Washington, DC’s 11th Street Bridge Park/Photo: OMA + OLIN Anacostia Crossing
There’s a movement afoot that aims to turn old infrastructure into public parks, breathing new life into spaces that have long since been forgotten. Of these, the transformation of an old rail line into a garden on Manhattan’s West Side (the High Line) is the best known. Now comes Washington, DC’s own variation, the 11th Street Bridge Park. Soon, the city’s first elevated park will be perched high atop the Anacostia River. Continue reading →
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 →
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 offers a brand new perspective on the exotic blooms. Continue reading →
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,
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.
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.
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.
There are so many beautiful, themed gardens in Buenos Aires I’ve almost lost count. But, there’s one little gem that stands out from all the others. 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 schools of koi, and you’ve got the picture. Continue reading →
‘A collection of old roses gives a great and increasing pleasure.’
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 →
To my readers: I am in Argentina for the month where I’ll be writing about gardens.)
Buenos Aires’ Jardín Botánico
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.
THE STORY OF CARLOS THAYS
Carlos 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, he decided to stay in Buenos Aires. 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 lots of leeway to influence the character of Buenos Aires, especially when 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. To rectify that, Thays began major tree planting projects. These included lining the grand avenues and neighborhood streets with such large shade trees as purple-flowering jacaranda, yellow-flowering tipas and the massive evergreen ombús,a native to the lowlands of South America.
One of the many Jacaranda trees in Buenos Aires
Simultaneously, Thays got to work remodeling the aging Parque Tres de Febrero and designing and constructing 69 new parks, gardens and plazas. His French heritage was reflected in many of his designs.
TOURING THE JARDÍN BOTÁNICO
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 greatest achievements. Today it bears his name Jardín Botánico Carlos Thays and it is home to more than 6,000 species of plants.
Surrounded on all sides by high walls, the park includes rare trees and a broad mix of native and exotic plants hailing from all parts of the world. The garden is also home to 33 classical sculptures, fountains and monuments in keeping with French style.
Canto de la Cosechadora
La Loba Romana, one of the garden’s many works of art
THREE MAIN GARDENS
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. It also features a revolving art collection and library.
Thays’ home during construction of the garden
JARDÍN BOTÁNICO’S GREENHOUSES
One of the Jardín Botánico’s most important features is the five greenhouses that house a wide variety of native and exotic plants. The largest of them, a Beaux-arts style 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 flowers all over the garden.
In total, there are hundreds of flowering shrubs.
As well as 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 Buenos Aires’ Jardín Botánico, .
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.
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.
Those of us who live near Washington, DC seldom fail to be moved by the majestic buildings and monuments that comprise our capital city. And the United States Botanic Garden, one of the oldest botanic gardens in North America, is one of them. Now at holiday time comes a special treat: the Garden’s annual tribute to the city’s most famous landmarks constructed from, you guessed it, plants and other plant-based materials.
The eye-catching display is part of the U.S. Botanic Garden’s ‘Season’s Greenings’ holiday exhibit that also features seasonal flowers and shrubs, a garden railway with model trains and a top-notch collection of unusual poinsettias. It was created by Paul Busse (most famous for the New York Botanical Garden’s Holiday Train Show) and his Kentucky-based firm, Applied Imagination. A team of horticulturalists, botanical architects and landscape designers used over 70 different plant materials to build the sculptures.
Model train passes through a botanical Grand Canyon
Botanical Landmarks On A Mini Mall
At the heart of any trip to Washington, DC is a trip to the National Mall. And the botanical replicas, positioned as they are along the broad walkways and twin pools of the Garden Court, mimic the actual ones outside just a stone’s throw away. Each architectural gem is sited high on a mound from which it overlooks its own pint-sized garden vista.
The crown jewel of the collection, the U.S. Capitol, is located to the left of the Court. Measuring seven feet long, the structure is formed of sycamore leaves, willow sticks, acorns and other natural materials. It took over 600 hours to complete. A peek inside reveals the Statue of Freedom and other figures fashioned from beech nuts, corn husks, acorns and pinecone scales.
Facing the U.S. Capitol on the opposite side of the Garden Court is the Washington Monument constructed from sycamore leaves, sea grape leaves and moss. The Garden’s blue-tiled reflecting pool (one of a pair) stretches behind it.
A gourd forms the dome of the Jefferson Memorial. While inside presides a mini President Jefferson with hair made out of lichens.
Sited at the far end of the pool from the Washington Monument, the Lincoln Memorial features an exterior of sea grape leaves and architectural details made from kangaroo pods, sisal rope and grape tendrils among other materials.
The Library of Congress shines amidst a lush green landscape. Its facade is crafted from elm and locust bark. Sea grape leaves make up the terrace.
Library of Congress
There is even a replica of the U.S. Botanic Garden within the conservatory. Surrounded by hydrangeas, boxwood, pileas, freesias and poinsettias, it boasts a facade made from horse chestnut bark and willow sticks.
U.S. Botanic Garden
Located on the opposite side of the pool from the U.S. Capitol, the Supreme Court building features a frieze made from beech nuts, acorns and silver birch buds.
U.S. Supreme Court
The White House is encircled by a fence made from screw pod rails and cinnamon tops. Its bas-relief columns are formed of palm frond stems and cinnamon curls. There’s a swing-set in front.
Brookside Gardens is a gem of a garden tucked away amidst the sprawling neighborhoods of Maryland’s Montgomery County. Covering nearly 50 acres, it features rolling hills, sculpted ponds, woodlands and formal gardens filled with hundreds of varieties of plants. It’s my go-to destination when I’m looking for new ideas for plants and plant combinations. Continue reading →