Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Balboa Park

Whilst en route to Palm Springs a week ago, we spent one night and the following day in San Diego. Philip wanted to see the zoo again and I was determined to finally visit the park. Last time we were in San Diego, I magnanimously agreed to visit the zoo first and by the time we got to visit the park, the heavens had opened and treated us to a morning's most unseasonal rain. It poured - I sulked! So this time we split and whilst Philip visited the elephants and reptiles, I explored the park!

Balboa Park is quite striking, particularly for its amazing architecture. Only later did I discover that it was originally designed for the 1915 Panama-California Exposition and later used for the 1935 California Pacific International Exposition. Both left behind a heritage of amazing buildings, resulting in it being placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1977. Many of the buildings are in a very ornate Spanish Colonial architectural style. There are various museums, theatres and art galleries plus extensive sports facilities. The Spreckels Organ Pavilion features one of the world's largest outdoor pipe organs and nearby there is a reconstruction of Shakespeare's Globe theatre. The botanical building is in the shape of a traditional grand glasshouse with a big central dome but in fact the whole structure is a timber lath shade house, built for the 1915 Exposition.

Botanical Building and reflecting pool

Inside the lath structure

California Bell Tower & San Diego Museum of Man

Globe Theatre
Casa Del Prado home of various youth performing arts groups as well as the Botanical gardens Foundation

The whole site is landscaped with grass and trees, and includes several specific areas such as the Alcazar Gardens, the Reflecting Pool, the Cactus Garden, the Casa del Rey Moro Garden, the Rose Garden, the Japanese Friendship Garden, Palm Canyon, and Zoro Garden. San Diego is only a two hour drive from Palm Springs but being coastal has a more equable climate than the severe heat of the desert inland.

Arbutus unedo - the strawberry tree

Sorry - don't know the name of this - anyone enlighten me? Update - thanks to Max for the identification - Spathodea campanulata

The Alcazar garden

Japanese Friendship Garden which wasn't very welcoming as it was locked!

Inside the lath house

Orchid display in the lath house

Desert garden -not a patch on Huntington

The rose garden - never seen decent roses in California but they persist in growing them

Just love these Brugmansia

Duranta erecta

Just loved the roots on this Ficus

The park extends to 1200 acres with 1500 trees but with a disappointing palette of only 350 species of plant. It was a pleasant Sunday morning walk with some interest but compared to so many wonderful parks and gardens I have seen, this was just a B+ - could do better! By contrast I recall that the gardens around the zoo were really far more interesting, so maybe next time I need to eat humble pie and visit the zoo again!

Monday, October 21, 2013

Kiku - a celebration of chrysanthemums

Chrysanthemums aren't really very fashionable these days!  As a kid I recall my father growing late chrysanthemums in big clay pots, which had to be transferred into the greenhouse after the tomatoes had finished. I also remember the local chrysanthemum shows in the Pier Pavilion, a vast seaside ballroom filled with long tables displaying huge blooms in numerous colours, the whole building scented with the musky smell of the foliage. But chrysanthemums have been grown traditionally for centuries. The flower was adopted as the official symbol of the Imperial House of Japan in the Eighth Century and over 500 cultivars recorded by 1630. Chrysanthemum Day (Kiku no Sekku) is one of the five ancients sacred festivals of Japan. It is celebrated on the 9th day of the 9th month. It was started in 910 when the Japanese Imperial Court held its first chrysanthemum show. Now to get to the point, whilst in New York and visiting the NY Botanic Garden, I was delighted to have the opportunity to visit the Kiku Chrysanthemum Festival in the beautiful Enid A. Haupt Conservatory.

Chrysanthemum bridges - I guess two plants in each - one from each end

Along the exhibition

Central feature with a 'Thousand Bloom' plant

Here are hundreds of meticulously trained chrysanthemum plants, some with beautiful individual blooms, one to a plant, others with many blooms up the the staggering Ozokuri - Thousand Bloom specimens. There were pyramids, long tumbling waterfalls of bloom (kengai), some trained as bridges over the pools and others grown as walls. A three tier 'poodle' specimens had flowers in three different colours, created by grafting the different cultivars on at stages in the development. Displaying the plants in diagonal rows of pink white and yellow is said to signify the colours in the woven braid used for the bridle of an imperial horse.
Beautiful specimen plant or plants
Ozokuri - Thousand Blooms

Back of the specimen showing it is just one plant - apparently retrained and tied to the framework half way through its growth program which started a year ago - October 2012
Pyramids - beautifully even

Waterfalls or cascades as we used to call them
More bridges
Described as walls

Grafted specimen - just one stem/plant is attached to the soil

Traditional diagonal display style

My own favourite was a giant bonsai style specimen with groups of flowers appearing to emerge from a gnarled, twisted tree trunk. Being curious, I peered behind the exhibit, expecting to see plants in pots hidden in the trunk but found just the stems of one individual plant trained up into all the intricate shapes.

Bonsai - style created by botanic garden but highly appropriate to Japanese horticulture

It all grows from these slender stems!

As well as the different shapes of plant, there were some unusual flower forms such as the exquisite spider blooms and curious big single flowers. The botanic garden has its own breeding program and several cultivars are of their own raising. Some flowers were supported by a circular wire ring, the purpose of which eludes me. It could be ornamental, be practical in supporting the long petals or be part of the traditional Japanese culture of these blooms. Someone enlighten me!

Big blocky singles - unusual - not sure if they are attractive
Wonderful spiders or spoon-petalled blooms

Not sure how these would be classified but they are curious
Note the little supporting rings

Although I have seen and grown charm and cascade chrysanthemums in the past,  (Wisley used to have a good display,) I have never seen anything as spectacular as this. To read more about this wonderful event and the fascinating ways these plants are grown, check out the gardens website on the  Kiku exhibit.

Friday, October 18, 2013

From the sunny Big Apple

We are now in New York en route to my other home in Palm Springs. About ten days ago, I met up again with Philip in Southampton prior to our cruise on the Queen Mary 2. It was slightly odd to start with having not seen Philip for seven months, almost strangers but having been partners for 18 years it was also very familiar! We soon settled in together and its great to know that we can be together again for at least six months or hopefully more this year.

The Queen Mary 2 docks overnight - seen from our Southampton hotel room - the ship is enormous!

The Queen Mary experience was again wonderful. Far too much lovely food, an excess of alcohol, some interesting talks, great entertainment, lovely live music, jogging on the deck, a floating gym and the warmth and relaxation of the health suite - its a tough life! There's not much horticultural content to a Cunard Cruise  - the yew hedges on deck are plastic! So forgive me for this rather general post but I'll try and throw in a few flowers and some fruit and veg!

The Grand Lobby

Just loved the fresh flowers!

One activity that I missed last year was the vegetable carving which I was determined to see this time. There were two chefs working and a third explaining how it all happened. These are primarily set pieces used to grace the tables and food displays. Bit of a waste really but quite fabulous. The art maximises the values and different colours within individual fruits and vegetables. So for example, a water melon has a green skin, a white layer beneath and then the red flesh and aubergine has purple skins and white flesh, cucumbers green and white and so on. It was great to see the two carvers at work. At one point a small creature had been made and the carver started making a hat from the stem tip of an aubergine but he was obviously not satisfied and  rejected it, fashioning one from a white radish - lovely to see him taking an evident pride in his work.

There were also beginner watercolour art classes available and I opted to join but asked  'do my own thing', as it gave me a space to paint. I have to say I didn't find the tutor helpful or inspiring. On the second day I opted to paint the sunflower project that the class was doing and was 'told off' for not doing it the tutor's way, given another sheet of paper and told to start again! It felt like being back in school! These are the pictures I completed on the voyage minus the sunflowers!

So after six wonderful days of luxury we docked in New York, so quietly and smoothly that we didn't feel a thing and woke up to a view of the New York skyline and the Statue of Liberty  in the early morning sunshine. Apologies for the quality of the pictures in this post - mostly taken with my iPhone. By the next post, we will be back in Palm Springs but I'll tell you all about our time in New York including a visit to the Botanic Gardens and the wonderful exhibition of Japanese trained chrysanthemums - exceptional!