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From the Editor’s Travel Diary: One Year… Four Continents

Articles: From the Editor’s Travel Diary: One Year… Four Continents
Alstroemeria spathulata, Chile
Alstroemeria spathulata, Chile

January 10: The high Andes near Santiago, Chile. It could not be more perfect: blue skies, only a slight wind, 75°-80°—and everywhere a carpet of alpine wildflowers. The array of species was astounding…bulbous tropaeolums, annual schizanthus, and perennial, silvery-leafed calceolaria… but the highlight was the alstroemerias. I had seen several species on the last two days nearer the coast, but I was not prepared for the species up here. At the last stop of the day (also the highest at about 10,000 feet), I saw tight rosettes of glaucous leaves, resembling both echeverias and saxifrages, but not quite either. Finally, I found some flowers, so I could identify Alstroemeria spathulata—easily the finest species I’ve ever seen. I wonder if it will grow at low elevations in California…

Terraced beds at Venzano, Tuscany
Terraced beds at Venzano, Tuscany

May 25: Venzano, central Tuscany, Italy. Heading south from Lucca, we passed through extensive agricultural areas…broad fields spread out between rolling hills, many topped with little villages. Our destination, receiving a casual mention in Penny Hobhouse’s fine guide to Italian gardens, was just east of Volterra, Venzano was exactly what I had hoped to find in Italy: a contemporary garden set amidst the ruins of a thousand-year-old complex of stone buildings. The garden is filled with plants that seem to belong together in this setting, all thriving with only minimal irrigation…even dianthus and lilies in the formal beds; I’ve always thought that lilies were more drought tolerant than most would have us believe. Beyond the main complex was a gravel garden that gets no summer irrigation at all; it was ablaze with flowering cistus, verbena, phlomis, and white California poppies. The owners have also remodeled part of the complex into several apartments, designed in a simple country style, which they rent out to tourists. We made a tentative reservation on two units for a week in spring of 2003.

Romulea sabulosa, South Africa
Romulea sabulosa, South Africa

August 19: Nieuwoodtville, South Africa. The “bulb capital of the world” the sign says on the way into town. This area of fairly clayey soils on a plateau northeast of Clanwilliam is, in fact noted for the diversity and shear numbers of geophytes. With the steady rains that have fallen all winter in the Western Cape, the displays of wildflowers of all kinds have been the best in forty or fifty years. We arrived in town at the peak of flowering of one of the romuleas…big, tulip-like, red cups of Rumulea sabulosa. In a good year, there are hundreds in bloom in just a few areas; this year there were tens of thousands…

September 11: San Francisco. Home only five days from South Africa, tragedy strikes New York and Washington, DC, and I suddenly feel less safe than I did in South Africa. I pulled myself away from the television for a committee meeting at Strybing. Few attended, and the discussion was strained, but a walk in the gardens seemed to help. We weren’t alone: hundreds had come to the park to get away from the horrible images. Then the mayor, fearing attacks on the city, announced that all city institutions, including those in Golden Gate Park, would close for the rest of the day. Arboretum staff had the sorry task of sweeping the grounds of visitors and locking the gates. Sad not to have this beautiful place to escape to…

Pacific Heights garden, San Francisco
Pacific Heights garden, San Francisco

September 12: San Francisco. The Garden Conservancy’s tour of the wine country, more than a year in the planning, was to have started tomorrow. Only about ten people arrived in town before flights were grounded yesterday. They joined me for the day, touring a private garden in Pacific Heights, then The Ruth Bancroft Garden in Walnut Creek, and finally back to Strybing Arboretum for the late afternoon. It was a good thing to do. We all agreed that gardens had suddenly become an even more important part of our lives.






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