Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Garden Visit: The San Antonio Botanical Garden

Greetings from the land of perpetual snow! Our hardened layers of the white stuff got topped off with a thick layer of ice during last night's sudden sleet storm, and sidewalks and porches were treacherous neck-breaking places all day.All our south-facing windows were covered with ice this morning (I couldn't even look out my bedroom window this morning as I usually do at the beginning of each day, because it was completely covered with a thick layer). And even more fun, my children and I are all suffering from miserable colds -- there's nothing like chipping ice off the sidewalk while coughing and sneezing. Uggh! When will this winter be over?

I guess I can't complain too much though, since last week I was able to get away for five days in San Antonio, Texas, to see the sun and green grass (my last post described the Alamo gardens).

Today I will share some photos of my visit to the San Antonio Botanical Garden (SABOT -- an acronym that brings to my mind a picture of wooden clogs being thrown into machinery...). It was a wonderful, sunny day with temperatures in the 70s when my husband and I visited the gardens, and I can't tell you how lovely it was to be out among green plants, leafy trees and glorious flowers!

A map of the SABOT (from their website). I was handed a printout of one of these
 after paying the $10 admission fee (which seemed a reasonable price for being able
 to enjoy the many well-tended garden areas). The scale of the map is deceptive
 -- the gardens are MUCH larger and more complex than they are depicted
on this simplified map.

Upon entering the garden, a terraced area near the admissions house contains many lovely pots filled with annual displays,
as well as large containers of trees and shrubs. These pots were a sight for winter eyes, I probably don't have to point out. 

In the main area between the Rose Garden and the Wisteria Arbor is a grouping of large, brick, raised beds, filled with mass plantings of violas, snapdragons and other cool season annuals. 

Every time the breeze blew, the scent of these yellow pansies was wafted across the gardens -- they could be smelled from probably 100 yards away. And the beds were also occupied with groups of cute little birds industriously hunting for worms. It was an instant breath of summer, between the wonderful scent and the chirping birds.

This orange tree was bursting with fruit. These are somewhat sour tasting (my husband
couldn't resist picking up one off the ground) mandarin-sized oranges.

The Old-Fashioned Garden is filled with many cottage favorites, including irises, sweet Williams, snapdragons and poppies (which we were told would bloom in about a month), as well as numerous exotic-looking subtropical plants that I'm not familiar with.

Caught this handsome guy drinking from the birdbath in the Old-Fashioned Garden.

These Paper White Narcissus are common in the San Antonio area, as it stays warm enough for them to perennialize. San Antonio was bumped from Zone 8B to 9A when the USDA updated the hardiness zones map in 2012, so it might not be possible for gardeners to grow every kind of Narcissus there (some require more cold to chill them). These in the photo smelled absolutely divine -- even better than they do indoors.

Although most of the roses in the Rose Garden weren't blooming yet, this climbing rose was, and was just what I needed to see in February.

The Rose Garden. Most of the rose plants have been pruned back, but the ones in the back right (including the climbing rose in the previous photo) were blooming, which seemed a miracle. The fountain was running, and we sat on the edge of it for quite a while, resting, listening to the water and the birds singing, and enjoying the sunshine.

Then we moved on to the Conservatory. The inside is filled with a wealth of tropical plants.

On the other side of the Conservatory, a courtyard opens onto several other glass houses containing a Desert Pavilion and a Tropical Room, on the right, and a Palm and Cycad Pavilion straight ahead. Although the plantings were beautiful and interesting, I confess that I thought the architectural style of this heavy concrete and glass complex was hideously ugly in a futuristic dystopian way, like something from Logan's Run. I couldn't wait to escape from it -- I guess there are a variety of tastes, which also change over time (the garden was opened in 1980).

Again, plants lovely, architecture not so much.

The inside of the Desert Pavilion.

After the glass houses, we walked up the curving ramp to the top of the Overlook. All along the edges of the ramp are growing rosemary, which was gloriously in bloom when were there. The bees were busily working away on all the flowers, and the herb smelled wonderful wherever we dared to rub the foliage with our fingers. Rosemary apparently grows like a weed in the hot, dry climate of Texas. Not so in Iowa: I think I might have killed the rosemary overwintering in our basement by overwatering it :-(

The Mountain Laurel was in bloom and we saw this tree everywhere we went in town. The flower clusters smell very strongly like grape juice.

I believe this is Lantana. I've only ever seen it growing in small pots, not as huge shrubs, so I was thrown off by the size. The butterflies certainly loved it, as I managed to catch in this photo.

More lovely flower-filled pots, next to a giant purple chair, perfect for photo-ops.

Our visit to the SABOT gardens on that sunny day was so lovely -- just what I was hoping for on our San Antonio trip; well, that and the nachos and margaritas... ;-)  I hope it's not too long until our own weather turns from snow and ice to sunny, warm days like those I enjoyed in Texas.

In my next post I'll write about the SABOT's Japanese Garden, which I thought was one of the most successful garden areas, and therefore deserves its own post. Thanks so much for reading! -Beth

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Back from vacation in (sometimes) sunny San Antonio

Another snow storm this afternoon here in Iowa, and luckily we made it home from San Antonio last night. We were connecting through the airport in Atlanta, Georgia where there were ice storms that delayed most of the flights and we didn't think we would make our connecting flight, which was the last flight of the day to Iowa, but it was delayed too, so we lucked out.

We greatly enjoyed our five days in San Antonio, a city that we've been to several times, although not for nearly ten years. My next few posts will be about the beautiful gardens we visited while we were there (there's still not much going on in my own gardens, so rather than just post photos of last year or of dreary snow, I'll share some of the lovely spots we saw down in Texas).

The first two days we spent there were sunny and warm, just what we were hoping for as a break from Iowa cold and snow. The next two days were overcast but in the 60s (which still felt great to us!) and only the last day was in the 30s, which apparently is not uncommon in south Texas winters. But those first sunny days were sublime and we spent most of our time outside enjoying the warmth and greenery.

As we were staying downtown at the historic Menger Hotel (built in 1859, more about it in upcoming posts), just steps away from the Alamo, we had to visit it, and not having been interested in plants the last time we went, I was surprised when I noticed on this tour how lovely the grounds are.

One of the incredibly large live oaks in the hauntingly beautiful front area of the walled garden.

It's hard to see in this photo, but the redbud in the center is beginning to bloom, which really made me look forward to spring in the Midwest.

A small fountain sits behind colorfully planted annual beds.

I believe this might be a Datura or Angel's Trumpet, but not being familiar with warm-climate plants, I could be mistaken.

This is a papaya tree (I guessed this only because I overheard a Spanish-speaking
family exclaim the word "papaya" as we were passing by the tree).

I believe these are Leucojum (Spring Snowflake). I have never grown these in my own gardens, but seeing how pretty they
are, I think I might try to find some shady spots for some of these "minor bulbs."

I confess I'm not sure what this is. It looks familiar. Anyone?

This may be Loropetalum chinense or Chinese fringe flower. It seemed like a very bright
thing to be blooming in February, the sort of thing that blooms here in August.

This live oak was 40 years old when it was transplanted here in 1912 (using a wagon pulled by four mules!), making it over 140 years old (1872). The trunk is more than 12 feet in circumference and the main branches are more than 50 feet long.
Very impressive.

Hasta la vista!

I suppose most visitors to the Alamo pay more attention to the military history of the place (there was a large display of historic firearms inside the main building that seemed to generate great interest). But I couldn't wait to spend some time outside enjoying the lovely plantings that the gardeners maintain there. Many kudos to the hardworking gardeners and groundskeepers! (Here is an interesting short article, "Remember the Alamo Gardeners," that describes the difficulties in maintaining the plantings in the face of so much foot traffic -- 1.6 million tourists per year!)

It was wonderful to see flowers in bloom and green foliage all around us during our temporary escape from the white-on-brown of Iowa winter. I'll cover some of the other, even lovelier, gardens we visited while in San Antonio in my next few posts. Thanks for reading! -Beth

Monday, February 9, 2015

A Grand Weekend Out Among Melting Snow

Saturday and Sunday were both lovely days here in Iowa. The weather was incredibly beautiful for February in this part of the country: temperatures in the upper forties, sunny and with little wind. We all enjoyed sitting outside on the front porch, which acts as a "sun-trap," because it faces south and is mostly out of the wind. Even on extremely cold days when the temperature is -10F or -15F, ice and snow on the front porch will melt if the sun comes out because of this "sun-trap" effect. (This also makes the porch hot enough to cook eggs -- and bare feet -- in summer, which is why it's painted a very light, annoyingly dirt-showing color.)

This weekend's weather was a great improvement over the previous weekend's snow storm:

One week before...

We had some pretty cold days last week after the snow fell, as low as -13F last Thursday, so the snow did not melt much, if any, for a whole week. But this past weekend's sunny warmth has gotten rid of quite a bit of the white stuff, as you can see from the two photos.

I know we gardeners are supposed to like having a layer of snow to protect our plants from very cold temperatures, but it still seems like progress when it melts off, even when I know it's still at least six weeks until spring, and that we'll likely get several more big snows before the end of March.

But every warm, sunny day is one more that isn't cold, and I like to believe that the result is fewer cold days in total over the winter (although I have no idea if that's true or not). All I know is that my family and I greatly enjoyed our Grand Days Out: I read a beautiful garden book outside in the sunshine in bare feet and rolled-up sleeves; my husband even lay shirtless on the porch (and got a slight sunburn on his pale, Scottish skin as a result). And our animals made the most of the lovely days too:

Little Kitty snoozing in the sunshine...

Even our ancient inside cat, Tigger, ventured outside on such a nice day. I've put him outside on other warmish days this winter, but this was the first time since autumn that he actually left the porch and explored the yard away from the house, stopping to smell some of his favorite spots like he does in the summertime.

Best of all, I saw this hopeful sign on the east side of our house:

An unmistakable sign of the approach of spring. I know it could take two months for them to flower if the weather is colder than usual, but it still gives me hope. Last year (with a terribly cold winter and a late spring), it was mid-March before the daffs were up to this extent in this warm spot next to the house. I take this as a good sign of an early spring!
From mid-April of last year. I so look forward to spring!

Here's hoping for a warm and early spring for everyone, no matter where they live. Thanks for reading! -Beth