In 2007 we decided to splurge wildly on the garden and have a little screened covered patio built where we could enjoy the garden protected from the plague of mosquitoes. The posts in this archive are in date order so that you can read the story from the beginning.

Hidcote Manor Garden

Rain was falling on and off as we snaked along winding back roads through picturesque Cotswolds villages on our way to Hidcote Manor Garden. A covey of Japanese tourists flitting across the street in Chipping Campden was the first hint of the international popularity of Hidcote, which has been called one of the most influential gardens of the 20th century. Why? Despite its 10 acres, Hidcote is an extremely intimate garden. Lawrence Johnston created a series of small garden rooms, each with a unique character which comes into full bloom at varying times of the season. This garden room approach to design was adopted by Sissinghurst and Tintinhull.

As you step into the garden, the view of the whole is cut off by tall hedges. The first room we entered was the White Garden. The layout is small enough to fit in my back yard. Of course, I could never grow hedges like these in Texas and, if I could, I’d need an army of garden helpers with clippers to keep them looking this neat. I’ve seen many photographs of the White Garden and have to say that during our visit the flowers looked sadly beaten down by the rain. Even the best gardens have less than perfect days. The tulips and daffodils were mostly finished, anyway, and the roses (“Gruss an Aachen” which I had before the drought killed it) hadn’t begun blooming yet.

Hidcote Manor Garden
In the White Garden AJM examines the map of the garden and is surprised to discover that it just “goes on and on”.

The White Garden has an exit through the hedges on each side of the square which gave me the feeling of playing a video game as we tried to decide which way to go. We circled around several times trying to take it all in before heading through the Old Garden (which had an exuberant cottage garden feel), through the Circle (a restful circle of perfect lawn), and then down through the Fuchsia Garden (formal maze).

Hidcote Manor Garden
The Fuchsia Garden manages to look nice even when the Spanish bluebell (?) bulbs have died down. Knot gardens (aka parterres) became fashionable when people realized that the hedges used to line their borders could be just as interesting as flowers and a more reliable element in the design.

From the Fuchsia Garden, topiary birds guard the entrance to the Bathing Pool Garden (classically formal and elegant) which in turn leads to the Upper Stream Garden (semi-wild). What a place to play hide-and-seek!

Hidcote Manor Garden
The Upper Stream Garden.

We walked up to one of my favorite views, the Winter Garden. I think I liked it because it felt so open after the smaller garden rooms. This contrast between open and intimate, formal and informal, and of colors and textures is the genius of Hidcote.

Hidcote Manor Garden
The Winter Garden.

Running parallel to the Winter Garden is the Red Border. I really liked the color choices in this garden…all the maroon-toned leaves were a relief after the intense English greens.

Hidcote Manor Garden
In the Red Border clumps of red-toned trees and shrubbery contrast against the angular green lawn and hedges.

Just as Hidcote’s maze of garden rooms starts to become a little claustrophobic, the Long Walk suddenly provides a vista.

Hidcote Manor Garden
The Long Walk and its hornbeam hedges.

And still the garden goes on. We cross over to the famous Theatre Lawn, which is supposed to highlight a single beech on its stage. We didn’t see it though. Has the beech died? Then we went on through the Pine Garden and Lily Pool, took shelter in the Plant House, and continued down the Rose Walk which didn’t have any roses. Instead large purple alliums were in bloom, and so many other purple flowers that I would have called it the Purple Border.

I’m sorry to say that our interest flagged in the rain. There is simply too much to absorb in one visit–29 different gardens. I think we focused mostly on the layout of each garden and how they were interconnected rather than the individual plants. This is a shame because Lawrence Johnston is remembered mostly as an avid plant collector. Apparently he did not have a master design for the whole, but created different spaces, such as the Maple Garden, to highlight different collections.

We did see the odd handkerchief tree (Davidia involocrata) in the courtyard whose white bracts make it look as if someone has tied a thousand large white handkerchiefs to its branches. I also saw a Mahonia, which grows in Texas, and a magnolia where the white flowers drooped down rather than up. Some of the collection is labeled, but many plants that I wanted to know more about weren’t.

By the end we were all flowered out. As we drove away, feeling tired but satisfied, the sun came out.

Garden Visits

There are two gardens here. The garden that is and the garden I envision. I rarely look at the garden with my eyes firmly rooted in the present. I see the garden of intentions. The paths completed and free from chinaberry seedlings. The nandina and bindweed hacked back and replaced with roses. The lawn level and green. The trees trimmed and the clippings hauled away. The endless pile of mulch tucked into beds. The tools and laundry put away. The plants waiting in the nursery finally transplanted.

Zanthan Gardens meadow 20070423

So having guests come to the garden always shocks me into the present and what is real. When I look at the garden as I imagine a visitor might see it, I panic. Then I’m tempted into that great sin, to say, “If you could only have seen it last week when…”

I can’t remember where I read this was the great sin of having people in the garden but I remember hanging my head with the guilt of it. For a garden exist. in time as well as space. A plant in full glory one day has gone to seed the next–how can you really know a place until you watch it unfold day by day, hour by hour? Come to my house today and you will not see the iris ‘Raspberry Wine’ which was in perfect bloom yesterday, or the spiderwort which filled the southwest corner of the yard with purple last week, or the Tulipa clusiana which I spent hours lying on my stomach admiring last month.

However, today was THE day. The visitors were not just any visitors. They were gardeners, too. And bloggers. Today was the day we Austin garden bloggers (Annie, Dawn, Julie, Pam, R. Sorrell, Susan, Vivé) got together and visited each other gardens. In the real world.

All last week I eyed the skies. We had relatively cool weather so my fears that all the flowers would have shriveled by today were unfounded. Three roses, which have been putting on a show all week, decided they could be showy one more day for me. I watered and cut the sweet peas two days ago and they rewarded me by opening more flowers today than I’ve seen all spring. And the batchelor buttons (which had looked droopy and sad) decided to straighten up and bloom all at once.

rose Blush Noisette

In my relief I did not mind too much that the bluebonnets had mostly gone to seed, that the bluebells and Naples onions had died down, that the yellow heirloom irises had all but disappeared, that scarcely one spiderwort or false dayflower was left blooming, that the larkspur had not really gotten going yet.

As it turns out, I did not spend much time thinking about my garden at all. My senses were overloaded with the sights of the other gardens and the buzz of garden (and blogging) talk.

I’m amazed at how different our gardens are, we who all garden within a 15 mile radius of each other: different plants, different colors, different amounts of sunlight, and different personalities of the gardeners cultivated into each garden. Is there such a thing as a common Austin thread that runs through them all? Certainly none of our gardens would be mistaken for an English garden, a Connecticut garden, or a Seattle garden. And yet there are enough differences that we spent all afternoon asking each other, “What’s the name of this plant? How long have you had it. Can it stand some shade?”

After six hours, I arrive home too buzzed to sleep, filled with ideas, new plants to try, conversations to continue, promises of future lunch dates, and a resolve to finish moving that stupid pile of mulch out of my driveway.

Arley Hall Gardens

Dateline: July 12, 2007
Margaret and I revisted Arley Hall Gardens again today. I never tire of it because, of course, it’s never the same. The underlying structure is the same but the varying combinations of plants and colors constantly reveal new surprises. Updated photos when I return to Texas.

Dateline: August 31, 2005
I can’t suppress my discontent over my own sorry garden now wasting away in the last days of a Texas summer, not when I remember some of the magnificent gardens we visited in England.

Recently the gardens at Arley Hall, in Cheshire, have been voted one of the top ten in England. In a nations full of beautiful gardens that is no small feat. Arley Hall is still home to the Viscount and Viscountess Ashbrook whose family has lived there for thirteen generations. While Arley Hall lacks the grandeur of Castle Howard, one can’t help but exclaim, as Charles does, “What a place to live!”
Read the rest of this entry »

Austin Pond Society Tour 2007

One of the unexpected benefits of the garden house project is that we are becoming owners of a pond. I’ve wanted a pond for a long time. In anticipation of this new stewardship, we began checking out books on ponds. I realized quickly that I face a very steep learning curve. The Austin Pond Society’s annual tour was last weekend. Although I was in flight on Saturday, I decided I could extend my vacation one more day and spend Sunday visiting ponds instead of tending my own garden. Luckily, all the ponds open Sunday for viewing were in south Austin.

I really enjoyed the tour and it was well worth the $15 admission even though I managed to see only about 1/3 of the 30 ponds that were open to the public. What I liked best about the tour was the variety, little DIY ponds made by “normal” people with “normal” backyards; a pond in a funky old south Austin in a yard full of handcrafted buildings (including a screened porch room); brand new ponds which made the most of a steep otherwise unworkable sites by creating pools and waterfalls, artsy ponds in killer backyards overlooking Austin, and a series of ponds in a canyon being restored to native plantings. I even saw a house I’d give mine up for in a second…and only a few blocks (and several million dollars) away.

Everyone was really friendly, too, and all the owners were extremely nice in talking about their pond experiences. Owners, thanks so much for inviting the hoards into your back yards!

I’m afraid that my eye strayed more to the gardens and plants than to the ponds. I’m sure that once I have more experience with my own pond that I’ll become more attuned to what to look the next time I tour ponds. Part of the tour, my camera wasn’t working so I only have photos from three gardens.

Gary’s Garden
Gary Pettitt owns Seasonal Living Trading Co here in Austin and his garden is a showcase for his wares .
Austin Pond Society Tour 2007
Distracted by the poolside view overlooking Town Lake and the Austin, I thought the pond took a back seat. Which is difficult because what a pond it was!

Austin Pond Society Tour 2007
The backdrop was a 10-foot high drip wall which emptied into a 40-foot long, narrow but deep koi pond.

Austin Pond Society Tour 2007
A sculpture took center stage and on either side little statues of Buddha sat serenely in their niches behind the flowing water.

Although this is not a pond I can imagine having in my own back yard, even if I had the money, it was wonderfully impressive. The rest of the yard was divided into various garden rooms, each showcase in itself.

Marc’s Garden
In contrast, Marc’s garden and series of ponds better epitomized the Austin aesthetic for me. Imagine having your own canyon in which to create a hidden paradise–very Shangri-la.

Austin Pond Society Tour 2007

He is transforming the canyon on his property into a series of ponds. Native plants are being reintroduced. And I felt a special kinship for his collection of rocks and folk art and other quirky sculptures made from found objects.

David’s Garden
Walking into David Amdur’s garden I felt that I’d been transported to the Austin of my youth. The artist/designer/builder has handcrafted his own house and all the furniture in it. The large yard meanders down a hillside (a common theme on the pond tour). In a grove at the bottom of the garden is a little screened porch room which I thought was as cute a button. AJM gave me a look as if to say, well if you wanted something like that… I don’t want to trade, I think my screened porch room is the right thing for our yard.

Tatton Park: The Italian Garden

My visits to England are constrained by school holidays and, as a result, I have never managed to be in town for the RHS Flower Show at Tatton Park. However, the gardens at Tatton Park are always worth a visit anyway.

Rather than garden rooms like Hidcote Manor where the small gardens flow from one to another changin. moods and showing off various collections of plants, the multiple gardens at Tatton Park are distinct and separate entities which reflect the international interests of the former Egertons who made them. Thus you find a Japanese garden, an African Hut, and an Italian garden scattered among the grounds in addition to more domestic English borders, rose gardens, great lawns, walled vegetable gardens, long walk, fernery, rhododendron-filled woods, and a maze.

For some reason, I’d never stumbled across the Italian Garden, before. This time, however, map in hand we made our way through the woods, past the Leech Pool, to the Mercury Pool (god not chemical as I’d thought), and up to the Italian Garden from below, hiking up a steep lawn, at first seeing only the roses tumbling over the balustrade and color from a long border of lavender above us. We turned the corner…

Tatton Park Italian Garden

… and entered a formal garden which made a stunning contrast to the naturalistic woods and ponds that we had just come from. Tatton’s Italian Garden was designed in 1847 by Joseph Paxton who designed the Crystal Palace for the Great Exhibition of 1851.

As you might expect then, it’s not too shabby.

Tatton Park Italian Garden

What I love about this garden most, is the siting–the contrast of the clean formal lines and flat terrace against the informal backdrop of trees, fields, and small lakes beyond.

The garden layout was designed to be viewed from above, looking down from the mansion, like this.

Tatton Park Italian Garden

I’m glad we sneaked in the back way, appreciating the parts before seeing the whole.

We had the garden almost to ourselves and I enjoyed a sense of proprietorship as I always do. AJM took the opportunity to sit and read. I strolled through the garden, brushing my fingers through the lavender hedge, and dreamed.

Tatton Park Italian Garden

Tatton Park: The Japanese Garden

Japan is my adopted second culture and yet I’ve never had a desire to replicate a Japanese garden in my own yard. When most people think of a Japanese garden, they conjure up visions of the great temple gardens, or the gardens of the Imperial Palace, or the tea gardens of wealthy manors of old. Mimicking those gardens in a backyard in Texas seems as eccentric as building a miniature garden of Versailles. Would I put a Shinto shrine in my garden? Why not a mini Stonehenge?

Tioram Castle
NIMBY. Stone circle on beach in front of Castle Tioram, Scotland

And that’s the key to how I feel about Japanese gardens outside Japan. They are examples of a style, museum pieces rather than livable gardens. We could argue that the Italian garden was an example too. I think the difference is that I can walk through the Italian garden, sit in it and read, dangle my fingers in the fountain. It’s comfortable and inviting. The Japanese garden seems reserved and distant.

Of course, Tatton Park is not my little back yard and the Egertons had enough space (about the size of Golden Gate Park in San Francisco) to work with. Choosing to create examples of different types of gardens was a great idea–especially for those of us on a visit. It’s almost like shopping at the mall. “Are you in the mood for Italian or Japanese tonight, dear?” “Oh, let’s just sit in the fernery.”

The Japanese Garden at Tatton Park has been restored just recently and is considered to be one of the finest examples of its kind in the UK. It’s sited in what looks like a little gully with a stream running through it to a large lily pond. Lots of moss grows here, too. The combination enables you to imagine a little bit of the steep and rocky terrain of Japan here in the fine grassy plains of Cheshire.

Tatton Park Japanese Garden

Many plants found in Japan grow here. They seem larger and a bit wilder than their clipped counterparts in a formal garden in Japan. The feeling I got was of stumbling across some forgotten teahouse hidden in a mountain forest. Part of me wanted to go inside. (Due to the fragility of the garden, one is not allowed to walk through it.) But part of me didn’t need the signposts or chains to make me hesitate…to sense that this is a sacred space that one doesn’t intrude on casually.

Springs Preserve: Botanical and Demonstration Gardens

I make a trek to Las Vegas every couple of years solely because three generations of my family settled there. I never would have thought that Las Vegas held any interest for gardeners even though lot has changed since I went to high school there. All the new developments have a buffer of desert landscaping between the street and the concrete block walls that define each neighborhood. The new parks are all planted with waterwise landscaping. There is a lot more public art including some wonderful giant tortoises underneath the tangle of freeway near downtown. Even the cell phone towers are disguised as palm trees. Some people hate this but I think it shows a sense of humor and it looks better than a plain cell phone tower.

“Las Vegas” means “the meadows”. Ancient peoples and westward trekking pioneers found water and forage in this formerly bountiful valley. By 1962 the springs had been pumped dry and the original heart of Las Vegas languished. It’s now bounded by Highway 95 and The Meadows shopping mall. In 2002, Las Vegans voted to create the 180 Springs Preserve, overseen by the Las Vegas Water District. Not only does the preserve contain historical and archaelogical sites, the future home of the Nevada state museum, and an interactive exhibit hall, it is a model of instruction on how to live and garden in a desert. Las Vegas survives on borrowed water. It is not just an ecological disaster waiting to happen, it already happened.

The gardens at the Springs Preserve are designed to teach water conservation through water-efficient landscaping–to show that xeriscaping does not have to be zero-scaping (as my Illinois-born dad calls it). The Springs Preserve shows us when we stop taking our way of life for granted, we can tap into our creative potential and discover better ways to live.

Springs Preserve Las Vegas
The cactus gardens were designed by someone with a master’s eye for form, texture, balance, and harmony. All the plants are carefully labeled, as they should be in a good botanical garden. (I hate discovering a plant I love at a garden without being able to find out its common and botanical names.)

Springs Preserve Las Vegas
The variety of plants was astounding. Over 1200 species were moved from the original Demonstration Gardens to the Springs Preserve Garden Walk before its opening in 2007. The plantings at the Springs Preserve made even some of the English estate gardens I’ve been to seem rather prim and dull. After looking at these incredible textures and forms, don’t beds of pansies or tulips seem a bit tame?

Springs Preserve Las Vegas
I’ve never been a big fan of cactus gardens but that apparently because I’ve never seen a really well-designed one before.

Springs Preserve Las Vegas
I’ve never been a fan of palm trees either. And yet I stood amazed at how artfully the palm trees had been arranged. Again, this is first a botanical garden, so the main purpose was to show the great variety of palm trees available. (Compare my favorite, the Canary Island Date Palm, on the left, with the others.) But the designers went a step further and created a beautiful planting.

Springs Preserve Las Vegas
I fell in love with this Canary Island Date Palm, Phoenix canariensis, because of the texture of its trunk and the unique bulge at the top. (Should I buy one?)

Springs Preserve Las Vegas
After writing about my own maintenance headaches with rain gardens, I was happy to see a lovely example of a rain garden gone right. Hints: create rain garden away from trees and install waveform sculpture. (Isn’t it clever without being too cute?)

Inside Austin Gardens Tour 2008

I’m becoming more and more fascinated by people who make gardens–that is, in contrast to people like me, who merely grow flowers (and the occasional vegetable where sunlight permits).

I just realized that most of the gardens I’ve visited are private English estate gardens turned public, Hidcote Manor, Arley Hall, Tatton Park or civic gardens such as the instructive Springs Preserve in Las Vegas or the Japanese garden in San Francisco.

Japanese Garden San Francisco
Japanese Garden, San Francisco

These are gardens of extraordinary effort: to design, finance, construct, and maintain. As much as I love visiting these gardens, I don’t find lessons I can immediately apply to my garden. (The basic lessons in design are there, of course, but the scale of the gardens is such that it inhibits rather than inspires my creative urges.) I look at grand gardens the same way I do houses in Architectural Digest, admiringly yet outside my purview, beyond the range of possibility. I could never do something like that.

Yesterday I had the chance to visit the gardens of ordinary people. And when I say ordinary I do not mean it as a slight but as a compliment. Tremendous personal effort and vision went into each of the gardens I visited. My point is that these are personal not civic efforts. These private gardens were made by individuals, not teams of hired gardeners, by “plain folks” who transformed their typical city or suburban lots into extraordinary places. And just as encouraging, these gardens were built right here in Central Texas, gardens that suffer the same challenges of climate, drought, flood and scorching summers punctuated by thunderstorms, high winds, and hail as my own.

In short, these gardens excited and inspired me because they teemed with possibility. Maybe I could do something like that.

The tour was sponsored by the Travis County Master Gardeners Association and focused on sustainable gardening. The point we were supposed to take away, I think, is that sustainable gardening does not mean sacrificing pleasing design, beauty, or creativity.

Link’s Garden

Link’s garden is the closest to my own geographically in laid back south Austin. I’m guessing that most people will remember it as the “found objects” garden–an amazing collection of the mundane and the discarded reclaimed as garden art.
Davidson Garden
What’s a south Austin garden without painted tire planters? The unique touch is the cymbals on rebar sculpture.

What impressed me most was the creative use of space, the amount of garden packed into a tiny lot on a steep hillside. At the top of this narrow winding path, there is a deck with two chairs that look over the garden. The fence to keep you from stumbling over the edge is made from old seatless wooden chairs painted bright colors.
Davidson Garden
Rusting lawnmower as artistic statement in a garden where all the lawn has been torn out. And if you can’t grow barrel cactus in your climate, what about turbine fans?

Mary and Clark’s Garden

Mary and Clark’s garden astonishes on many levels. First it’s plopped right in the middle of bland suburbia…
Bakatsa Garden
…and stands out from its neighbors with an aggressively planted front yard herb and butterfly garden.
Bakatsa Garden

Mary and Clark have a completely lawn free yard. The house is topped with solar panels, they harvest rainwater, and have a huge compost pile. Way to go suburbia!

The length of back fence, a short fence providing little privacy with large bushes on the neighbor’s side seems like an impossible place to grow anything interesting. And yet roses bloom in what seems like too much shade and fruit trees line the path.

Bakatsa Garden

The garden celebrates edibles, providing food for the family with excess shared with neighbors and donated to charity. In addition to the all-season vegetable garden, Mary grows olive and apple trees and has harvested grapefruit from a tree grown from a seed. None of these trees are typically grown in Austin, which demonstrates that sometimes I need to break the rules and take more chances in my garden.

Bakatsa Garden

Walt’s Garden

Krueger Garden
Inviting entry. The garden is enclosed in the back away from the ravages of deer.

Walt’s garden, Serenity, is a collector’s garden. His plant list numbers over 300 and most of them are shade plants…just the kind of inspiration I need. Although he has lived in the house for over 20 years, building the stonework retaining walls and pathways really began when he retired in 2001. He terraced the entire hillside by hand, mixing concrete in a wheel barrow. He said that he was strongly influenced by Japanese gardens and it shows. Rather than relying on the flashy color of annual flowers for interest, Walt focuses on the textures and shades of green. The variety in Walt’s garden comes from the sheer number of different plants in his vast collection.

Lesson learned: I should stop complaining about my shade and do something with it.
Krueger Garden
Serene green refuge from an Austin summer.

Jenny and David’s Garden

Taken as a whole, Jenny and David’s garden borders outside the range of my potential. I can’t imagine a huge walled garden on my lot no matter how much I’d love to have one. However, if I could have any garden in the world, this is probably the garden I would want. It is the perfect blend of my mother’s New Mexican adobe house dreams and AJM’s mother’s English cottage garden. And it feels familiar because I love and I grow many of the same plants.

Stocker Garden

Because Jenny and David’s garden is divided into smaller rooms, it never overwhelms or seems inaccessible. Each room has such a friendly atmosphere that I can imagine just sitting and being almost anywhere here.

I took AJM to see the paving stone courtyard…David poured the concrete pavers himself. “See. We could do something like that.” I nudge AJM, encouragingly. “Couldn’t we?”

Stocker Garden

Possumhaw Hollow

“That’s one of my favorite shots,” Tom Spencer said to me as he caught me pointing the camera at my feet to take a photo of his limestone pavers. “The arrangement is based on a pattern I saw in Japan.”

Tom Spencer's Garden

Of course, any photo I take of Tom Spencer’s garden is redundant. Few gardens I know are as beautifully photographed as his Possumhaw Hollow. Tom Spencer has been “exploring the garden of life” via his site Soul of the Garden since 2000. Looking at his year by year photo albums documenting the making of his garden from in an ordinary old suburban yard, I’m left awed. (Even AJM appreciates that here is a man with a plan.)

Tom Spencer's Garden

The strong geometry of the garden appeals to me. You see it both in the layout (a series of corridors connected like Tinker Toys with circular rooms at each junction) and in the grouping of smaller elements.

Tom Spencer's Garden

Each little garden room forms a kind of sacred space. There is a quiet, meditative feel to each of them. And they each contain their own set of relics.

Tom Spencer's Garden

I love all the different textures in Tom’s garden. The paths are decomposed granite sand, while chipped granite in the beds echoes the color but has a rougher texture. Contrast that with smooth river rock or metal edging. Pools of blue glass or pieces of pottery draw the eye like mini-oases in the sand.

Tom Spencer's Garden

San Francisco: Conservatory of Flowers

During the four days I was in San Francisco, I read that the weather back home in Austin was like a hothouse. That analogy provided a chuckle as I sat in the Aquatic Plants wing of the San Francisco Conservatory of Flowers and listened to visitor after visitor exclaim, “Oh! It’s hot in here!” Compared with the misty 55-degree weather in San Francisco, the room did feel a bit sultry. However, the Conservatory provides protection that my garden does not receive. Its panes of glass have been whitewashed to prevent the sun from searing the plants. No, Austin weather was not like a hothouse; it was like an oven.

The Conservatory of Flowers is one of those magnificent relics of the Victorian Age. Wandering throughout its rooms (each emulating a different climate), marveling at its architecture or reading its history, I find myself caught up in that thrilling age of discovery and collection. If, as some claim, science is just another religion, then the Conservatory of Flowers is certainly one of its cathedrals.

San Francisco Conservatory of Flowers
Plants from all over the world were collected, preserved, examined, and cataloged.

The wood and glass structure is the oldest public conservatory of its type in North America. It opened 1879 and survived the 1906 San Francisco earthquake. However, it almost didn’t make it to the 21st century. Funding for maintenance was a low priority during the Great Depression and the Conservatory was closed in 1933. In the decades that followed the Conservatory was reopened and underwent various renovations. Then major damage from a windstorm forced it to close in 1995 and it was listed as one of the 100 most endangered world monuments. Had it not been for the efforts of the National Trust’s Save America’s Treasures and then First Lady Hillary Clinton it might have been lost forever. The conservatory reopened in 2003 after a $25 million restoration effort.

San Francisco Conservatory of Flowers

During restoration the 100-year-old Philodendron speciosum could not be moved. It remained in the ground and a special structure was built around it to protect it. The 14.5 ton upper dome was lowered down on a crane over it. Special watering systems installed near the ceiling mist the tropical plants at regular intervals.

Even before I began pond gardening, the Aquatic Plants room was my favorite. (This is my third visit to the Conservatory of Flowers). This time I paid special attention to how plants were arranged in the ponds. Although some plants (like the white ginger or the elephant ears) are familiar, I wasn’t making a shopping list. I don’t really want a hothouse of my own.

The huge platters of Victoria amazonica can grow up to six feet across. Even if I could grow them, I can’t imagine them in my pond.

San Francisco Conservatory of Flowers

I am satisfied being astonished at the variety of plants that exist on our planet. Dr. Seuss couldn’t make this stuff up.

San Francisco Conservatory of Flowers

And, of course, it was fun to look at the various Nepenthes, those carnivorous pitcher plants that resort to eating insects because they grow in soil too poor to support them.

San Francisco Conservatory of Flowers

I easily spent the morning in the Conservatory. I could not begin to photograph or even mentally digest the over 1,750 species of plants on display. I also enjoyed just sitting and watching the various children on school trips troop by trying to find answers for their worksheet questions. Every once in awhile they would look up from their assignments and let their sense of wonder carry them away.