Monday, March 29, 2010

Desert Beauties

The Desert Botanical Garden has become a favorite stop every time I visit my daughter in the Phoenix area. Last year I was fortunate to visit it twice while it hosted an exhibit of Chihuly artwork, which you can see here and here. It's no wonder then that I had a momentary feeling of deja vu as I entered the Garden and saw the familiar sparkling yellow-green towers of glass still marking the entrance. However, a sign nearby explained that the Garden is sponsoring a fundraiser in hopes of raising enough money to keep this Chihuly work as a permanent fixture at the DBG. I can't blame them for wanting to keep such a dramatic piece; it's a dazzling eye-catcher as one enters the garden.

This year the work of another artist was featured in various parts of the garden. Large sculptures by Native American sculptor Allan Houser included many abstract pieces such as this one, "When Friends Meet."

Other pieces were more traditional such as this one, "Spirit of the Mountains." While it's hard to top Chihuly in the garden, in my humble opinion, having another noteworthy exhibit of art
added something new once again to my visit here.

Having visited the garden several times now, I feel pretty comfortable in identifying many of the plants, at least by genus name, if not the specific variety. Agaves are one of my favorites, although I still confuse some varieties with aloes.

A favorite bloomer is the Baja Fairy Duster.

The iconic saguaros, the prickly pears, and other cacti and succulents are the main feature of the garden and have become familiar sights.

As are the yuccas, which look their best in full bloom.

And another familiar sight . . . Mr. Squirrel is every bit as at home
in a desert setting as he is in my front yard.

But there is always something new to be learned here and something not noticed on previous trips. Although I've seen the Organ Pipe Cactus before, the red hues on this Stenocereus thurberi were something I'd never seen before.

On one of last year's posts about the DBG, I included a photo of this tree, but couldn't identify it. This year I found the tag for this unusual plant--it's a Boojum Tree, a member of the Ocotilla family.

It was a little early yet for the blooms on the cacti, as seen on this prickly pear
with buds not quite ready to open.

But some of the mammilaria were already bursting with some spring color.

However, it was perfect timing for the wildflower garden,
the first time I had seen it in full bloom.

Mounds of desert marigolds appeared at every turn.

They obviously thrive in the hot desert sun.

One of my favorite color combinations, pink and purple, showed up in these Arroyo Lupines Lupinus succulentus and Parry's Penstemons Penstemon parryi.

I wasn't the only one enjoying the colors of the wildflowers on this early spring day.

One of the things I like about the DBG, and I suppose it's true of most Botanic Gardens, is that all the plants are clearly labeled. However, labels aren't placed beside each individual specimen. I never did find a label for this shrub, but it reminds me of Noelle's Valentine shrub--am I right, Noelle?

Nor could I find the label for these pretty blue wildflowers.

Outside the wildflower garden, these striking orange flowers appeared
in many plantings next to succulents and cacti.

After much hunting, I finally found the label--Coral aloe, Aloe striata. Isn't this an interesting plant? I've never seen such colorful and dramatic blooms on a succulent before.

The garden was crowded on this Thursday afternoon with many visitors on spring break. But resident bees seemed unfazed by all the hubbub. This picture made me laugh because I had spent some time the day before shooting photo after photo of bees swarming around a flowering plum tree near my daughter's home, only to discover later I had nothing but blurs of motion in every photo. I took this close-up of a pretty potted French lavender, not even realizing until I downloaded it that there was a bee on the plant. A good example of photographic serendipity:)

If you are ever in the Phoenix area I highly recommend stopping by the Desert Botanic Garden for a visit. This is one public garden that has something interesting to see all year long. Just a word of advice, however: if you visit here between mid-March and early November, I suggest going in the morning and taking along sunscreen. I had to respect the time schedules of my "chauffeurs," so I went at noon and then discovered too late that I had left my sunscreen in my other purse. In spite of a mild sunburn, though, the trip to the DBG was well worth it!

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Back Home Again

While the rest of you have been enjoying the first few days of spring and may have spent some time in your garden already, I have been enjoying more summer-like weather for the past week in Arizona. Husband and I visited Daughter and her boyfriend--now fiance!--in the Phoenix area, soaking up some sunshine and seeing the sights.

One of the highlights of our stay was a day trip to see the Grand Canyon. Traveling north in Arizona at this time of year is quite an experience in climate change. In a few short hours we went from the arid desert of Phoenix through hills covered with familiar cacti . . .

. . . to the snow-covered woods surrounding Flagstaff. The only photos taken of this area were through the car window, but I can tell you that Flagstaff must have had more snow this winter than all of the Midwest judging by the depth still on the ground in the 40-degree temperature. Entering Grand Canyon National Park, we drove through more patches of snow and along roads lined with tall pines. After parking the car, we walked a few feet, and then suddenly the topography changed completely.

There it was--the Grand Canyon in all its glory. To say this is a breathtaking sight may be a cliche, but there is no other way to describe it. The sheer immensity and beauty of this place cannot be captured in a single photograph.

And to capture even an image of it requires more photographic skill than I have. I was very disappointed when I downloaded my photos at home to realize that I couldn't capture the depth of field of the Canyon, and especially disappointed that all my photos looked washed out. Perhaps it was partly because we were there at noon, but I couldn't very well step to the other side to get a better camera angle in the sun:) As it was, this acrophobic stayed a safe ten feet away from the edge to take photos and then retreated back to cling to the safety of a little tree.

The drive home was scenic as well, as we drove through the picturesque area around Sedona with its unique red rock cliffs. We stopped at the little town of Jerome, an old mining town that perches precariously on the edge of a high hill. Unfortunately, I neglected to take any photos of it, but the wind was whipping through our jackets so much that we sought refuge in an authentic old Western saloon.

There were other highlights of the trip, of course, including taking in a couple of Cubs' spring training games and a visit to the Desert Botanical Gardens, which I'll post about as soon as I have time to sort through all my photos. But most of all, we just enjoyed spending time with Daughter and future son-in-law, including an afternoon of wedding dress shopping, a real treat for this first-time mother of the bride. And there was plenty of time for bonding with the granddogs--Odie wouldn't stand still for a photo, but Bear was willing to do anything Grandma asked of him.

As always, there is much to catch up on after a vacation, and I hope to catch up visiting everyone over the next few days. But for now . . .

. . . Spring has finally arrived! Yes, the long-awaited crocuses finally made an appearance in my garden. Daffodils and tulips are shooting up quickly, and flowerbeds need to be cleaned up so they can show off. The garden awaits . . .

Monday, March 15, 2010

GBBD: Wishful Thinking

Once again it's time for the monthly event that all garden bloggers look forward to--Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day, hosted by our creative hoe-stess Carol of May Dreams Gardens. And no, these daffodils are not blooming in my garden--they were part of a display at the Chicago Flower and Garden Show last week.

Instead, these are the only "blooms" I have in my garden right now--tulip and daffodil shoots beginning to emerge from the muddy ground. It's definitely beginning to feel like spring here in the Midwest, but there's not a crocus or snowdrop in sight in my little corner of the prairie. Zip, zilch, nothing. So instead of showing you more bare dirt, I hope you don't mind if I cheat a little today and show you some blooming scenes from the Chicago Garden Show instead. I'll try to avoid chatting too much so you have plenty of time to visit other Bloom Day posts today.

The theme of this year's show, which good friend Beckie and I attended on Monday, was "Cultivating Great Performances." You had to stretch your imagination a little to see the connection to the theater in some of the displays, but this one made sense. "Bye, Bye, Birdie" emphasized "consideration for wildlife" with an over-sized birdhouse entry and birdhouses everywhere. Wouldn't you love to have your spring bulbs all appear at the same time to create a colorful vignette like this?

And, of course, no theatrical exhibit would be complete without homage to the greatest playwright of them all, William Shakespeare. I think Shakespeare might have been a gardener at heart.

Do not, as some ungracious pastors do,
Show me the steep and thorny way to heaven,
Whiles, like a puff'd and reckless libertine,
Himself the primrose path of dalliance treads
And recks not his own rede.

The exhibit was interesting, but not outstanding. I think it would have been much more helpful if quotes from Shakespeare's plays with the references to the specific plants or areas would have been staked in each part. Not criticizing, just suggesting . . .

I didn't see many children in attendance, but there were several displays that would have appealed to them. "Lanie's World," sponsored in part by American Girl, featured a charming backyard including her very own "pizza garden."

We were really impressed with the elaborate exhibit created by the Chicago High School for Agricultural Sciences and the friendly students on hand eager to explain their work. "Great Performances Through the Eyes of a Child" featured scenes from several fairy tales, including "The Three Little Pigs." Looks like the Big Bad Wolf has already blown down the first Little Pig's straw house, but not to worry . . .

. . . the Three Little Pigs made good use of all that leftover straw in their vegetable garden:)

Another exhibit "Alice's Wonderland" wasn't quite so kid-friendly with a pretty scary-looking Red Queen presiding over the display. But there were some whimsical touches like these glass mushrooms.

And a replica of the famous croquet game. Now this is the best use of pink flamingo ornaments I've ever seen--sorry, Monica:)

A big part of what I enjoy about shows like this is finding new ideas to use in my own garden. Last year's show featured lots of spring bulbs, but this year's seemed to favor cyclamen, oxalis, hydrangeas, and using ornamental edibles. Large cabbages like this one were everywhere, including container plantings.

The most unusual edible had to be this flowering kale. I've never seen it grow this tall and flower before. (Thanks, Rose R. for identifying it.)

How's this for a clever window box arrangement?

Here's another novel idea--a lighted pillar made out of fast food drink holders! I wonder how many trips through McDonald's drive-through it would take to create one of these:)

Not so practical for adaptation at home, the "Theatrical Tablescapes" nevertheless were beautiful to look at.

Doesn't this rose "sundae" look delicious?

There seemed to be quite a few more exhibits than last year, though many of them were smaller in size. The most elaborate of this year's offerings had to be "Miss Saigon: A Garden for the Day and Night" with tons of rock incorporated into the large water features.

Bloggers aren't the only ones who'll try anything for a good photo:) Then again, she might be a blogger I haven't met yet.

This shot is for Monica--The entry sign for "Jekyll and Hyde" called this "a quagmire of buckthorn" :) This was part of a prairie restoration exhibit and actually one of my favorites.

The display itself wasn't particularly attractive as it showed invasive species first that were then cut down to create a prairie planting. But the guide at the exhibit was so knowledgeable and enthusiastic about answering all our questions that I learned quite a lot about the subject. I didn't know, for example, that there was actually a company that specializes in creating these native restorations.

"Our Town: Your Garden" was another surprising favorite. Sponsored by the Arthritis Foundation, this exhibit featured not only pretty plantings but also displays of ergonomic tools and suggestions for gardeners with disabilities like this raised coldframe. Good ideas, too, for us Baby Boomers with aching knees and creaking backs:)

One of my favorite exhibits at last year's show was the Japanese Garden. No Japanese Garden this year, but "Great Performances: The Art of Bonsai" brought a little Zen to this year's show. Beckie and I both fell in love with these horticultural works of art.

We had a great day, and despite a harrowing drive home through dense fog, the Chicago Flower and Garden Show was well worth the visit. This may become an annual expedition for the two of us.

I will be off-line for several days, but I hope to visit everyone as soon as I return. In the meantime, be sure to visit Carol for other blooms from around the world. And don't forget, you have until midnight tonight to comment below if you'd like some free seeds and a cookbook!