Squirrel love

I have long thought that animals can teach us many things:  hope, patience, determination, bravery and loyalty being chief among them.  This heart-wrenching video confirms to me two things:  squirrels have meaningful relationships  (dare I say, ‘love’) and they also exhibit fierce protection and anguish in the face of death.

It is likely that one dead animal on the road has left behind a mate or friend, a parent, a sibling or an offspring.  We should be more mindful of our animal companions on this planet and treat them with more compassion and respect.

Memories of St-Martin

I was going through some of my pictures while in St-Martin a few years ago and found some beautiful shots.  I thought I’d share them.  

I believe the main benefit of these travel experiences is the ability to conjure them up again in your mind’s eye, as needed.

If you stop at any given moment and take a look around you, you’ll see a small treasure.  I believe this to be true wherever you are and whenever you look.

These tiny toad stools were on the side of the road as we drove up the island’s only mountain, Pic Paradis; if we hadn’t stopped and I hadn’t looked down, I never would have seen such amazing things.  They appeared, in real life, as impossibly metallic as they look here, with delicate black edges along their bottoms.

This display of spices was, no doubt, for the benefit of tourists like me — but wow!  It worked by stopping me in my tracks and compelling me to take the shot.

If you look to the top of this photo, you’ll see a dog face peering down from the second floor.  This picture reminds me of the famous one by Alfred Stieglitz, called The Steerage.  My version is upside down and makes me laugh.

And sometimes you witness a scene that is so beautiful that you have to stop and hold your breath.

Puerto Vallarta Botanical Garden

If you have ever visited Puerto Vallarta on the Pacific coast of Mexico, you may have spent most of your time at the hotel pool, eating and drinking and walking the charming but hilly (and car choked) streets.

Lots and lots of lovely stairs!

Ouch!  This is how your feet feel after a few days…

So if you’re craving a quiet and beautiful spot with fresh air and mountain breezes, take your rental car or hire a taxi and head south down Highway 200.   As you drive twelve miles outside of town, you’ll be enveloped by the Sierra Madre mountains, 1300 feet above sea level.  Here, the environment is dry but lush; this is where the uniquely situated Puerto Vallarta Botanical Gardens were built and planted six years ago and opened to the public in 2005.

This botanical garden was created as a research centre and pleasure garden;  it encompasses 20 acres of land that is comprised of an orchid display, palm and rose gardens, a tree fern grotto, gardens planted with drought-proof agaves as well as a carniverous plant collection and natural displays of Mexican wildflowers.

When I visited in 2006, the gardens were in their infancy but you could tell that it would be a short time before the plants would fill in and flowers would start overflowing.

The bougainvillea that you see starting to grow up the posts are now, five years later, covering the facade in blooms! 

This was the Orchid House with the beginnings of their plant collection.  I wish I could have bought several and taken them home, but alas, Agriculture Canada phyto-sanitary certificates and all that…..

This was my lunch!  And Kent thinking to himself, “You’re not going to eat all that are you?”  Note, you cannot see what he’s eating, but chances are its a burger and fries!

This is the organic vegetable and herb garden.  Their intention is to grow much of their own fresh produce for the  restaurant; you can see the purple leaf basil and some cherry tomatoes under the palm.  If you look closely on the hillside to the rear left you can see it dotted with plants; these are young agave plants that, over time, will cover the slope and colour it blue!

This leads you to the spectacular washrooms! 

Although I don’t have any photos of the walking trails through the gardens to show you (they were newly planted and the specimens were quite immature), I can direct you to other more recent pictures (and visitors’ perceptions)  here.

The charm of this garden is largely as a result of its infancy; you will not find a Kew or a New York Botanical garden here.  This place is a non-profit endeavour, registered as a charity both in the United States and Mexico.  It does not receive any government assistance and relies solely on donations from the public and monies generated through its own initiatives (restaurant, guided group tours, wedding receptions, special events, etc.)  

For a brief bio on Robert Price, the American entrepreneur responsible for this wonderland, you can go here.

If you visit, don’t forget to bring your bathing suit.  The paths lead you down to the Rio Los Horcones, a clear, crisp gentle river (at this location!) that runs through the mountains and valleys.  It’s picturesque and peaceful with softly rounded boulders and placid pools.  And stay for lunch and a drink.  One Tripadvisor reviewer called the pizza and Marguerita they enjoyed ‘the best ever.’

Visitor’s information:

Open 7 days a week, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.; closed Christmas Day and New Year’s Day.

Admission:  50 pesos (about $4 u.s.); children under 10 are admitted free.

from their website:

Our Vision 

To build Mexico’s greatest botanical garden here in the enchanted highlands of Jalisco, Mexico.

Our Mission 

To create Mexico’s foremost botanical garden for the propagation, study, discovery, conservation and display of Mexican native plants for enjoyment by Puerto Vallarta’s residents and its visitors.

The Conservatory Garden, NYC

At the risk of appearing NYC-centric, I thought that winter would be the best time to do a virtual visit of another amazing garden in that city. 

It might be hard to imagine anything growing in this environment….



Surely we can do better than this (above)?


That’s better. 

This is one of the many city parks in the middle of Manhattan that is classically planted and impeccably maintained. 

And the fountain!  Gorgeous.

But this isn’t our destination.  Let me take you to the northern tip of Central Park, to an entrance just off 5th Avenue at 106th Street.  This is where you will find the Conservatory Garden.

You’ll see this impressive lawn when you enter the enormous iron gates just off busy 5th Avenue.  Turn left, walk along the tightly clipped hedge toward the fountain and as you look left, you will see …

…this incredible allee of crabapple trees, with dancing branches, underplanted with ivy that grows up their trunks.  Keep walking past and you’ll enter the garden where beds are filled with colour.




Am I right or what? Is this garden not gorgeous?

 This fountain sculpture was made in the 1930s as a tribute to Frances Hodgson Burnett, author of The Secret Garden. 

The design of this garden was the work of Lynden Miller and was completed in 1987, a dedicated five year process.  Miller was a painter and part-time gardener at the time but through this work, as well as other public garden spaces within and outside of the city, found her real calling. 

The Central Park Conservancy employs 5 gardeners to oversee the grounds and gardens, with the additional help of 25 volunteers.  About 100,000 annuals and perennials are planted each year!

Here’s a walk around, with a long, lingering look at the bird action on the fountain!

From centralpark101 (Lonnie, from the Bronx) 

 And here is Lynden Miller herself talking about her horticultural creations to the College of the Atlantic (especially interesting are her ‘before’ pictures in Central Park!):

 If you go, visit in the mid to late summer to see the annuals and tender perennials at their peak.  If you’re interested in the question of public parks, their benefits and how they should be approached, read Miller’s book which you can find here.

Summer white vs. winter white

A gorgeous room by Kathryn Ireland – photo credit: Miguel Flores-Vianna

It’s probably the combination of the white walls, gleaming wood floors, the wicker, the fresh flowers, the dog and the partially open farmhouse-style door that make this image so appealing to me. 

And the feeling of summer heat.  Just to remember it will be back makes this …

… not quite so bad after all.

Wavehill: My New York City revelation

Years ago I visited the gardens at Wavehill in the Bronx, New York City.  It was one of those gardens that literally stopped me in my tracks and made me forget to breathe for a moment.  Let me take you there.


This is the view you initially see when you enter the gate and look across the lawn, toward the majestic pergola that provides a spot to admire the Palisades across the Hudson River.  Wavehill is a must-see destination for all garden lovers visiting New York City.  Although it is accessible via subway and bus from downtown Manhattan (give yourself over an hour), the main house was built in 1843 as a country getaway and went through several owners and improvements up until its final deeding to the City of New York in 1960. 

This impressive pergola not only stops the eye because of the spectacular wisteria that drapes it, but also because of the lush and creative display of pots that sit underneath.  

The gardens at Wavehill demonstrated several things to me:  first, the power of views.  It doesn’t matter where you stand, there is always a path, a bench, a set of stairs, an entrance or a cluster of pots that beckons.  Secondly, every inch of space is taken up with plants that have been chosen for their ornamental value and carefully placed to make the most of a relationship with their neighbours; attention is paid to colour, texture and shape in a way that I had rarely seen before.  This attention to detail was largely a reflection of its head gardener, the amazing Marco Polo Stufano, who moved on to other adventures in the autumn of 2001, after having shaped the once derelict grounds for over 34 years into an internationally respected garden.  

The third lesson was structure.  Although the plantings in the gardens here are all very effusive and lush, with plants jostling and tumbling over eachother, the framework of the gardens is visually strong and static.  Rustic fencing, stone walls, pots and planters, arbours and visually emphatic pathways (whether rigid or wandering) — all of these act to ground the ever-shifting nature of plants.

I do think that the timing of a visit to Wavehill is important.  If you can, plan your journey here for the late summer or better still, early autumn, when the tender plantings have had a chance to mature through the season and the colours are beginning to shift.  Indeed, Stufano’s favourite season here was fall.

If you turn right at the entrance rather than walking ahead to the pergola, you enter the main flower garden, where the axis is marked by a selection of pots, usually planted with temperate specimens taken from the greenhouse beyond.  This display changes from year to year.

There is also a cluster of pots around the entrance to the greenhouse that includes this incredible standard peach-coloured Brugmansia, underplanted with Setcreasea purpurea.

This garden is marked by its variety; unusual flowering shrubs, well-placed evergreens, annuals both familiar and exotic used for their foliage colour and all-season blooms as well as vines and roses for vertical interest.  Walking slowly through this fairly compact space, you can’t help but notice the large number of bees, butterflies and birds enjoying the garden too.

The sunny terrace is home to a permanent collection of alpine troughs with plantings both large and small; exquisite miniature worlds carefully tended in each planter.

The wild garden is to be enjoyed as an intimate experience, looking left and right at your feet as you walk in order to see every specimen, and as a lookout for a more expansive view.  But don’t be fooled:  this garden is every bit as crafted as the more formal flower garden.  I recall seeing Stufano giving Martha Stewart a tour years ago on her television program and seeing him point to a mature fastigiate evergreen, acting as sentinel, that was now well out of scale with the rest of the garden and say, “This will have to come down.”  Clearly no room for sentimentality.

The garden that is the pond, with giant water plants and adjacent ornamental grasses, is spectacular.  The water here is black and inky, allowing the pots to remain invisible under the water’s surface.  This is due to an additive being mixed into the water.  It doesn’t appear to have any detrimental effect to the plants.

I think its time for a return pilgrimage.

There is life after retail

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