Mount Sharon: Finding Gold In The Hills Of Orange, Virginia

Mount Sharon Rose Garden/Photo: Here By Design

The Rose Garden at Virginia’s Mount Sharon

High on a hilltop in beautiful Orange, Virginia, there’s a garden property that will leave you speechless. Known as Mount Sharon, it sits on the second highest point in the county. The magnificent property, which includes a brick house in the Georgian Revival style, is seldom open to the public. So recently, when my garden club received an invitation to tour the gardens, I could hardly wait to go.

The gardens are part of a large estate owned by Mary Lou and Charlie Seilheimer, who purchased the property in 1995 partly for its extraordinary views of the countryside. The house, which is framed by centuries’ old trees and acres of mature boxwood, affords breathtaking views of the rolling hills of the Piedmont Plateau and one of the best vistas of the Blue Ridge Mountains in the region.

At the time of the Seilheimers’ purhase, the 77.5-acre estate also included the remnants of an earlier garden dating back to the late 18th and 19th centuries. Part of a thousand-acre land grant made by King George to the Taliaferro family in 1725, the terraced garden had been built along an axis and included a 450-foot allée of 20-foot American boxwood that stretched from west to east off the back of the mansion.

Although most of the garden was in disrepair, the Seilheimers knew that they wanted to significantly expand the garden. They traveled widely, conducting extensive research into Italian, English and French garden styles and bringing their impressions home to Virginia. To execute their vision, they hired Charles Stick, a Charlottesville-based landscape architect known for “designing properties for private individuals.” Together, the three formed what Mary Lou called a “great collaboration” with the understanding that if they didn’t all agree on something, they didn’t do it.

A view through the gazebo at Mount Sharon/Photo: Here By Design

The Seilheimers asked Stick to create a garden based on the axis of the original garden, including a central ‘boxwood hall.’ He would frame the rooms and they would help paint them, while ensuring that the magnificent Virginia countryside remained the primary focus of the design.

The finished product, which grew to encompass 10 acres, would be embellished by garden structures, sculptures, stairways, benches and water features. It took over five years to develop.

 

The Tour

We were met by Mary Lou Seilheimer herself, dressed in no-nonsense gardening clothes, complete with sensible shoes and straw baseball cap (in contrast to many of us who were dressed for a garden party.) As we gathered under the leafy canopy of a towering old tree, she explained that the enormous tulip poplars we saw shading the property were over 250 years old.

Centuries’ old tulip poplar

The magnificent poplars, along with acres of 100-year-old American boxwood and black walnut trees, form the bones of the garden and are a hallmark of the property.

 

The Wedding Gate

Visitors to Mount Sharon enter through the ‘Wedding Gate’, which is flanked by a pair of enormous clipped boxwood. The couples’ daughter was married in the garden. A plaque on the threshold commemorates the date.

Entry gate to the gardens at Mount Sharon/Photo: Here By Design

As we passed under the wrought iron arch, Mary Lou explained that the garden was set up like a house, with a formal entry, foyer and a series of 10 garden rooms, each with their own names and individuality.

The Knot Garden

First on the tour was a garden room designed to act as the ‘foyer’, a tightly controlled space consisting of a pair of knot gardens in the Elizabethan style. The gardens were matching in size, yet dissimilar in design, and featured intertwined ‘threads’ of ‘Green Gem’ boxwood and Crimson Pygmy barberry forming low hedges at varying height levels.

Elizabethan Knot Garden/Photo: Here By Design

Turning left, we passed through a small garden full of spring blooms whose focal point was a medium-sized tree with a broad, rounded crown. Mary Lou explained that the tree, known as a yellowwood, put on a brilliant spring show every year with its panicles of fragrant white flowers. Unfortunately it had just finished blooming, though its branch structure still left plenty to admire.

Spring garden

Yellowwood tree/Photo: Here By Design

Yellowwood tree

Croquet Lawn

Winding its way past a small fountain, our path led us into a vast open space, where it bisected a formal green lawn. Mary Lou explained that the lawn had originally been intended for croquet playing, but nowadays it functioned more as a space for hosting large outdoor events. On the left was a rectangular lawn bordered by a tall clipped hedge formed of Nellie Stevens hollies. A small white painted bench provided the sole ornament, standing in silhouette against the glossy dark green foliage.

White bench silhouetted against green hollies/Photo: Here By Design

White bench and Nellie Stevens hollies

On the right hand side and facing the countryside, a large green lawn unfurled towards the horizon. The lush carpet was bordered on either side by double rows of Trident maples that rose up out of beds edged by ‘Green Velvet’ boxwood.

At the far end the garden, an elegant geyser fountain shot plumes of frothy white water into the air while beyond stretched stunning views of the Virginia countryside.

The croquet lawn at Mount Sharon/Photo: Here By Design

The croquet lawn

Of particular interest in this garden are the two groups of tall pyramidal arborvitae site on either side of the fountain. Mary Lou explained that Stick had placed them there deliberately to narrow the view and trick the eye into believing that the lawn dropped off the cliff at the far end of the garden.

The Exedra

Stick designed this little garden with its Eros statue in a part of the garden located furthermost from the house, and in doing so, established a long axis from one end of the garden to the other. He modeled the space after the Roman exedra, a small niche with raised seats used in ancient times for rest and contemplation.

Eros statue surrounded by boxwood/Here By Design

Eros statue surrounded by boxwood

The round garden room (which Stick preferred over rectangular because it encouraged people to move around), is built around a bluestone and brick patio suggesting the four points of the compass. Encircling the statue is an unusual variety of boxwood, maintained in a fluffy, wave-like form. Mary Lou explained that she had propagated the 35-year old specimens of ‘Kingsville boxwood’ herself from a sprig given to her by a friend.

A stone bust of Jefferson

Tucked into the hedge enclosing the space are four niches meant for the four Virginia founding presidents. Busts of Washington and Jefferson feature prominently, while the other two spaces remain empty. Mary Lou quipped that that they had recently taken out an ad looking for Madison and Monroe.

Grape Arbor

This grand wood arbor modeled after the arbor at Dumbarton Oaks provides shade just adjacent to the pool deck. It is covered by wisteria.

 

The Perennial Border

The perfect complement to the blue water of the pool, the mostly-blue English-style mixed border is accessed through a white lattice pavilion. Blue colors abound with an English-style mix of delphiniums, false indigo, catmint and salvia highlighted by the lavender blooms of H.F. Young ‘Queen of the Vines’ clematis and the bright yellow rose, Graham Thomas.

English-style perennial border at Mount Sharon/Photo: Here By Design

Mount Sharon perennial border/Photo: Here By Design

The perennial border

Rose Garden

But the real surprise waited just around the corner, where we suddenly found ourselves on a grassy knoll overlooking an astonishing rose garden composed of a pair of symmetrical parterres enclosed by tightly clipped yews.

View of Rose Garden at Mount Sharon/Photo: Here By Design

Descending a flight of stone stairs, we passed under the welcome shade of a pair of wooden pergolas.

Stairs into Rose Garden at Mount Sharon/Photo: Here By Design

Stairs to pergolas

View inside pergola/Photo: Here By Design

The cedar structures were blanketed with soft pink roses and bright white clematis.

Pergola covered with roses at Mount Sharon/Photo: Here By Design

A pair of Chinese Chippendale style pagodas adorned each end of the garden.

Clematis blooming the Rose Garden at Mount Sharon/Photo: Here By Design

Midway through the pergolas, we turned left and descended again onto a bright green terraced lawn centered on yet another fountain.

Stick dubbed the Rose Garden the ‘Garden of Four Seasons’ for its Italian statuary, which includes four large stone statues of female figures that flank the entrances to the garden parterres.

Statues in the Rose Garden at Mount Sharon/Photo: Here By Design

Mary Lou explained that they selected the statues for their large scale, which was ‘important to hold down the space’ as well as for their kindly expressions. The impressive sculptures most likely came from two different sets.

Close-up of one of the statues at Mount Sharon/Photo: Here By Design

The sculptures on their spool-like bases certainly held their own in the vast space, while adding a contemplative dimension to these astonishing gardens.

View across Rose Garden at Mount Sharon/Photo: Here By Design

One of the Rose Garden parterres

Octagonal Terrace

At the far end of the rose garden and just north of the house, is a secluded terrace affording a broad view of the mountains. The octagonal, bluestone terrace is surrounded by sitting walls backed by azaleas, boxwood and ornamental trees. A pair of turkey sculptures adorns two small piers flanking steps down onto the lawn.

Turkey garden ornament at Mount Sharon/Photo: Here By Design

An interesting feature of this garden is that when viewed from the house, the sitting walls are brick, while when viewed from the lawn, they are green with shrubbery. Just one of countless details that went into the making of this magnificent garden.

For more information on Mount Sharon, click here for the National Park Service Register.

 

Shooting The Breeze With The Head Of Versailles’ Kitchen Garden

Antoine Jacobsohn, Head of the King’s Kitchen Garden at Versailles

What if you could walk down the street and, next to the shrubs and other flowers, fruits and vegetables were growing? That’s the hope of Antoine Jacobsohn, Head of the King’s Kitchen Garden at the Palace of Versailles. I spent an afternoon with Jacobsohn recently when he came to DC’s Alliance Française to speak about his role in managing this historic French garden. Continue reading

Bridging the Gap: DC To Build First Elevated Park On 11th Street Bridge

Washington, DC’s 11th Street Bridge Park/Photo: OMA + OLIN Anacostia Crossing

There’s a new movement afoot that aims to turn old infrastructure into public parks, breathing new life into spaces that have long since been neglected or forgotten. Of these, the transformation of an old rail line into a 1.5 mile landscaped park on Manhattan’s West Side (the High Line) is perhaps the most well known. Now comes Washington, DC’s own variation on the theme: the 11th Street Bridge Park, the city’s first elevated park that will soon be floating above the Anacostia River. Continue reading

All’s Fair At Macy’s 44th Annual Spring Flower Show

Revolving carousel at Macy’s Spring Flower Show

New York City’s Macy’s Day Parade is an American fall tradition with its festive floats, high school marching bands and trademark balloons. But until this weekend, I had never heard of another spectacular show sponsored each spring by the 100-year-old department store. That is, the Macy’s Flower Show; a show so big that it transforms an entire floor of the giant Herald Square building into a veritable garden extravaganza. Continue reading

Everything’s Coming Up Orchids At Smithsonian’s Spring Show

hirshshorn orchid display

Orchids on display at Washington, DC’s Hirshhorn Museum

Every spring, the Smithsonian Gardens and United States Botanic Garden mount a spectacular orchid show for the public. The collaborative exhibition alternates between the two venues and provides different ways by which to appreciate the exquisite flowers. This year’s show is particularly striking because it is housed in the Smithsonian’s Hirshhorn Museum whose modern architecture provides a whole new perspective on the exotic blooms.

Guarianthe aurantiaca ‘Kitty’

This is the first time the exhibition has been held at the contemporary museum. Titled orchids: A MOMENT, the display is housed in a curved gallery created by the Hirshhorn’s own designers and is composed of random-shaped cubbyholes, each featuring a single orchid species. The artistic structure occupies the better part of the museum’s main lobby and allows visitors to move around the display at random while experiencing their own personal ‘moment’.

Rhyncholaeliocattleya Memoria Grant Eichler ‘Lenette’

As I toured the modernist structure, I couldn’t help but appreciate the forms, textures and colors of the orchids for their aesthetic value, displayed as they were like fine objects of art. Showcased in their individual white boxes, the flowers are strikingly beautiful on their own while also presenting interesting combinations as a group.

I love how the boxes’ clean lines perfectly frame the roots, leaves, stems and flowers of the plants while the white paint makes the colors pop.

Miltoniopsis hybrid

According to the Hirshhorn website, there are over 100 different orchids represented, all of which have been selected from the Smithsonian Gardens and U.S. Botanic Garden collections. One of the ‘orchid interpreters’ explained to me that the display is changed every two weeks, making for a new experience almost every time you visit.

Dendrobium utopia ‘Messenger’

Since 1974, the Smithsonian Gardens Orchid Collection (SGOC) has grown from five plants to over 8,000 specimens. An invaluable resource for educational programs, exhibitions, and scientific research, it is maintained in the Smithsonian Gardens Greenhouse Facility in Suitland, Maryland by staff, interns, and volunteers.

Maxillaria sp.

The United States Botanic Garden (USBG) is the oldest botanic garden in North America. Its main mission is to highlight the diversity of plants worldwide, of which orchids make up the most significant group.

Phaleonopsis hybrid novelty

Angraecum sesquipedale ‘Winter White’ x A. sesquipedale var. bosseri ‘Summertime Dream”

 

The exhibit includes a series of time-lapse videos embedded in the structure that show orchids in the process of blooming. The continuous show flows across five monitors interspersed among the flowers.

orchids: A MOMENT is on view at the Hirshhorn in Washington, DC through May 14, 2017. For more information on the exhibit, click here for the Hirshhorn website. For a detailed chart of this week’s display, click here for the Smithsonian gardens website.

 

Iguazú Falls: Sustaining Life In An Ancient Jungle Garden

Iguazu Falls

Do waterfalls count as gardens? They certainly make life possible for tens of thousands of species of flora and fauna. I thought I had seen waterfalls until I visited Iguazú, Argentina. Nothing could have prepared me for the staggering beauty of these falls that hold the distinction of being one of the seven natural wonders of the world.

Iguazú is located an easy 1 ½ hour plane ride from Buenos Aires, Argentina. I’d consider it a great way to go, not only for the brevity of the trip but the fact that your first view of the falls is from the air. As we neared the airport our pilot signaled to us to look out our windows as he tipped the plane one way then the other to give us all a bird’s eye view of this astonishing interface between land and water.

View of the falls from plane window

And what a view it was! As if cut with a jagged knife out of the emerald green plateau, the falls appeared bright white against mahogany-colored rocks arranged in a crescent-like shape, much like a Roman amphitheater. As we gawked out our windows, we could almost sense the water roaring over the reddish-brown cliffs. Here and there, fingers of spray drifted up from the crevice, giving the illusion of wispy clouds escaping up from amidst the dense tropical jungle.

We could barely wait to start our day.

THE WIDEST FALLS IN THE WORLD

So what makes these falls so special that they lay claim to being one of the seven natural wonders of the world? The main reason is their incredible width, which is the largest in the world. Composed of 275 individual drops, the Iguazú Falls span an astonishing distance of 27 meters (or roughly 1.7 miles). Compare this to Victoria Falls’ width of 1708 meters (roughly one mile) and Niagara’s length of brink that measures 1203 meters (roughly 0.7 miles.)

No wonder that upon seeing Iguazú Falls, the United States First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt reportedly exclaimed,

Poor Niagara!

Of course this also makes the falls nearly impossible to capture, but you get the picture.

 

ONE RIVER, BIG FALLS

Spanning the border between Argentina and Brazil, the Iguazú Falls form a line along a deep chasm carved from layers of ancient sandstone and dark, fine-grained volcanic rock. The falls are shared by both countries and serve as the official international border. There is an ongoing dispute as to whose side is better.

Brazil on the left, Argentina on the right

The source of the falls, the Iguazú River, is located in Brazil. As it crosses the plateau, the river joins up with other tributary streams, traveling across 1,200 km (roughly 746 miles) until it reaches a series of faults formed in the rock. There, it pauses before thundering over the brink and tumbling down into a canyon that drains into the Paraná River.

Falls tumble down into the Paraná River

At its highest point, the Iguazú River drops vertically some 80 meters in a series of cataracts called the Devil’s Throat. About half of the river flows into this long and narrow chasm. This makes for an enormous amount of water, accompanied by a deafening roar and soaking sprays of water. As the roiling river tumbles over the brink, perspective turns upside down as rainbows appear below clouds deep in the canyon.

Devil’s Throat

 

JUNGLE GARDEN

The enormous quantities of tumbling water and soaking humidity have spawned a highly specialized ecosystem full of life in the surrounding Misiones Jungle. More than 2,000 species of plants and animals call this lush rain forest home including giant anteaters, caoties with their ringed tails, howler monkeys, jaguars and the giant rodent known as the capybara. There 4000 bird species, including rainbow-colored toucans and parrots. And there are also 80 known tree species, making for a diverse tapestry of vegetation.

Caotie

Ferns and wild impatiens growing on canyon floor

Together with the Iguazú National Park in Brazil, the Argentinian park constitutes one of the most significant remnants of the interior Atlantic Forest, over 85 percent of the original area of which has been deforested since its discovery over 500 years ago.

In Iguazú, life is multi-layered. Plants grow one on top of one another from the canyon floor on up to the giant palms anchored to the waterfalls’ lip. Ferns grow on moss, lichen grows on rocks, and air plants and orchids can be seen sprouting from tree branches. The falls teem with fertility.

Bright green lichen, moss and ferns that cling to the rock even as the roaring waters flow around them.

To view the falls, visitors have the option of taking an upper or lower walkway, which give them different perspectives on the falls.  An open-air train loops around the outer edge of the park to the trail leading to Devil’s Throat. The walkways are mostly raised steel walkways that hover over the jungle. Along the way, numerous look-outs provide dizzying views of the cascading water.

Look-outs provide bird’s eye views of the falls

For the truly adventurous, there are zodiac rides that take you under the falls to experience the power of all that water. The 12-minute adventure involves plowing headfirst into the waterfalls while a guide films you drowning in white water. I can attest that this is an unbelievable experience, especially on a 95 degree day in the jungle.

For more on Iguazú Falls click here for the official website. The name Iguazú comes from the area’s indigenous people who named the falls ‘great water’. The first European to “discover” the falls was Spanish Conquistador Cabeza de Vaca in 1541.

 

A Little Taste of Japan In the Heart Of Buenos Aires

Buenos Aires’ lovely Jardin Japonés

There are so many beautiful, themed gardens in Buenos Aires I’ve almost lost count. But, there’s one last gem I’ll profile before we return next week to the United States. Located in the city’s Palermo neighborhood, it’s the zen-like Jardín Japonés. Think acres of green foliage, a shimmering lake spanned by lipstick red bridges and colorful clusters of over-sized koi, and you’ve got the picture.

We happened upon the Jardín Japonés on a sizzling hot day when most of the other public gardens were closed. Spying some Asian-style buildings amidst the trees in the distance, we made a beeline across a park towards the sloped-roofed structures. Along the way, we passed the customary assortment of cheerful dogs and professional dog walkers.

A professional dog walker (paseaperro) in Plaza Allemania

Located behind a tall wall and bordered on all sides by traffic-congested avenues, the Jardín Japonés proved to be a quiet oasis in the heart of a boisterous city. Originally given as a gift to Buenos Aires from the Association of Japanese Immigrants, it was constructed in 1967 to celebrate the visit to Argentina by Japan’s Prince Akihito and his wife in May of that year. The future royals’ visit was a big deal for Buenos Aires and the garden was to receive other similar official visits over the ensuing decades.

Entrance to the Jardín Japonés

Today’s 6-acre garden, however, is mainly the work of a Japanese born landscape architect named Yasuo Inomata. The city of Buenos Aires hired Inomata in the mid 70’s to redesign and enlarge the Jardín Japonés to look more like a traditional Japanese garden. Inomata modeled his design after a zen garden, focusing heavily on the critical elements of harmony and equilibrium. The renovation, which was completed in 1979, has since become a bridge for the city’s residents and its visitors to understanding the Japanese culture.

The first thing you notice when you enter the Jardín Japonés is a large artificial lake spanned by three traditional-style Japanese bridges. Painted a distinctive deep red, the bridges each take different forms and carry different symbolic meanings. The largest of the three is the Puente Okayama, also known as Puente Zig Zag Okayama. The flat bridge skims just above the water and meanders back and forth across the northern end of the lake.

Puente Okayama (the zig zag bridge)

The second bridge, called Puente Yamagata, takes the traditional arced form. Also painted red, it is a standout in the middle of the lake. (Also perpetually clogged with tourists, so a clean photo is pretty much out of the question.)

Puente Yamagata

The third bridge, el Puente Plan Ibaraki, is made from rough-hewn planks in a burnished red. The site plan shows it traversing a small cove at the opposite end of the lake. During our visit, however, we observed only two piers facing each other across the water. I loved how the open space between the two piers raised questions as to whether they were meant to connect or simply observe each other. Whether or not this was purposeful, it was one of the most memorable spots for me in the garden.

Puente Plan Ibaraki

At the far end of the park is a large Japanese building housing a restaurant, library and cultural center. There is also a traditional-style Japanese tea house. But what really caught my eye was this checkerboard lawn to the right. Crafted from bright white paving stones and lime green grass, it made me feel like we had popped in on Alice in Wonderland.

Checkerboard lawn

Directly behind the checkerboard lawn and adjacent to the center is a shop selling traditional Japanese plants such as bonsai, orchids and azaleas as well as other native flowering plants.

Plant store

And on the other side of the tea house is a rose garden.

Rose garden

A big draw for children is the giant koi and carp that live and feed in the garden. They swim in colorful clusters along the fringes of the lake and under the bridges where visitors are encouraged to feed them. Their open mouths can be seen bobbing above the surface.

We stopped for a fruit smoothie at the Salon Mie next to a large bell dedicated to immigrants. Its big gong-like sound resonated across the park and sent powerful ripples through our bodies. It was the perfect accompaniment to the next small patio, the Patio Hiroshima, which displays three numbered trees that are descendants of larger trees that survived the bombing of Hiroshima.

The sign reads that the surviving trees were located within a 2000 meter radius of the center of Hiroshima and that the city has registered 170 trees ‘a-bombardeados’ for which they have been given a plaque and a special name. That name is:

HIBAKUJYUMOKU (TREE SURVIVING THE ATOMIC BOMB)

In addition to these highly symbolic areas, the garden boasts more than 150 species of trees and a huge variety of plants representing a combination of Japanese and native Argentinian species. There are acres of white and pink azaleas, Japanese Matsumae-fuki cherry trees. mugo pines, magnolias and Japanese maples as well as native oaks, cedars, tipas and Pal Borracho trees. There are also beautiful mini waterfalls.

And carefully composed arrangements of stones.

The many different elements appear to have happened there naturally, although in the architect’s own words, this is a deliberate misconception.

Inomata said:

Japanese gardens that I create express an element of Buddhism called gokuraku (pure land). In these gardens, the trees and flowers are not arranged in a structured manner so that they can imitate what is found in nature [  ]. At first glance, they may appear disorganized, but in reality they follow an order.

Unlike most other public gardens in Buenos Aires, the Jardín Japonés costs money, with all proceeds going to its maintenance, which is administered by the Fundación Cultural Argentino Japonesa. The garden is also home to festivals and other cultural activities promoting Japanese culture within the city.

For more information on the garden, its location, hours and scheduled activities click here for the official website.

Buenos Aires’ El Rosedal: Taking Time To Smell The Roses

‘A collection of old roses gives a great and increasing pleasure.’

–Vita Sackville-West

There are rose gardens and then there are rose gardens. It’s not every day you come across a rose garden covering nearly 10 acres. But Buenos Aires’ El Rosedal, commonly known as the Jardin de las Rosas (Rose Garden), is just such a place. And the magnificent space is immaculately maintained and surprisingly, free to the public. Continue reading

Buenos Aires’ Jardín Botánico: French Twist On A Spanish Garden

To my readers: I am in Argentina for the month where I’ll be writing about gardens.)

Buenos Aires Jardin Botanico

There’s a reason why people often refer to Buenos Aires as a little Paris in South America. The city is chock full of French-style architecture, grand tree-lined avenues and a wide variety of public gardens. It wasn’t always this way, though. Up until the 19th century the city didn’t have many green spaces at all. That all changed with the arrival of a French landscape architect named Carlos Thays.

Carlos (né Jules Charles) Thays was to transform the city of Buenos Aires into the lush green metropolis it is today. Born in Paris in 1849, Thays was the disciple of one of the leading architects of the day, the French landscape architect Edouard André. Together with André, he helped design some of the most famous public and private gardens in Europe.

Thays came to Argentina in 1889 as part of a contract to help create what was to become his first major work in the country – the Parque Sarmiento, the largest park in the city of Córdoba. After the park was completed, his intention was to go back to France. However, Thays ended up in Buenos Aires, where in 1891 he was named the city’s Director of Parks and Walkways.

Monument to Carlos Thays in Buenos Aires’ Jardín Botánico

The title of Parks Director gave Thays a lot of leeway to influence the character of Buenos Aires, especially where it came to panoramic views of the city. With the exception of Parque Tres de Febrero, an older park opened in 1876, the city had no public green spaces. Thays began major tree planting projects, lining the grand avenues and neighborhood streets with large shade trees including purple-flowering jacaranda, yellow-flowering tipas (also known as rosewood) and ombús, a massive evergreen native to the lowlands of South America.

One of the many Jacaranda trees in Buenos Aires

Thays also got to work remodeling the aging Parque Tres de Febrero while designing and constructing 69 new parks, gardens and plazas. His French heritage was reflected in many of his designs.

Jardin Botanico

One of the most famous of all of Thay’s projects is located in the urban neighborhood of Palermo where it takes up an entire city block. Completed in 1898, the Buenos Aires Botanical Garden is considered one of Thay’s biggest achievements. Today it bears his name (Jardín Botánico Carlos Thays) and is home to more than 6,000 species of plants.

The walled park includes rare trees and native and exotic plants hailing from all parts of the world. And in keeping with French style, the garden is also home to 33 classical sculptures, fountains and monuments that figure prominently throughout the garden.

Canto de la Cosechadora

La Loba Romana, one of the garden’s many works of art

In order to best display his collection of plants and landscape styles, Thays designed the Jardín Botánico in sections. There are three main gardens: a Roman Garden planted with huge cypresses, alamos (a variety of cottonwood) and laurel trees, a French Garden built around a classic symmetrical design and an Oriental-style Garden featuring species indigenous to Asia.

One of the many enormous cypress trees in the Roman Garden

While working on the construction and planting of the garden, Thays and his family lived in a large brick Gothic Revival style house that still occupies a central place in the garden. Today it is home to the city’s Garden School and also features a revolving art collection and library.

Thays’ home during construction of the garden

One of the most important features of the Jardín Botánico are five greenhouses that house a wide variety of native and exotic plants. The largest of them, a Beaux-arts style formal building was first erected at the Paris Exposition of 1889 and brought back to Buenos Aires to be reassembled in the garden. Measuring 35 meters long, it is now home to a couple thousand bromeliads and orchids.

The largest of the greenhouses

View inside the large greenhouse

View inside the bulb greenhouse

In addition to the main garden sections, there are also a number of specialty gardens including a cactus garden and butterfly garden. The cactus garden features many unusual varieties of aloe.

Cactus garden walkway

Aloe marlothii from Africa

In January, the lovely African agapanthus plant is flowering all over the garden.

There are hundreds of flowering shrubs

Jardin Botanico in Buenos Aires

And there are huge stands of sky blue plumbago.

Thays died in Buenos Aires in 1934, but his public works live on for the whole city to enjoy. For more information on the Jardin Botanico, click here for the official website.

Stay tuned for my next post on the thousands of roses on display at the Parque Tres de Febrero.

 

Longwood Gardens Gets Dressed Up For The Holidays

Longwood Gardens 2016 Photo credit: Here By Design

For a long time, Pennsylvania’s Longwood Gardens has been my go-to destination for the holidays. The magnificent property features over 1,077 acres of formal gardens, woodlands and meadows that change with each new season. Located at the heart of the gardens is one of my favorite places, the huge glass and steel Orangery. It is here, in this 1920’s-era greenhouse, that my holidays come alive in the horticultural extravaganza known as A Longwood Christmas.

When it comes to inspiring, it doesn’t get much better than Longwood Gardens. From late November to just after the New Year, the Orangery is filled with holiday-themed displays, including hundreds of decorated trees, rare plants and miles of seasonal flowers. Covering nearly four acres of greenhouses, the colorful blooms and exotic specimens are all embellished with millions of twinkling lights.

At my most recent visit, each turn of the corner revealed a new color scheme, plant display and fragrance; a heady combination that made for a constantly changing experience.

This year’s display showcases over 6,000 seasonal plants.

 

THE TOUR

To begin their tour of the Orangery, visitors enter through the majestic East Conservatory. In this huge, vaulted space the predominantly red, white and silver horticultural displays are punctuated by gurgling fountains and tiered pools all linked by rushing streams of water. A warm, earthy aroma mixed with flower fragrances permeates the space.

This year’s exhibit in the East Conservatory features formal flower beds and manicured pathways fringed by generous drifts of fragrant paper white narcissus, euphorbia ‘Diamond Frost’, miniature arborvitae, ferns and snow white cyclamen. A permanent display of giant palms and other tropical plants provides the backdrop for the seasonal flowers.

A number of beautiful Christmas trees are situated within the beds and along the walkways.

Close-up of some of the stunning detail on each of the trees.

At the end of the East Conservatory is the largest tree of the exhibit, an 18-foot Douglas fir. The giant tree is encircled by bright green ferns that point up the tree’s deep red ribbons and other natural decorations.

Behind the East Conservatory is the Main Conservatory exhibit. The dramatic space consists of a pair of manicured lawns encircled by seasonal plantings and massive stone columns wreathed in ivy. Giant hanging baskets of scarlet poinsettias are suspended high above the display.

Lawn in the Main Conservatory

On a bright winter day at Longwood Gardens, sunlight filters down through the vaulted iron and glass ceiling and traces a path across the lush borders of this iconic space.

I’ve always loved how, in the far corner of the Conservatory, the color palette shifts from traditional reds and greens to vibrant yellows and blues. This year’s exhibit includes a healthy dose of bright yellow twig dogwoods, orange birds of paradise, miniature lace-cap hydrangeas, soft pink poinsettias and spiky blue coleus.

Directly behind the East Conservatory is Longwood Gardens’ Exhibition Hall. Small jets of water spout from a sunken area in which ‘floats’ a grand central tree decorated in bright red poinsettias and snow white orchids.

The soft purple blooms of bougainvillea growing along the Conservatory’s rafters set up a strong color contrast with the bright red poinsettias.

After the brilliant colors of the main Conservatory, the minty green Acacia Passage provides a cool refuge. It is best known for the lacy tendrils of cinnamon wattle trees that travel up its walls and cascade down from the ceiling. Potted white hydrangeas underplanted with trailing ivy lead the eye down through the narrow space.

Located at the far end of the Acacia Passage, the Orchid Room (part of Longwood Gardens’ permanent display) features over 500 fragrant orchid varieties. An orchid grower replaces plants three times a week to ensure a continuous colorful exhibit.

Orchid vanda ‘Sansai Blue’ hangs in the Orchid Room

A right turn takes you to the  Mediterranean Garden, which showcases plants from regions around the world with Mediterranean-like climates. The central tree is decorated in bright-colored balls that echo the warm-climate plantings.

Kniphofia uvaria, commonly known as Red Hot Poker

In the Bonsai Hall, a dramatic red and green wreath hangs in stark relief against the pale grey wall.

At the far end of the Mediterranean Garden is the Palm House, which is designed to resemble a tropical rain forest. The three-layered garden showcases Longwood Gardens’ wide variety of palms, cycads and tropical groundcovers. This tropical tree displays Aglaonema ‘Osaka’ (a variety of Chinese evergreen) on a custom-made form topped with flower heads pulled from Longwood’s palm collection.

Close-up of the Palm House tree

One of the most dramatic trees of all is housed in the Xeriscape garden, a stunning mix of grey, white, silver and red drought-tolerant plants.

Close-up of the succulent tree

At Longwood Gardens, even the mini pitcher plants are decorated for the holidays.

For more information on the exhibit, go to A Longwood Christmas.  The display is open from now until early January.