Balboa Park

Just a stone’s throw from downtown San Diego is Balboa Park, a 1,200-acre public complex of over 15 museums, numerous theaters, performing art groups and the amazing 100-acre San Diego Zoo. Set aside by San Diego founders for development in 1868, “City Park” struggled through early lean years of development. But by 1910, “City Park” was renamed Balboa Park in honor of Spanish-born explorer Vasco Nuñez de Balboa, and it was on a fast track preparing for the Panama-California Exposition of 1915-16. With the ornate buildings, boulevards, sidewalks, and roads, it was reminiscent of an old Hollywood movie set as we passed museum after museum on our way to gardens.

This remarkable urban treasure compares favorably with parks like New York’s Central Park where trees and ponds and lakes dominate the landscape. Locals and tourists flock in great numbers daily to stroll the sidewalks and pathways that curve around and over these gentle California hills. I was a little disappointed not to find labels on the trees in the park as many trees were unfamiliar to me. I suspect there was a plant guide or a self-guided tour that we somehow missed. However, I did enjoy seeing lovely agave, date palms, citrus, pomegranates, and large camphor trees (Cinnamomum camphora). We saw Torrey pines (Pinus torreyana) and interesting cork oaks (Quercus suber), Monterey cypress (Cupressus macrocarpa), the parent of our Tidewater VA hybrid leyland cypress, and I enjoyed seeing the beloved ginkgo and mulberry trees.

One breathtaking tree and the tallest specimen in North America, a Moreton Bay Fig (Ficus macrophylla), well over a hundred years old dominated an area. Once known to youngsters as “The Climbing Tree,” it is now roped off to protect the soil beneath. Several other specimens of this species are planted in the park, along with 32 other kinds of fig trees.

Moreton Bay Fig, Balboa Park

The Botanical Building, one of the largest lath structures in the world, built for the 1915-16 Exposition along with the beautiful “La Laguna” lily pond, is one of the most photographed scenes in the park. Yes, I did follow suit. Inside, palms, cycads, ferns, orchids and vines cool and moisturize folks against the dry desert air outside.

The Botanical Building, Balboa Park

Laths on the Botanical Building

Angel's Trumpet (brugmansia alba) caught much attention from shutterbugs

Botanical Building

Orchids inside the Botanical Building

With its huge leaves, the Chilean rhubarb (Gunnera tinctoria), both an ornamental and edible plant, is classified as an invasive pest in many parts of the world. It was contained in a pot inside the Botanical Building.

Pots of plants throughout the park reminded us that we were in a desert.

We wouldn’t be in a park if there wasn’t a spot or two for children to play with abandon.

Other gardens we stopped by for a visit was the Parker Memorial Rose Garden and the Japanese Friendship Garden.

The Japanese Friendship Garden

San Diego Dreams

Traveling from winter in New Hampshire where daffodils are just beginning to bloom to the city of San Diego, where colorful flowers blanket the community makes me feel like I’m visiting Never Never Land. Six brothers and sisters, husbands, nieces are converging on my one sister, a potter and artist who has the greenest thumb of all of us. Morning coffee is always spent discovering the beauty of her garden combined with her newest artistic creations. This year the bougainvillea was the first plant that caught my eye. Grown like a vine over a fence, the prolific blooms shade a garden bench like a pink umbrella.

On closer inspection in the dense branches, I discovered adorable new whimsical art hidden deep beneath the canopy. These magic wands were all alive with little faces and personalities. Perhaps we were in Never Never Land and these little wands once belonged to Tinkerbell. Siblings were invited to select a wand that spoke to us and take it home. We didn’t waste any time. Maybe they are magic and all our dreams will come true.

Edward Scissorhands Lives Here

I’ve been told by several folks that I missed a spectacular snowstorm in Virginia over the weekend, the sort of snowstorm where ice and snow clung to every horizontal and vertical object and mounded on birdbaths and swings, stopped traffic and brought everyone outside to marvel at a wonderland of white.

I was sorry not to experience the beauty of a Virginia snow but I am in San Diego where bird of paradise is considered a weed and euphorbia and jade are considered trees.  On one garden excursion, a small private hillside of cape honeysuckle jumped out to me as making the best of an invasive plant.  Over 15 years ago, the Mission Hill owners wondered how to deal with the thick, wiry honeysuckle that traveled onto their property from a neighbor’s yard.  They resolved the problem by designing a whimsical landscape of their travels to far off lands, Egypt, Asia, South America, Mexico and Europe.

It takes time to see all the countries represented but if you sit on the curb long enough, elephants, Buddha, an armadillo, monkeys and snakes begin to take shape.  If you move to another position, the view changes along with your interpretation of what you see. There is a turtle, a surfer, a sombrero, a camel, mythical creatures and more.  I felt a little like a kid stretched out on the cool grass on a hot summer day watching clouds change shape.

There are no forms supporting the creatures.  Each individual topiary is all honeysuckle, obviously carefully hand trimmed to a specific model the owners created.  The time it takes to maintain this garden can only be imagined. I am always awed by the generosity of a garden owner when I see a private landscape like this that is clearly meant to be shared with the public.  Many thanks!

Ann Hohenberger, The Garden Club of Gloucester

A Whimsical Garden in San Diego

There’s nothing like touring gardens to inspire the inner-landscaper in each of us.  Not too long ago I visited a welcoming garden developed by a creative and well-known San Diego potter named Liz.  Her garden stands alone as a beautiful small oasis but with the addition of her pottery, the garden thrives as an adventure in discovery.

The artist has maximized every square foot of her garden with whimsy and delight.  Beneath a low limb, tucked next to a tiny bench, and at the end of every path is a discovery to bring a smile. Liz’s art and her gardening design is inspired by her love of nature in all forms: insects, humans, bunnies, chicks, birds, cats and dogs.

With a studio in her home, what began as a hobby has developed into a pottery passion for this artist who has a sizable following in the San Diego area.  Liz’s art is both functional and fun whether made for the garden or for inside the home and she is ever exploring and evolving with her craft to the delight of those who follow her.

Instead of an expansive pond, she has created a tiny structure surrounded by river rocks and her spouting frog to give the sound of water in the garden. Each one of her animal creations hidden in her garden tell a tale, whether it’s the cat waiting for a bird to wander too close or the flock of birds ready to take flight.  Each has a personality and a life of its own.  Liz has also built mystical totems to watch over her garden, inviting visitors to contemplate the meaning behind the individual pieces stacked atop each other.

Art in the garden can add a rich dimension and can be a delight for visitors to chance upon in the landscape.  Liz’s whimsical vision of the flora and fauna world would not work in every garden but her sanctum is a magical and vibrant marriage of art and garden. Her artistic style is free-flowing and enchanting.  I think she is truly inspirational, however I might be just a tad bit prejudiced….  you see, Liz is my amazing little sister!

Ann Hohenberger, The Garden Club of Gloucester