Sometimes this Corona season seems like a weird tear in the time space continuum. Then something happens that makes it feel so much more real. Like when the NBA cancelled the season. So when I read this morning’s sports headline, “Tour de France cancelled” I again felt “this shit is real.” Because when the greedy managers of the Tour de France who faithfully put profit before cyclist safety decide to cancel for 2020, the pandemic must be super serious.
And of course it is super serious. Not that we have to lose our sense of humor. There are plenty of people making YouTube videos that provide the lighter side. Britain is ahead on this front. They may not be exemplary on their COVID response but who would not smile at The Sound of a Pandemic? They need some cheer: the Royal Horticulture Society’s Chelsea Flower Show normally scheduled for mid-May has officially been cancelled (but may be going virtual–watch this space.)
For all of us who live through this, we will immediately remember this COVID experience when we see the *asterisk on lists of event winners in the competitions we love to participate in or watch. Hopefully it will help us appreciate a new normal one day and not take the things we love for granted.
Meanwhile I am traveling in my imagination through fiction and memoir. Or creating my own urban garden oasis while binging on the Britbox Chelsea Flower Show coverage of 2019. Maybe you will be racing your own Tour de Peloton. Those of us lucky to have a secure home and some income, we can plan adventures for beyond Corona. And open our pocketbooks to give something to those hurting from the economic downturn or who are on the front lines of the fight against COVID now.
My travel rule of thumb: visit a botanic garden, especially if it is free. When traveling on business a good garden makes an excellent place to get some steps in and breathe fresh air. Not all gardens are created equal. This summer I had the opportunity to go to the Missouri Botanic Garden and it is world class. And I started my NZ trip with a stay at the world class private garden, Paripuma. Alas, the Christchurch Botanic Gardens is looking frumpy. It was winter and they have had their hands full with rebuilding glasshouse structures after the earthquakes; nevertheless, even before “the big one” I felt the garden was more Ode to Mother England than a celebration of New Zealand. In the photos above you see lots of lawn, some legacy trees and a lot of (yawn) planted annual beds.
Even with that critique, there is hardly a prettier downtown than Christchurch ANYWHERE in the world. Well, maybe Adelaide, Australia. They have optimized the Avon River and the parks and gardens in a way that you must make time to walk through.
The garden that I’ll be sure to visit again is in Dunedin.
This garden is built on a steep hill (much like Wellington’s) and yet maximizes the attractions with different gardens and lots of plant variety and statuary. Plus I LOVE a knot garden! I just wish there was a viewing platform for the knot garden.
They welcome children in Dunedin and design for their enjoyment: a train, free food for ducks, playground equipment, and space to make your own fun. It was Father’s Day Sunday in New Zealand on the day of my visit and I saw loads of families taking advantage of the garden on an almost spring day.
It seems an almost silly thing, but I found this little stick structure and ended up sitting for a little while admiring it, wondering who built it and admiring their handywork.
The best gardens help you forget that you are in a city and take you into nature. Dunedin Botanic Garden does.
Both gardens are free to enter. Both have cafes where you can get a coffee or tea or something more substantial to eat. Both make their cities more livable and enjoyable.
One of the themes of this New Zealand adventure is species at risk. It as though all of the “sky is falling” warnings of those enviro “Henny Pennys” are finally coming home to roost. As I travel I am encountering fewer birds that before, and therefore fewer penguins. I was hoping to see a Kea on my southern sojourn, but alas, friends say that their range has contracted to Arthurs Pass.
Monarch butterfly populations are crashing in North America, and it seems they are in the southern hemisphere as well. We can do more than wring our hands or just wish for a different outcome. We can plant the species of native plants we know provide food and shelter for Monarch butterflies and other pollinator insects.
Whilst I was in Blenheim I learned about the swan plant, the preferred plant of the Monarch butterfly in New Zealand. Similar to the milkweed in North America, it has a milky substance in its stem and flossy flowering pods. The plant is the preferred place to leave its eggs or form a chrysalis.
My experience with planting milkweed seeds in my home garden has been one of frustration. They never seem to germinate. This year I was able to transplant some dormant milkweed from a native plant garden about to undergo renovation. So far they are slow growing but responding. None of mine look as magnificent as Rosa Davison’s swan plants. Also, if you want to do the Monarchs a favor–stop or greatly reduce using any chemicals including fertilizer in your garden.
In California you can visit a special grove in Pacific Grove where the Monarch’s overwinter. Their numbers have been shrinking. Similarly in New Zealand, Butterfly Bay in Northland’s Whangaroa Harbour is an overwintering site. They have also seen a dramatic decline in butterfly numbers.
You can learn more about planting a pollinator garden for butterflies, or donating to promote butterfly habitats:
Do you love gardens? You don’t have to love gardening (the sweaty, getting dirty bit) to appreciate a great garden but it helps. With dirt under your fingernails, you quickly deepen your appreciation, because you realize the role that climate, soil, and cold hard cash play in creating a garden. Time is also required for plants to mature and reveal the vision of the gardener. The garden is ultimately the result of hard work for hours and hours every week in all sorts of weather. You might be able to hire labor, but the only guarantee of success is to do a lot of it yourself. Finally, the creative spirit is revealed. Just as not every painting is a masterpiece, not every garden is world class.
Paripuma is world class.
The gardener Rosa Davison is a classic self-effacing Kiwi. She lets her garden speak for itself. Since 1999, she has transformed a landscape that would have said “hopeless” to a normal person. She had a different vision. Over time it expanded to include a second home and transformation of home #1 into accommodation. Exploring the various rooms of the garden and walking through the buildings, I don’t see evidence of any ugly mistakes. I suspect that Rosa’s eye for beauty has resulted in a consistent and enduring quality. She also has painted her landscape with native plants and New Zealand has a lot to offer.
She is currently pursuing a passion for butterflies and pollinator plants. Her intense enthusiasm, that is less articulated in words and expressed in plants, is the mark of an extraordinary gardener, as is her evolving interests.
A world class garden also inspires, and I was impacted by the garden. I noted ideas I want to include in my much smaller, very different garden, such as including plants that in winter offer contrast and structure. The biggest discovery was the side aisle to the main show that extends from the house toward the sea. I paced it out and the main garden has a 30 “foot” swath of lawn down the middle, whereas the side garden is just 10 feet. I realized I think small. I would feel audacious to create a ten-foot aisle, and yet the impact is when you go big. That takes moxie! Why am I reluctant to express my vision? I need to stop self-editing and create the garden I love.
My adventure started with a book called Gardenlust by Christopher Woods, I saw that there were three gardens in New Zealand and I began researching if I could visit whilst here. Paripuma is the only garden open in winter (recall that the Southern hemisphere is just peeping into Spring in September). I also discovered that I could actually stay in accommodation and enjoy the garden at my leisure. I quickly reorganized my plans to begin my NZ adventure in Blenheim with a two-night stay at Paripuma. You can too. Indeed, if your budget can manage (it is really good value) and you are looking to relax, then this is a unique experience and Mike and Rosa Davison are terrific hosts.
Blenheim is in the heart of the Marlborough wine district. It is a popular destination for wine tasting, weddings, or a romantic get-away. And people live here (about 26,000). Their town is practical. I enjoyed the sewing shop and the ladies at Whitcoulls bookshop and their reading suggestions. Then I was looking for the information centre and I got a little lost and so discovered the most charming part of town.
This beautiful urban space is part of a redevelopment of the rail way into a trail and park. The beautiful government building and creative use of gabion retaining walls in the landscaping inspire.
The lovely ladies at Whitcoulls helped me find a couple of books by New Zealand authors. I read When It All Went to Custard by Danielle Hawkins in the next 24 hours and enjoyed it. Perfect to revel in a farm-town romance n the middle of an all-star agricultural region. Now I’m reading their second recommendation, The Ice Shelf by Anne Kennedy.
My plane landed from Auckland at 9:30 a.m. It took no time to exit the plane and pick up my bag. The only snag in my plan was collecting my rental car from Europcar. There was no one at the office, and multiple attempts to contact didn’t result in a response, so after 1.5 hours I canceled my reservation and rented from Budget (and saved money!)
What worked like a charm was my visit to Blenheim’s top pie baker, The Bureleigh. I enjoyed a steak and blue cheese pie for lunch at the picnic bench outside the shop. I sat in the winter sun questioning whether I needed my winter wool coat, and so thankful I visited Blenheim.
I dropped in on my cousin Kathy for a visit. I found her in her garden and she gave me a tour. Her garden is very intuitive. She moves plants where she believes they’ll thrive. Some are seeds from family or friends.
She grows enough food for herself and shares with many in the Pieper clan. That day she was baking a couple of pies for the family gathering and putting a couple in the freezer. I was jealous of her space, and not jealous because I know how much work it entails.
I love going to superb gardens like the Missouri Botanical Garden in St. Louis because I come away with so many ideas. This succulent design was one of my favorites and completely doable in my garden. Less practical is the spectacular specimen of the corpse flower (due to bloom any day and release a really big stink) below. You can find it in the Linnean House.
I first visited the Missouri Botanical Garden in St Louis during my Ag Leadership national trip in 1996. I always wanted to return, so when I was planning my #MiddleAmericaTour I made sure to have time to visit the Garden again.
There is so much to see over acres and acres of gardens, so it is good to linger over botanical prints and other art on a hot, humid afternoon in the air conditioned museum building.
I loved the giant koi in the pond, the maze, the center for home gardening and more. I remembered a specific garden with beautiful tiles and a fountain from my visit long ago. I thought maybe it was the Ottoman Garden, but alas no (and this was the one neglected looking garden in the whole vast expanse of garden). I finally found a postcard that matched my memory and asked where it was located. It was in the Temperate House, which I had skipped because I was overheated. I braved the humidity to see it. Worth it.
The garden is open 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily except Christmas Day. Admission is $12 per person over 13 years of age. Children enjoy free admission. Local residents have a reduced entrance of $6 per adult, $4 for seniors. The garden is accessible for people with mobility issues.