaeffer School of Rhythmo-Chromatic Design. “I first visited Burma in 1982, and I keep going back. I like to go where the rules are different. I have traveled extensively in China, Thailand, Burma, and India. I have studied the ceramic tiles of Iran. I go to ancient places. I travel back in time—that’s where new ideas come from.”
His background as a stage and set designer helps him use earth, water, stone, light, and plants as elements to create a theater on which to play or meditate, entertain or muse.
In Cevan’s gardens, every element can be both set and actor. At times the plants take the lead, but more often than not, the stone, water, and light lead the chorus.
It’s what I do best, I think. It’s not too difficult. I’ve written a book about it. It will be out in late August, 2018.
It is Spring in California. Time to wander around and look at stuff. And on a fine day, I popped down to Point Lobos Natural Reserve near Monterey. It is one of my favorite places on earth. (Point Lobos ) and it’s just two hours from where I live.
The first thing I saw was Fremont’s star lily which has had its name changed from Zigadenus fremontii to Toxicoscordion fremontii. An apt change given that this bulb is more poisonous than strychnine.
Point Lobos is famous for its relict stand of Monterey Cypress – now Hesperocyparismacrocarpa.
Algae – noticeable on trees and rocks of the shadowed north-facing trees is green algae named Trentophilia. Its orange color comes from carotene.
The California State lichen -Lace lichen (Ramalinamenziesii). Its name describes it as it hangs down in ghostly strands like pieces of Miss Haversham’s wedding dress.
Up the coast I wandered. To the UC Santa Cruz and its collection of Australian plants.
I traveled to Luang Prabang in Laos for the third time in eighteen months. I have become enamored. I have also been helping Pha Tad Ke Botanical Garden with a number of things. I have friends there.
I had time to wander around town,and to look at the many temples that are of great importance to the Lao people.
Near my hotel, the Cold River Inn – a fine and affordable small place – is Wat Wisunarat , the oldest temple in the town.
“Dating back to 1513 and the reign of King Wisunarat (Visoun), Wat Wisunarat is Luang Prabang’s oldest temple and was once home to the Prabang Buddhas. The history of the temple is colourful with it being originally crafted from wood before being burned by Black Haw riders in 1887. The Black Haw riders were part of the Black Flag military rebel group led by a Chinese commander at the end of the 1880s. Post invasion, it was rebuilt using stucco and brick and retains some original pieces including a stupa that was created in 1503 along with some other small Buddha icons although many were stolen during the Haw raid. Over the years the temple has also acted as a Museum of Religious Arts and as such now homes an array of religious artefacts and precious items relating to both Buddhism and the royal family. The temple is a celebration of early Lao architecture with wooden windows reflecting the Wat Phou Temple in the South of the country coupled with stucco work that is classic Luang. Restoration work was carried out in 1895 and then again in 1932.”
“The main attraction of the Wat Vison is the Stupa of Great Lotus built in 16th century. The 34.5 meters high stupa features Sinhalese style, the only one of its kind in Laos. The stupa is also referred by locals as Watermelon Stupa for its dome resembling a watermelon. Its interior was once filled with small Buddha images made of precious materials and other sacred items, many of which were stolen or destroyed during the Black Haw raid. Some of the remaining Buddha images are preserved in the Royal Palace Museum and others are housed displayed in the sim of the temple.”
It had rained for a couple of hours before my early morning visit. The air was fragrant with petrichor, that wonderful smell when rain falls on the earth. In the air also, the smell of smoke from the many small kitchens. Breakfast was coming.
At the entrance of the temple are two banyan trees (Ficus benghalensis – although banyan covers a number of species) home to the spirits of Luang Prabang. Animism still lingers in Laos, despite being displaced by Buddhism and then Marxism.
From Wat Wisunarat, I walked to Mount Phoussy, its golden stupa prominent.
From the top, you look down upon the center of town and the mother of rivers, the Mekong.
The garden, Pha Tad Ke, is round the bend, hidden from sight.
Walking down from the Mount, you come to the newest temple, built in 2006, Haw Pha Bang.
Walking into the center of town, I came upon a food market.
Then to another temple -Wat Mahathat. It was built in 1548 and restored in 1910.
I like this temple complex very much, partly because of the paintings of hell painted on either side of a temple door.
And I thought hell was the 16 hour plane ride home.
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 Leucocorynecoquimbensis (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 Echinopsischiloensis 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.
You can take the train from Aguas Calientes back to Cusco if you like but you would be missing a lot. My traveling companions and I drove back. We made an important detour from the Valley of the Incas up into the mountains to Moray. It is 11,106 feet above sea level and is an agricultural center in the high plains. Fields were being prepared for the rains to come in May and June. Many varieties of potatoes are grown here, as is barley and corn.
On the way to Moray, we came upon this.
A single flower in dry grassland. It elicited considerable debate and I had to turn to a higher authority, Panayoti Kelaidis, for help. With much electronic to and fro, he came up with this – Pyrolirion. Pyrolirion tubiflorum or Rhodophialabagnoldii or Rhodophialaauracana. Whatever the or, it is a lovely bulb.
Moray has a very interesting and beautiful set of ruins. Lifting from Wikipedia – “The site contains unusual Inca ruins, mostly consisting of several terraced circular depressions, the largest of which is approximately 30 m (98 ft) deep. As with many other Inca sites, it also has an irrigation system.
The purpose of these depressions is uncertain, but their depth, design, and orientation with respect to wind and sun creates a temperature difference of as much as 15 °C (27 °F) between the top and the bottom. It is possible that this large temperature difference was used by the Inca to study the effects of different climatic conditions on crops. Speculation about the site has led to discussion about Moray as an Inca agricultural experimentation site”
And with that, we staggered back to Cusco and on to the next adventure.
The train leaves early and travels alongside the Urumbaba river. As we descended into the part of the valley that is the entrance to Machu Pichu, the area became humid and tropical. Large bromeliads hang from the trees. There are glimpses of orchids and many plants we don’t know. “Isn’t that a ..? ”
Arrival in Aguas Calientes is a little frantic. We rushed from the station to the line of buses. We pass stands and shops lining up their authentic Inca wares – made in China.
The 8 km bus drive up to the entrance of the site is windey wonderful. On arrival, we disembarked and joined the line for the entrance. It was the early morning shift but already the throngs were gathering. Up a few steps and…oh my.
The air was fresh, the sun strong and warming.
Much has been written about Machu Pichu. Later, reading about the place, I came upon a piece of speculation that fascinated me. It is possible that Machu Pichu was built, occupied and then abandoned in a time span of just 100 years. New findings from current archaeological digs are producing new information. There is much more to learn.
The first plants we saw were growing out of the walls and terraces.
“Of all the species of Begonia known, this is, I think, the finest. With the habit of Saxifraga ciliata, immense flowers of a vivid vermilion cinnabar-red, that no colorist can reproduce.”
The begonia combines well with young Alpaca.
Visitors to Machu Pichu are kept in order. There is a one-way system of trails with guards at junctions making sure you don’t transgress. It makes for efficiency of sightseeing as well as minimizing damage from the millions of feet that trample.
Around a corner, a marvel, a wonder.
The turquoise puya has six -foot high flowering stems with turquoise-emerald flowers with bright orange anthers. The common name of the species is misleading, a number of Puya have turquoise flowers. Much later, in Chile, I had extensive conversations about Puya.
But how wonderful for the Inca to build such a wonderful backdrop for this incredible plant.
and there is this,
some orchidaceous loveliness.
After many hours of exploring the area, it was time to descend to catch the train back to Ollantaytambo. There are two ways of doing this, by bus or by walking 4 -5 kms downs a steep stone-stepped path. We chose the path.
The steps are dislocating but you do see a wonderful number of plants such as Alnus jorullensis, Juglans neotropica, Podocarpus glomeratus, and Buddleja incana , as well as many bromeliads and orchids. You can enjoy the flora while smiling at but secretly hating the young people who are climbing UP the steps.
Into the sacred valley full of lush agriculture and the beginning of Puya sightings, we stopped for the least greasy empanadas and a drink flavored with what we were told was ” a sacred berry.” Everything is sacred here. Given that we know so little about the Inca and much of what we do know was made up by the Spanish, it is impossible to know what is true. What is evident is that the Inca were extraordinary engineers and builders, constructing highly elaborate villages and towns with agricultural terraces, aqueducts, roads and communication systems.
43 miles from Machu Picchu, Juan Grimm has designed a high-altitude garden for the Tambo del Inka hotel. With a backdrop of Ch’iqun Mountain and the famous terraces and ruins of Quispiguanca, a fifteenth-century Incan royal estate nearby, there is a clear point of reference.
Although… although it seemed an odd landscape set among such powerful mountains.
I have yet to see a garden that can ever match, let alone improve upon, a natural site.
Taking a detour from the main road, we drove high into the mountains.
At close to 12,000 feet there were Alpaca
and all manner of wonders.
especially this unusual yellow form of –
This species occurs in Peru (Cajamarca, La Libertad, Ancash, Lima, Junín, Huancavelica, Ayacucho, Cuzco, Arequipa, Puno, Moquehua) across the Andean uplands at high altitudes and in Bolivia in La Paz (Hunt et al. 2006). It can be found at altitudes between 3,500 and 4,300 m ( according to the IUCN Red List).
Down and onward then to Ollantaytambo, on the Urubamba river.
Ollantaytambo is where you get the train to Aguas Calientes and then the bus up the mountain to Machu Pichu. It’s a lovely village with extraordinary plants growing out of the rock walls. Brugmansia atrosanguinea being one.
The town has some of the largest Inca ruins – lines of terraces and towers reaching high into the mountains.
Plant nuts could spend days looking at what grows out of the walls.
and along the streams
My traveling companions and I had bought our tickets to Machu Pichu on-line and were ready for the 4 a.m. rise to grab a cup of coffee and walk down to the station to catch the first tourist train that takes you along the Urumbaba river.