2020 a Year Like No Other

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This photo with Jens Voigt was taken in May 2017 at the Tour of California. The US’ premier bike race has now been suspended indefinitely. This week long event was struggling financially and Corona was the last straw. Sacramento will be poorer for not seeing a race segment. 

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.

Take care of yourself.

 

Tale of Two Botanic Gardens

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.

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The best gardens help you forget that you are in a city and take you into nature. Dunedin Botanic Garden does.

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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.

Monarch Butterflies at Risk

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.

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Swan plants at Paripuma in Blenheim, NZ

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.

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Many plants attractive to pollinators also appeal to humans.

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.

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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:

North America—Xerces Society http://www.xerces.org/monarch

New Zealand–Moths and Butterflies of New Zealand Trust http://www.monarch.org.nz

Paripuma, An Extraordinary Garden

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Paripuma is located in the heart of the Marlborough wine district, on the shores of Queen Charlotte Sound near Blenheim, New Zealand

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.

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Paripuma is world class.

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Rosa started with clay and gravel. She said that as soon as she planted native plants she began to see the soil come alive.
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A great garden relates graciously to its home and other buildings. 

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.

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Kitchen garden in winter. 

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.

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I forgot to ask Rosa the name of the grey shrubs that provide contrast and structure in the middle frame. She responded: The plant is Muehlenbechia astonii … It became quite rare in the wild (from stock grazing)  but is now much planted in gardens and sometimes on median strips. It is interesting as it is ‘divaricating’   – which means its little branchlets turn in on themselves to become never-endingly tangled – something a lot of NZ plants do – especially when juvenile! Apparently this was to protect themselves from browsing moas ! Truly ! Often when they grow higher (out of reach of the moas) their foliage completely transforms ie lancewoods (Pseudopanax ferox).

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 Beautiful Wee City

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.

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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.

6440921_MAIN_1565019617The 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!)

IMG_9286What 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.

How Does Your Garden Grow?

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Hollyhocks!

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.

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Black Raspberries

I do enjoy eating the fruits of her labor!

Magnificent Missouri Botanical Garden

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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.

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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.

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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.

UC Davis Arboretum Just Got Better!

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I have always loved walking around the UC Davis Arboretum. It was well established when I was a graduate student in the late 1980s, and even then it had a serious water quality problem in Putah Creek. The algae and other problems caused duck die offs and some stinky stretches. Now with a new design to help clean up Putah Creek, you can actually see the turtles swimming in the creek. The redwood grove has new plantings on the floor, and the new trailhead in downtown Davis is complete. If you haven’t been in a while, it is worthy of another look.

The new infrastructure in the creek helps to keep the water clean. Plus it introduces the sound of running water to your walk along the trail. You will get a healthy 3.5 miles of steps if you walk the entire loop. Along the way you’ll enjoy over 20 gardens, interesting bridges and paths and only occasional glimpses of campus life. I’m sure it’s kept many a student sane.

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Watch for slider turtles. The iNaturalist app suggests this is a painted slider.

I belong to the Arboretum so I learn about their plant sales and enjoy a discount. The Arboretum is free of charge. Most days you’ll have to pay for campus parking if you are starting from the oak grove side near the medical campus, so instead park behind Mikuni’s restaurant (by the closed Whole Foods). When you finish up you can enjoy a meal at Pluto’s or Mikuni’s. I’m taking my grandson on Friday!

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Trailhead accessible at end of D Street, in downtown Davis. Put “Arboretum GATEway Garden” into Google Maps.

 

 

 

 

Powerscourt: What a Garden!

img_6286One of the best gardens in Ireland is in County Wicklow less than an hour from downtown Dublin. Powerscourt gardens are beautiful and delightful even in the end of November–the mark of a garden with good bones. The house is a shell of its former glory since a fire ravaged it. The living spaces have been replaced by specialty shops and cafes. The stable at Christmas sells Christmas trees and greens. The garden drew me back and it still satisfies.

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This folly gives a great perspective of this corner of the garden. This is the area where Scouts are invited to camp each year.

The entrance fee for an adult is 10 pounds from March through October and 7.50 pounds in winter. There are discounts for seniors, students and children and it is 25 pounds for a family of five. There are headphones with additional information and an introductory film, both available for free. Although the repetition of how proud the owners/descendants are of the property gets tiresome.

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The Japanese Garden is well established and maybe needs a good trim.

I first discovered Powerscourt many moons ago when I traveled around Ireland with Cameon, my chum from high school. I had won airfare for two in an Irish-American Club raffle on St. Patrick’s Day. We flew to Dublin and rented a car to travel around the island. We started by driving north so our stop in Powerscourt was towards the end of our week. I remember it fondly and have frequently wanted to return on other visits. Even though it is only 40 minutes from Dublin, I could never include it in my itinerary. I’m so glad I made it back.

 

Entering into Pacific Grove Life for 3 Days

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I was driving home from the grocery store and I spied this garden as I drove by. I parked nearby and walked back to take some photos. The homeowner was at the mailbox so I asked permission to take photos. Cindy invited me to get a closer look.

I used to live in Pacific Grove in the mid-80s. A lot has changed since then, and at the same time it is still a delightfully “normal” place to visit. The neighborhoods and downtown on Lighthouse Avenue are charming. It is bounded by Ocean View Avenue with a rugged and beautiful coastline. I prefer to stay here over any other part of the Monterey Peninsula.

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Cindy and her family moved here in 1987 and incrementally created this garden over the years. They don’t have a backyard, but we agreed that we typically only use one or the other. This is better allocation. 

In the past I have stayed at motels and hotels. This visit I am with my daughter and her family so we rented a home. We looked on VRBO and Airbnb and we found the 2 bedroom 2 bath home we are renting on Airbnb. It has been more comfortable than 2 hotel rooms and about the same price.

  • We can cook meals.
  • There is a living room where Calvin can make play with his toys (and make a mess).
  • We can play dominoes at the dining table and laugh without worrying about waking up a sleeping toddler.
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Cindy even invited me to come in to the house to see her paintings. I shared some of my favorite artists on Instagram. We had a great conversation.

There is a debate raging about the phenomenon of vacation rentals and how it is changing the neighborhoods and city finances of Pacific Grove (PG). My daughter saw a sign for Measure M. I did some research and learned that Monterey and Carmel have tight restrictions on the vacation rental market and PG does not. Also residents have been complaining about over-concentrations of homes for short-term rent for over 3 years and the city council had not taken any action. I had noticed that many of the motels and hotels had vacancy signs, which is uncommon in my memory. There is usually some kind of conference going on at Asilomar or tourism that keeps them near full.

We were walking on Asilomar Beach with Calvin and a dog and then another 2 year old and her dad joined us. We did the usual back and forth about the kids and then he asked where we were staying. We admitted that we were staying in a home nearby. He shared his frustration with the vacation rental situation. “They aren’t paying the taxes they owe the city.” He also alluded to the partying and recently moving from Nashville, which was a party town, he was hoping to escape that scene. Sarah and I weren’t quite sure what his point was as we haven’t witnessed anything but deer roaming the streets and senior citizens power walking in the neighborhood. I mentioned that my neighbor has dedicated his investment property (across the street from me in Midtown Sacramento) for AirBnB rental. People are coming and going during the week and weekends. They typically empty a lot of “bottles” into the recycling, but to be fair, they have yet to disturb anyone.

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Not all people in Pacific Grove are this friendly, nevertheless if you stay open, you are more likely to have a great experience and possibly meet a kindred spirit.

As a consumer of temporary housing when I travel, I appreciate the range of choice available today. At the same time I am also sympathetic to the challenges it creates, especially in housing markets where rentals are already scarce and prices are rising. I also remember the signs posted in Venice, Italy protesting Airbnb and the perceived effect that it was pricing “real Venetians” out of Venice.

As we walked back to the car, Sarah and I discussed our conversation with the local who is going to vote to limit vacation rentals to the coastal zone (1 mile from coastline) and the business district. He wasn’t unfriendly, just frustrated. We wondered if we shouldn’t have rented the home we are staying in, and decided that we were unaware of the controversy, we are in the coastal zone, and it isn’t illegal. We’d like to come every year, so we’ll have to think through our options next year. Also, does Airbnb pay the local transient occupancy tax or expect hosts to do so?

IMG_5238When I lived here in the 80s, the prices were climbing well beyond the ability of people mostly working service jobs to afford to buy. Then the problem was that some of the supply was taken off the market by people who could afford to buy a second or third home on the Peninsula. They only spent a few weeks a year in Carmel or Pebble Beach and this had a ripple effect in the entire housing market. The Airbnb phenomenon makes it possible for upper middle class people to buy a vacation home and afford it thanks to additional rents.

It is complicated. When Airbnb started I thought it was restricted to host-occupied residences. It was both the attraction and the turn-off. I prefer a hotel to a Bed & Breakfast because I prefer to be left alone. Now it has become a platform for entrepreneurs with enough cash to invest in a dedicated vacation property. I use ride sharing services and appreciate the greater availability of cars where I am, the app’s easy way to pay, but it has not been so great for taxis. A lot of these apps disrupt the existing order of things and create new opportunities for consumers and the industrious. Hopefully Pacific Grove will find the right balance.