One of the many things that I enjoy about my job is when I am asked to visit school gardens.

You can read about a previous school garden visit here.


Yesterday, I was asked to come to my daughter, Gracie’s, class to talk about what I do as a horticulturist.  


As I’ve shared before, Gracie has autism.  She and the other kids in her class have been learning about gardening, which includes having their own school garden.


The kids were so excited to show me what they were growing.


Healthy, green tomato plants were laden with new fruit that the kids took the time to show me.  Even though they were hidden underneath the foliage and still green, they knew where each new tomato was.

Gracie was anxious to show me a young squash growing.


The only red tomato in the garden took center stage.


In addition to growing plants, the kids were also learning how to compost, which they will use to help enrich the soil around their garden.


At the end of the garden plot, was a grove of struggling citrus trees along with a few grape vines.

The teachers and class had just inherited this neglected citrus grove and wanted to learn how to care for them.


Despite years of neglect, the trees were still had some fruit.


An old grapevine was growing into the grapefruit tree and Gracie had to show me the lone cluster of grapes growing on it.


Finally, the kids showed me their new peach tree, which they earned the money to buy from their  recycling efforts.  

The peach tree will be the first, of hopefully many new fruit trees, that will line the walk to the garden.


I had a wonderful time with the kids and found myself teaching the teachers how to care for their new garden.

Last weekend, my husband and I went away to celebrate our 30th wedding anniversary.  We’d been looking forward to leaving kids and work behind and spending time alone eating great food, sleeping in and long walks enjoying beautiful surroundings.   

30 years ago

Now with past anniversary milestones, my husband would give me a piece of jewelry, and you would think that being married for 30 years would be marked by maybe a ring or necklace, but I wanted something else for this milestone anniversary.


Last month, one of my blog followers sent me a photograph of his stunning torch cactus (Trichocereus/Echinopsis hybrid), ‘Flying Saucer’.  Ever since I saw the brightly-colored flowers of this cactus, I knew that I wanted one for my garden.

Since our anniversary trip was to take us through the city of Tucson, we planned a short diversion to B&B Cactus Farm.

As we pulled up to the nursery, I was hoping that they had a ‘Flying Saucer’ torch cactus just for me.
These cacti are native to South America and do very well in the desert Southwest.  Their large blooms come in many different colors and often repeat throughout late spring and summer.


Walking through the cactus nursery, there was a large number of agave, cacti, and other succulents, which were somewhat distracting me from my mission to find the section where the torch cacti were located.

Finally, I found them!


Some were in full bloom like this ‘Blood’ variety.


Toward the entrance, they had the larger specimens including a few large ‘Flying Saucer’.  


There were also some other hybrids as well.


It was hard to believe that even the younger torch cacti could produce the large, colorful flowers.


The blooms last only a day, but there are often multiple blooms.


At this point, I should mention that while I appreciate many different types of cacti and use many in my designs, I only have a few in my landscape.  


But, because I love flowers, I wanted to make room for one of these lovely cacti.

It is hard to believe how these cacti, that blend into the background throughout most of the year, are completely transformed by these breathtaking blossoms.

Now, back to my decision.  As you might have expected, I was tempted by the other varieties of torch cactus.  While they did have the ‘Flying Saucer’ one that I wanted, they only had a few large specimens.  So my choice was to buy one large one or two smaller torch cacti for less money.


I elected to buy a smaller ‘Ember’, which looked similar to the ‘Flying Saucer’ and I picked the ‘First Light’ since I love pink flowers.


As we drove away, I looked back at my new torch cactus in the back seat thinking that I couldn’t wait to plant them when we got home.  My husband smiled and said, “You never cease to surprise me, choosing cactus to mark our 30th anniversary rather than jewelry”.

We had a wonderful weekend together, and my torch cacti will be planted this week.  I’ll be sure to show you pictures of their blossoms.  Have you ever seen a torch cactus or perhaps, have one yourself?

For more information on these cacti and their beautiful flowers, click here.

Drive through any Southwest neighborhood and you are highly likely to see cacti growing alongside shrubs and groundcovers.  


I must admit that I don’t have a lot of cactus in my own landscape – there are three to be exact.  But, the few that I have, I find myself particularly attached to.


This is my Mexican fence post cactus (Pachycereus marginatus), which I brought home as a single cactus cutting over 10 years ago.  As you can see, it has grown a lot since then, growing taller and producing new stems.


Three years ago, we took a cutting from this cactus and gave it to our friends and neighbors, who live kitty-corner from our house.  

Newly planted – March 2013.

Every since then, I’ve kept my eye on this newly planted cactus watching with interest as it grew.

November 2013

Eight months later, two new stems began to emerge.  You can see the parent cactus in our yard in the background.

March 2014
A year later, the new stems were becoming more noticeable.

March 2015 – 2 years later

I was surprised at how quickly it grew.

Three years after planting.

Today, as I was driving home, I noticed a new little stem beginning to emerge.  

Many different types of cacti can be planted from cuttings and it has been so much fun watching this one go from a single ‘spear’ to one with multiple stems.  

Have you ever planted a cactus cutting?  If so, what kind and how did it grow for you?

Click here, to read how to plant a cactus cutting.

Well, another road trip is drawing to a close, but not before two more fun-filled days.



After leaving San Francisco, we headed up toward Napa Valley.  Despite it being a rainy day, we were determined that getting a little wet wouldn’t hinder us from exploring this area.


Our first stop was (not surprisingly) a winery.  Many wineries were surrounded by beautiful landscapes and to be honest, I like plants more than wine, so I spent more time outside than inside sampling wine.


Olive trees and roses were prevalent in landscape beds alongside grape vines.


Young grapes were beginning to appear on the vine.


Ivy climbed up the walls of buildings and neatly trimmed boxwood shrubs enclosed areas filled with roses and shrubby germander (Teucrium fruiticans) shrubs.  


The green hills were studded with oak trees and tall poplar trees were also used throughout the area.


The next morning was sunny and warm making it a perfect day to spend exploring  Cornerstone Sonoma with its trendy stores and gardens.


Many of the stores were filled with items for both home and garden while others offered stylish clothing with a casual theme.  


An artisan created ollas onsite.  These clay containers are buried in the ground and are an old-fashioned way to water plants that have seen a resurgence in popularity. 

Also offered for sale were shallow basins that mimic the appearance of wood.  They were filled with water and used as containers for plants.


Old grape vines were used as borders for garden beds as well as for an accent piece in the garden – you could also buy some for your own garden.


Unique, rusted metal containers were for sale, just waiting to be taken home and planted.

Throughout the shopping area were creative container plantings that I really liked.  They were housed in square metal containers and filled with purple hop bush (Dodonaea viscosa ‘Purpurea’) and bush morning glory (Convolvulus cneorum).  The focus on these containers wasn’t on flowers but rather on the colorful foliage of the plants.

One very exciting element of Cornerstone Sonoma is their new partnership with the folks at Sunset Magazine who are moving their test gardens and their test kitchen to this popular spot in Napa Valley.


While the official opening isn’t until mid-May, the Sunset Test Gardens were well on their way to being completed.

Large amounts of plants were still waiting to be planted in the new Sunset test gardens, which is where new plant varieties will be evaluated while also allowing the public to see them up close.

Landscapers were hard at work planting the new gardens.


 There are a lot of creative garden structures and I hope to see these gardens someday once everything is finished.



Next on our tour was the existing Cornerstone Gardens, which are described on their website “as  an ever-changing series of gardens, showcasing innovative designs from international and local landscape architects and designers.  They create a cultural and creative haven, celebrating the connection between art, architecture and nature”. 

“There are currently nine Cornerstone Gardens. 
Continually in a state of evolution, some garden installations will be in place for a season, while others will remain for several seasons.”

Approaching the gardens, the main path takes you by a grassy area, dappled with shade.  The focal part of this area is the ‘plastic pinwheel flower garden’.  Passersby enjoy this fun take on a traditional flower bed – especially kids.

Individual gardens were surrounded by Japanese privet hedges, creating a sense of mystery as you walk toward the entry into each one.

One of my favorites was In the Air by Conway Chen Chang.  “This garden is intended to give the viewer a better sense of the human relationship to air in a very playful and whimsical way.”

Wisteria Vine

Clematis flowers
A curved path with uniquely-shaped step stones sits beneath curved metal rebar with clematis vines.

The next garden was filled with plants that are popular in the Southwest, including Mexican feather grass (Stipa tenuissima) and Agave salmiana.

Garden of Contrast by James Van Sweden and Sheila Brady

“This is an experience of contrasting texture, form, color, and scent that changes with the seasons.”

I love contrasting textures in the landscape and using agave with its bold shapes alongside ornamental grasses and their wispy texture creates drama in the garden.

Eucalyptus trees
This garden was the most unusual, in my opinion and paid homage to the eucalyptus tree.

Eucalyptus Soliloquy by Walter Hood & Alma Dusolier

“A celebration of the non-native eucalyptus trees in the Sonoma Valley.”

Driving throughout Southern, Central and Northern California, eucalyptus trees are almost as  familiar as native oak trees.
Wire cages held strips of eucalyptus bark and decorative eucalyptus seed pods were piled at the base.


The wire cages framed an attractive view with a pond filled with waterlilies.

Rise by Roger Raiche and David McCrory

“A tubular experience that stirs and arrange of emotional response.  A place for interaction and play.”

I loved the use of contrasting colors and textures in this garden, don’t you?


The view at the end of the ‘tunnel’ was a field of grape vines.

We spent a wonderful morning at Cornerstone Sonoma and I highly recommend visiting if you ever find yourself in San Francisco (it’s about 1 hour north).

As we left Napa Valley, heading back toward to San Francisco and our airline flight back home, I found that crossing the famous Golden Gate Bridge the perfect way to finish a fabulous road trip.



Thank you so very much for coming along with me.  


We will be back on the road next year!

San Francisco has been a popular destination for me and my family.  While I was born and grew up in Southern California, both my parents are from the northern part of the state.  As a result, trips to the San Francisco area were frequent events in my childhood as well early in my marriage when our two oldest girls were young.

For this part of our road trip, we decided to do something that we had never done in San Francisco – visit Alcatraz – or more specifically, the gardens of Alcatraz.



Believe it or not, Alcatraz has gardens, many of which were created and tended by the inmates themselves.

The boat ride to the island of Alcatraz is very short as it is only 1-mile away.


However, as you leave the dock, the views of the city of San Francisco as spectacular.


Coit Tower, which was built in 1933, stands sentinel as boats come and go.


Off in the distance, the Golden Gate Bridge traverses the gap between the city of San Francisco to the south over to Marin County to the north.


As we neared the Alcatraz Island, you could see the much of the city.


As you approach the 22-acre island, you notice that part of the island is covered in greenery.


Century plant (Agave americana) grows wild along the hillside and many were flowering.

Getting ready to dock, you get a good glimpse of the structures on the island, which housed prisoners 1934 – 1963.  Before that, it was a U.S. military prison.


It was believed, and correctly so, that no inmate could successfully escape through the waters of the bay with its strong currents.


After you disembark from the boat, you are greeted by a park ranger who gives you guidelines for your visit.  Basically, you can’t take food anywhere on the island (other than the dock area) and you must not remove any plant material.


There are a large number of birds who call this island their home and this was nesting season, so some of the areas were off limits.


Now, it was time to climb up to the top where the prison building was located – the equivalent of 13 stories.  There was a tram for those who couldn’t make the walk to the top.


The walk to the top was a gradual slope with no stairs.  These stairs were roped off.


I was so proud when I reached the top and looked down to see how far I had come.


We entered the prison, which offers a great audio tour.  


The cells were still there and some were set up as they were when this prison still held inmates.

Details of escape attempts were shared during the tour.


Former inmates said the it was torture to be able to see the city just off in the distance while they were stuck in this horrible place that was cold and drafty.


The part of the tour that was really difficult was walking into a cell where prisoners were held in solitary confinement.  Once the doors closed, there was no light and total darkness.

While the prison tour was very interesting, I was much more interested in the gardens on this rocky island.


The gardens begin along the roadside the leads up toward the top of the island where the prison is located.  



It was almost surreal to be walking along, enjoying the beauty of colorful plants and mixtures of textures on the way to a stark prison where prisoners would be, for the most part, quite miserable.


One of the few bright spots for the inmates were the gardens that they tended.

One former inmate enjoyed gardening on the island so much that he went on to have a

 successful career as a landscaper once he was released.



As you might imagine, it was a privilege to work in the gardens and gave prisoners a brief respite from their incarceration.  Inmates were trained how to care for plants, many of which were donated.


While the garden plants on Alcatraz aren’t native, they do thrive in the harsh climate of the island.  This red valerian (Centranthus ruber) does so well on Alcatraz, that is growing out of a wall.

Canada geese with their goslings explore part of the garden.

A seagull sits on her nest amidst colorful ice plant.

Parts of the garden were roped off because feathered residents of the island were nesting and raising their young.


However, we were still able to see them from above.  This section of the garden was called the Officer’s Row Gardens.


The inmates and staff weren’t the only residents of the island.  The families of the staff also called Alcatraz home and assisted in the creation and care of the gardens. 

As there are no prison staff or inmates to take care of the gardens anymore, volunteers come to maintain the garden areas.


What a cool way to volunteer!



Built in 1929 the warden’s house was created after the popular Mission Revival style.  In 1970, a fire destroyed much of the house.  The skeleton still stands.

The Bay Bridge visible from an old window from the warden’s residence.

Our visit to Alcatraz lasted about 2 hours, which took us through the prison building and allowed plenty of time to explore the picturesque gardens.


It also serves as a good reminder that it pays to follow the law 🙂


If you would like to learn more about the gardens of Alcatraz, click here.


What is the tallest tree that you have seen?  


See how tiny I am compared to the trees?

How about one that is over 250 ft. tall?

Our journey took us to a place that I have been to at least ten times – from trips as a small child, a teenager, as a young mother and finally as a grandmother.

Big Basin Redwoods State Park is located in the mountains outside of Santa Cruz, California, and as you will see, it is a truly incredible place filled with stunning beauty among giant redwood trees.


Upon entering the park, you notice the shady conditions with spots of sunlight shining through.

On the left is a large cross-section of a redwood tree that fell in 1934.

What is special about this tree is its age.



Tree rings tell the age of a tree and this tree has lived through many historic events, including the birth of Jesus, indicated by my finger.



This outer ring is from when Lewis & Clark’s expedition in 1804.



As many times as I have seen this display, it never ceases to amaze me at the longevity of these Coastal redwood trees (Sequoia sempervirens).

Visitors take a leisurely stroll along the .8 mile-long path that meanders through the redwood grove.


The enormous height and size of the trees are hard to understand until you see someone standing next to them.

Compare the perspective from the photograph above and the one of the same area below, except now I am standing at the end of the path.



It’s hard to see me, as I am so dwarfed by the trees.

Coastal redwood trees grow along a narrow corridor from Big Sur to southern Oregon.



Rainfall is just one way that the redwoods receive the water they need.  The fog that primarily occurs in summer can provide up to 50% of their water needs.  

The lower leaves (needles) are flat, which allows water droplets from the fog to drip down to the root zone.  The upper needles that are exposed to more sunlight are rounder and have a thicker coating, which protects them from excess evapotranspiration (losing water from their leaves).



The walk through the trees is quite educational, with certain trees singled out for special attention. 

Our favorite has always been the tree that has a ‘wooden cave’ inside its base.


The Fremont tree has a hollow base that was created from a fire long ago.  John C. Fremont was exploring California in 1846 and allegedly camped inside the tree.

Over time, the outer part of the tree has been slowly growing back over the old fire damage, creating a ‘wooden cave’.  The opening is gradually closing up, making it difficult for adults to step inside without doing a lot of crouching.

While these trees are very long-lived, our family has seen the Fremont tree change. 
-In the 1950’s my mother and her entire family of six, could walk through the hole of the tree and stand up inside.
– In the 1970’s I did the same with my family.
– Once the 1990’s came around, I brought my kids to this place and while we had to crouch to enter the tree, we still could.
– Fast forward to 2016, and the opening is too small for me to want to crouch to get inside – I’m afraid that I won’t be able to get back up 😉


Walking next to these old, majestic trees, you cannot help but get a healthy perspective on what’s going on in your life and the world when you consider all the history that they have lived through.



The photos above are all of the same tree.  It took three separate photos to get the entire tree.


The lush undergrowth is filled with ferns, greenery, and some shade-loving iris.

The visitor center has been recently renovated and is filled with great displays, which detail the ecosystem of the majestic beauties including the wildlife and other plants.

If you ever find yourself in San Francisco, I invite you to take the 1 hour and 20-minute journey to this special place.  While you are in Santa Cruz, you can stop by the beach and the Boardwalk.


After leaving the Big Basin Redwoods, we drove up the adjoining mountain, 5 minutes away on a hunt for a cabin that used to belong to our family.

The cabin was owned by my mother and her siblings.  For years, we would all travel to the cabin where we would spend our summer vacation together with aunts, uncles, and cousins.

The cabin had three self-contained levels and a deck around the middle level.  We had heard that the cabin was not being used and that they path to the cabin had been blocked.  To be honest, we weren’t sure if it still existed.

So, I headed up a different trail, lower down, hoping to see our much-loved, albeit very rustic, cabin.



Imagine my surprise and delight when I found the cabin looking much the same as it did 16 years ago.

Fun-filled memories began to come back, including my cousin’s wedding held down in the forest and her reception on the deck of the cabin.

Our cabin was balanced precariously on the side of a hillside and had no foundation.  Believe it or not, it rested on jacks.

Back in 1989, we were staying there when there was an earthquake; that was a pre-cursor to the large one that hit the San Francisco area in October for 1989.  The cabin didn’t slip down the hill then and is still standing.


There are no occupants of the cabin, and we are not sure what the owners have planned.  Maybe they want to build a new cabin someday?

At this point of our trip, we were ready to head north to San Francisco.  Like most of our road trip, we don’t always travel the fastest way – our goal is to enjoy the journey, so we decided to travel on Highway 1 along the coast through the small towns of Pescadero and Half Moon Bay.


Pescadero is one of the few areas that has remained largely untouched in the 20 years since I had been there.  The church, with its tall steeple, still is the highest point in the town.



The two small grocery stores have a nice selection of baked goods – especially sourdough bread.  Californians are serious about their sourdough!



A few miles down the road is the larger town of Half Moon Bay.  The main street is filled with very interesting boutiques, restaurants, and galleries.  This beach town is also known for its nurseries.

Creative container plantings lined the street.


Succulents grow like they are on steroids in northern California!

 If you think that you have heard of Half Moon Bay before, you likely have.  Surfers flock to the beaches of this small town where waves 25 – 50 ft. and more are known to occur. 


San Francisco, here we come!

This day of our road trip proved to be the most activity-filled of all.


Our hotel, The Butterfly Grove Inn.
We spent the night in a place that holds special memories from my childhood.  Pacific Grove is a town that is located next to the city of Monterey.  My grandparents would spend their summers there each year and we would venture up the coast to visit them.


We would take the short walk from the house to the beach, which was filled with rocks to climb on and tidal pools filled with anemones and hermit crabs.  Small sea shells were plentiful as well.

So, while planning our itinerary for this trip, Pacific Grove was one of the first places we chose to visit.


As we got ready to leave our hotel in the morning, we drove by the Monarch Grove Sanctuary.  

While many Monarch butterflies head south to Mexico, those that live west of the Rocky Mountains head to the coastal areas of California where they winter in the pines.


Pacific Grove is called “Butterfly Town, USA” and  it residents are proud of its seasonal visitors.  In fact, if you purposely cause injury to the butterflies, you could be faced with a $1,000 fine.


The main street is filled with colorful Victorian homes that have been converted into businesses.


A handmade furniture store located in one of the older masonry buildings had this sign up in their window, reminding us that earthquakes are a part of life in California.

Years ago, in the 80’s, we were walking downtown and saw an old, white Victorian house that was for sale for $1.00

Of course, there were stipulations that the city would require for renovating the house without sacrificing its historical character.  

We never forgot that house, but after 30+ years, we couldn’t recognize which house it was.


One of my favorite stores on the main street was a little garden shop.  Two friendly dogs welcomed visitors as they walked up the steps to an outdoor area filled with unique containers filled with combinations of succulents.

Vintage glass containers filled with succulents.

I have always had an affinity for recycling old items and turning them into containers for plants. 


I have seen chairs planters filled with colorful annuals, but this is the first one with succulents.  I like it, don’t you?


After shopping downtown, I couldn’t wait to get to the beach and explore the tidal pools and the beaches.

While I was taking pictures of the sea, my mother was taking a photo of me.


And I took one of her.


I decided that at 50, I was still young enough to climb over the rocks to explore.


As I turned to walk back to the car, where my mother was patiently waiting, I was pleasantly surprised at how far I had come.  I could just imagine my 14-year-old son scrambling over the rocks with me.

When I spotted my mother in the car, I noticed that she had made some new friends.


She had taken some of our whole wheat sourdough bread and was sharing some with the birds.


Once I reached the edge of the beach, I was greeted by a little friend who was undoubtedly hoping that I was generous like my mother.



Well, it turns out that I was willing to share some bread, so my little friend invited some of his friends.



This Canada goose also wanted some too.

After feeding both birds and squirrels, my bread was gone.


However, this was not to be our only encounter with wildlife this day.



As we drove down the coast toward Lover’s Point, we noticed a group of people gathered next to a temporary fence with binoculars and cameras.


Curious, we parked our car and joined them.



This is what they were looking at.  


Can you see the two animals in the center of the rocky shore?


Here is a closer view.  This is a harbor seal with her baby, which is only about a week old.


This particular beach in Pacific Grove is a very popular place for harbor seals to give birth and raise their pups.  From March to May, they give birth and care for their babies for about a month before leaving them to fend for themselves.


 The people we joined in viewing the seals, were volunteers, who observe the seals and note their size and activity.  Some volunteers keep track of how many babies are born each season.  So far, there had been 35.



As we were watching the seals swimming along the shore, a mother and her pup came up on the sand so that her baby could nurse.  What a special moment to have been able to see!

Carmel Mission



After we had spent some time with the seals, we drove to the nearby city of Carmel-by-the-Sea, which is a small beach city that is famous for its beautiful mission, picturesque downtown and fairytale cottages.



If you have followed our road trip, then it shouldn’t surprise you that we found ourselves at the Carmel Mission.  I had first visited this mission back in 2000.  Known as the “crown jewel of the missions” for its beauty, the Carmel Mission  opened in 1793.


The gardens surrounding this mission were absolutely lovely.

Wooden gates were flanked by large beds filled with a combination of flowering perennials and shrubs.



For entry into most missions, you pay a small fee, usually at the gift shop before entering.




Within the walls of the mission were smaller structures with a colorful mixture of geraniums, roses, Jupiter’s Beard (Centranthus ruber), sea lavender (Limonium perezii) and Santa Barbara daisies (Erigeron karvinskianus).



The branches of a Lady Banks rose adds beauty to the side of this mission building.



A large cork oak tree adds beauty to this inner garden of the mission.

Santa Barbara Daisy (Erigeron karvinskianus)



You often see Santa Barbara daisy, with its small white and pink daisies, growing throughout many coastal areas of California.  I grew it as well in the garden of our home in Phoenix in filtered shade.

This is a part of the cemetery where native American graves are edged with abalone shells. 

The significance of the abalone is explained with this sign.



After touring the garden and other structures, we headed into the church.



As you can see, the interior is beautiful. The metal rods that run through the ceiling help to provide stability.



At the front of the church, the crucifix along with other statues add to the beauty of the church.



For those of you, like me, who learned the history of California in school, this grave will interest you.  Father Junipero Serra, the founder of many of the California Missions is buried right here, where his picture rests.


Besides the having the “crown jewel” of California Missions, Carmel is also know for its fairytale cottages.

Our House Cottage

These small cottages were built in the 1920’s, by Hugh Comstock and they look like they stepped straight out of a fairytale.  

I’m not sure which one this is.

He created the homes for his wife’s rag dolls that she made and sold.  The cottages came with unique names such as Birthday House, Hansel, Gretel, Fables and Storybook Cottage, just to name a few.

Fables


The Birthday House



The size of the homes are quite small and people really do live in them.


To get to them, you have to hike up some hilly streets – (my feet still hurt) while being respectful of the occupants privacy.

Hansel

To learn more about the imaginative cottages, click here.

Toward the end of the day, we headed toward adjoining Monterey and The Old Monterey Marketplace and Farmers’ Market, which takes place on Tuesday evenings, beginning at 4:00.




Three city blocks are filled with vendors selling delicious organic produce, baked sweets as well as handcrafted items. 



We bought some food for our dinner before heading off to our next destination of Santa Cruz.


Walking toward our car, we passed by this vendor displaying his wares…



If that doesn’t scream California to you, then I don’t know what does.


I wanted to take a moment to thank you for your kind comments on both my blog and facebook page.  It has been so fun sharing our experiences with you!

Whenever we go on a road trip, something always unexpected happens, which helps to make the experiences that we have, even more memorable.  This was certainly true of this day.



After leaving San Luis Obispo, we drove through Morro Bay, known as the “Gibraltar of the Pacific”.  It is dominated by a 23 million year old, volcanic plug that reaches 581 feet tall.


At a distance, it appears to just rise straight up with no gradual rise in sight.  

Growing up, we went camping a lot as a family.  Our first camping trip took place in Morro Bay.


Seagulls make their homes along its walls and you can drive around part of it.


A causeway extends out to the rock that cars can park on.  People can walk up and down the causeway or simply sit on a nearby bench and watch the waves.

Of course, you do have to be careful, especially during periods of high surf.

Surfers by the dozen were out this morning and two old surfers were discussing their most memorable rides.

It was while we were sitting and watching the waves that we received some unexpected attention.


This curious seagull flew onto the hood of our car and spent the next several minutes watching us eat our lunch.  I am sure that he was trying to figure out how to get inside so he could steal whatever we were eating.

I say ‘steal’ because that is what seagulls are very good at doing.  That being said, he was very cute, but determined.  As we started to pull away and drive off, he was thinking of coming along with us…


It was so funny to see him trying to decide whether to try to hitch a ride with us or not.  He eventually decided to fly away.

Our route today would take us up the famous stretch of Highway 1 throught some of the most picturesque scenery along the rocky California coast.  It isn’t the fastest way up to Northern California, but it is the quite beautiful.

As we drove through the beautiful, small town of Cambria, I saw some water conservation signs, which were quite original.



They are quite creative, aren’t they? 

This stretch of Highway 1, from Cambria to Monterey, is a windy road flanked by grass land, forest and stunning coastline.

Do you see that little shiny spot in the ocean?  That is a whale!

We were driving along the highway when I noticed not just one, but three whales swimming close to the beach.  Even though I spent my first 20 years, living in California and have visited countless time since then, I have never seen a whale swimming in the ocean – until this day.

To say that I was excited, is an understatement.  We pulled off at a viewing area along with other travelers who were just as excited as we were.  The whales were slowly making their way north.  I am no expert on whales, but they may have been gray whales.


As I mentioned earlier, we went on a lot of camping trips and one of our favorite destinations was Limekiln, which is south of Big Sur along Highway 1 in California.



We would camp a little higher in the hills surrounded by trees and then walk down to the beach and climb on the rocks.  I have a vivid memory of my dad standing on a rock and getting drenched unexpectedly, by a large wave while my mom fed us Vienna sausages from a can.  It’s funny what you remember from you childhood.


Here is a photo of our campground years ago with our much-loved yellow and blue tent.


Almost to our destination, we drove through Big Sur with its tall redwood trees.


We walked through the woods for a while and then stopped off for an ice cream cone at the Big Sur Lodge.


This is the southern edge where the large redwood trees grow, reaching up to 250 feet in height.  Further north, they can reach 350 feet.  Later in our trip, we will visit on of my favorite places with majestic redwood trees.


The California coast is filled with wildlife and stunning beauty and I was so grateful to have had a chance to experience it again.

Four days into our California road trip, we have had a wonderful time, which included some welcome surprises.

My mother and her sister, enjoying a nice conversation over breakfast.

Sunday morning began with a nice breakfast with my aunt and uncle at their house.  Then we were off to Los Olivos (again) where my cousin lives.  She invited us to attend church with her and her daughter.

Me and my cousin, Mandi.

The church is located in the middle of Santa Ynez Valley, which is horse and wine country.  Many of the people at church were ranchers who raise horses or else grows grapes.

After church, we had lunch with my cousin before heading north toward San Luis Obispo with a stop or two along the way.


Next to the restaurant, was a lovely, pink climbing rose.


Our next stop was the small town of Solvang, which was established in 1911 by a group of Danish people who wanted to live in a warmer climate rather than the Midwest.


The town is a tourist mecca, and I used to visit Solvang often while I was growing up.



Being 1/8 Danish, I like to revisit my roots 😉




Like most tourist towns, there is a large number of curio shops, but also some authentically Danish ones too.


My mother used to go to a certain shop to buy decorative trim for the dresses that she would make when I was a little girl.  It’s funny that out of all the stores in Solvang, that is the one that I remember most.


After leaving Solvang, we drove by the California Mission of Santa Ines that was established in 1804.  


Of course, like many of the California Missions, it had a lovely rose garden.


This is a characteristic vista that you will see throughout Santa Ynez Valley with rolling hills, grassland, and oak trees.  The Pacific Ocean is on the other side of the mountain range.  This valley is drier and hotter than the coastal areas.


Yes, this is another California Mission.  I have always had an affinity for them, mostly from a historical sense.

Mission San Luis Obispo de Tolosa was built in 1772 and is located along California’s Central Coast.
What I first noticed that it was more rustic than the Mission in Santa Barbara.  It was much smaller and not quite as grand.  I liked the painted flowers along the walls.


The wooden ceiling was scattered with star symbols.


The garden surrounding the Mission was lovely.


Pink roses lined the pathway.
Alstroemeria is quite prevalent in many of the gardens that we have seen.  This flower has a special place in my heart as they were the main flower used in my wedding.

A row of Mexican bush sage (Salvia leucantha) was in full bloom around the grounds of the Mission.


Of course, it wouldn’t be California without the iconic stand of eucalyptus trees.

As we prepared to leave the Mission, we came upon a rack with sweaters and scarves hanging from it.  Underneath it had the following inscription:

“I am not lost.  If you need this to stay warm, please take it.  Be warm and help someone else when you can.”

I couldn’t agree more 🙂

I invite you to return tomorrow when we visit a town in Northern California, where I spent a lot of time as a child.  I will also share our adventure with an unexpected hitchhiker. 

The third day of our road trip began in Santa Barbara – a place that we are both very familiar with.  However, our goal for this day was to do a combination of things; some which we had done before while also taking part in some new experiences.



The first outing on our itinerary was to visit the Santa Barbara Mission, which is also known as the “Queen of the California Missions.”

As you can see, it is quite large and very beautiful.  But, before entering the mission, the rose garden that lay across the street was in full bloom and was calling to me.  For those who have been reading this blog for a while, you have undoubtedly seen me writing about the rose garden.

The rose beds were encircled by large expanses of grass, where you can see dogs chasing after the balls, frisbees being thrown and picnic blankets set out.


In April, all the roses were at the peak bloom, and the air was perfumed with their fragrance.



This bed was created with three different roses with different heights.  
I’m sorry that I can’t tell you what each type of roses these are, because they weren’t labeled.



My mother liked the multi-colored roses best, like the Mardi Gras, pictured above.


After getting our fill with lovely roses, we walked up toward the mission.


The sounds of water from the Moorish Fountain along with the scents of the roses and the beauty of the mission building itself is the reason that I make a stop here every time I am in Santa Barbara.


The mission was built in 1786, and it is still a working church.  All of the 21 California Missions were built to help convert the native Americans to Christianity.  The history of these missions is well know to every child in California as it is an integral part of the state’s history.

For our visit today, we decided to take the self-guided tour.



This is the ‘lavanderia’, which was built in 1808 by the Chumash Indians of the Santa Barbara mission village.  It is the wash basin where the Indian women did the laundry.  The clothes were washed in the basin and then scrubbed and laid out to dry along the sloped sides.



At the end of the lavanderia is the head of a mountain lion that was carved by a Chumash Indian.  It is thought to the be the oldest, public stone sculpture in California.

A flowering Dasylirion quadrangulatum.

The interior courtyard was filled with areas of grass, majestic palm trees, flowering perennials and a smattering of succulents.


Walking through the courtyard garden, you experience a feeling of serenity and the stresses of the day just melted away – so what if I had to submit a lengthy magazine article in less than 24 hours to my editor?

The cemetery was filled with old graves from the late 1700’s all the way to the early 1900’s.  The Indian girl from the book, “Island of the Blue Dolphins”, who was found on the islands just off the coast of California, is buried on the mission grounds in an unmarked grave.



This shaded pathway ran along the side of the cemetery.


In the center of the grassy area, was a huge Moreton Bay fig tree from Australia, that was planted in 1890.

After leaving the outdoor areas, we walked through the church just as a wedding was almost ready to start. 

As we walked out, I was reminded about why I love to visit this special place.



Have you ever visited a California Mission?  There are 21 located along the California coast from San Diego to San Francisco.  I’ve seen several, and will visit a few others on this trip, which I’ll share with you.

Now for the second part of our day…




Casa del Herrero is an historic mansion located in Montecito, which is a small town located next to Santa Barbara.


This Spanish Colonial style home was built in 1925 and is still largely the same, indoors and outdoors making it a wonderful example of the style of the 1920’s period.

A purple trumpet vine crawls up the side of the front entry.



This was the home of the Steedman family who came from St. Louis.  They made the decision to build their second home in Santa Barbara (Montecito).  Mr. Steedman was a engineering graduate of Harvard and owned a munitions plant that was instrumental during WW I.


After retiring, he began silversmithing and working with other metals, earning him the name “the blacksmith”.  His workshop is filled with countless tools, meticulously arranged.  There areseveral of his inventions still in the workshop that he had patented.

Bright red geraniums hang from the window, peeking through the rejas (decorative iron work covering the window).




Tours of the estate are by reservation only and small groups are led by docents at a pre-arranged time.  The tour begins in the home where no photography is allowed.  Then it moves to the garden and finally the workshop.  As you can probably guess, I was mostly interested in seeing the garden.



Numerous examples of creative metal work could be seen both inside and outside the house.

The tour begins in the house.  Photographs were allowed outside but not indoors.  I did really like the windows, which were covered with decorative metal iron, which is characteristic of the Spanish Colonial Revival style.  Another feature of this style is that window aren’t symmetrical – they are asymmetrical and occur wherever a window is needed for light or to open up a view.


The style of Santa Barbara (and Montecito) is the Spanish Colonial Revival style and I was very excited to see some great architectural examples as well as in the landscape design.



This view from the downstairs of the house shows a brightly-colored Spanish tiles.  The refreshing sound of water made me yearn to go outside.


At this point, I must say that I was pleasantly surprised at how much I enjoyed the inside tour.



When it was time to go outdoors, I tried to stay toward the front, without being obnoxious so that I could get pictures of the garden without people turning up in them – I think that I mostly succeeded 😉

This slightly raised area is backed by a ‘foot fountain’ where you can cool off your feet in the  shallow basin – I’d love something like that in my garden, wouldn’t you?



In this area of the garden, plants with white blooms were added at the request of the owners.  They liked to take a strolls at night and without outdoor lights, could still see where they were walking due to the way white blooms appear to ‘glow’ at night.

White bearded iris
Calla (Arum) lilies

Here is the rose garden, which was filled with tree roses enclosed in sharply pruned boxwood shrubs. Not really my style, but they were nice.

This other section of the garden starts with a unique water feature.



As with all Spanish Colonial Revival design, there are Moorish influences as is shown with this eight-pointed star-shaped fountain.

From an upper window, you can see how the star fits into the larger landscape.  I loved this part of the garden as your eye looks beyond the star toward what lies beyond.



A grassy space lined with star jasmine, trained as shrubs lead toward another water fountain and a gate at the very end.

It is so fun discovering what lies beyond as you walk closer.

I don’t know about you, but I really want to know what lies beyond the little gate.



Standing at the gate, you see an area that has been allowed to remain natural except for the Spanish tiled structure.  Evidently, the grandchildren of the originally owners would have campouts in this area and the servants would haul out cots, sheets and blankets for the kids.  I know that my kids would love to have done something like this.

Adding to the intrigue of this more natural area is a huge dragon tree (Dracaena draco), which adds intrigue and interest to this area.



Semi-circular steps lead you back up toward to the back of the house.

A shady seating area is covered with lovely tiles.  I think that this would be a really great option for a decorative patio.

Continuing toward the house, a narrow water feature runs down a few steps before draining into a basin covered in blue and yellow tiles.

Like most estates of the time, Casa del Herrero had a kitchen garden as well as an orchard.


Near the workshop, was a ‘runnel’, which ran along the wall.  This is another feature found in Spanish Colonial style.  They are often made from clay tiles and help channel rain water from the roof to a basin where it can be stored until needed – it’s like a Spanish version of a rain barrel.

We ended the garden part of the tour at the colorful potting bench of Mrs. Steedman.  It was covered in Spanish tiles and the bottom wooden portion was actually a ‘lazy Susan’ as it could be turned, revealing a shelf containing gardening implements.


The tour lasted exactly 90 minutes and was very educational and interesting.  I was inspired by many different elements in the gardens as well.

If you would like a chance to visit this special place, you can find out more information here.

After a busy day, we headed back up to my aunt’s house in Santa Barbara and had a lovely dinner with my aunt, uncle and cousin, who stopped by to see us.

All in all, a great day!