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!

After spending a fun-filled morning in Ojai, exploring the secret Taft Gardens, we traveled north toward the small town of Los Olivos, which is located approximately 35 miles north of Santa Barbara.



On our way out Ojai, we sat at an intersection where the traffic light was visible between the branches of an old, oak tree.

I love that the value of the tree was taken into consideration, and it was allowed to stay. 

After leaving Ojai, our journey took us through picturesque, winding roads through the mountains, many of which, were dotted with avocado trees.

Some of the avocado groves were planted on very steep mountainsides.  I wouldn’t want to be the one to pick them – I’d probably fall down the mountain.


Los Olivos is located in the Santa Ynez Valley, near the Danish town of Solvang.  It is home to a large number of wineries along with famous celebrities who like the peace and privacy while being within a few hours drive of Hollywood.

Upon entering Los Olivos, we drove by the entrance to a very famous (or infamous) property.  


This is the entrance to ‘Neverland’, which is Michael Jackson’s former estate.  The last I heard, it was listed for sale for a mere $100 million dollars.  

We decided to pass on buying this property and drove onto the main street in Los Olivos.

Small restaurants, wine tasting rooms, stores offering olive oil tasting and a smattering of gift shops dot the main road.


While I was enjoying the wares for sale in the stores, my attention was drawn to the plants that decorated the main street.

Lavender trumpet vine (Clytostoma callistegioides) and white Iceberg roses

A large Lady Banks rose rests on a dead tree trunk.

Spanish lavender and white Iceberg roses

White Iceberg roses are frequently used throughout many areas in Southern California.  I’ve seen it in parking lots, along roadways, and by storefronts.  It’s easy to grow and resistant to pests and disease.


Before leaving Los Olivos, we had to stop by a nursery that my mother had visited numerous times.


The majority of the nursery was filled with a large variety of succulents, many of which, were combined with garden art elements including fairy gardens.

A variety of Echeveria adds a whimsical touch to this fairy house.

A combination of moss and succulents help create this fairy farm.
The fairy gardens were created by one person who was truly talented.  Most of the gardens were quite large and out of my price range, typically costing between $200 – 600.  But, at least I could appreciate them and take pictures 🙂

Spider Web Hens and Chicks (Sempervivum arachnoideum)

A plant rack made from metal pipes.

There was such a large selection of garden art that I was sorely tempted to buy something, but there were too many choices so I contented myself with taking pictures of those that I liked.  What’s even better, is that taking photos is free!


Blue is one of my favorite colors to add to the garden, and I often recommend to my clients to add pieces of garden art in vibrant shades of blue.  The reason for this is, is that blue creates dramatic color contrast, and there aren’t many plants that produce blue flowers.


This was my favorite fairy garden.  The whitewashed building reminded me of the homes on the Aran Islands, my husband I saw in Ireland.  I also enjoyed the geese hiding among the succulent plants.  It’s hard to tell from the photo, but the container that holds this miniature garden is at least two ft. wide.

After spending the afternoon in Los Olivos, it was time to travel south to Santa Barbara, which has been described as “America’s Riviera”.



Santa Barbara holds a special place in my life.  As a child, my grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins all lived in Santa Barbara, so I spent a lot of my childhood there.

It is also the place where I went to college and met my husband.  

We drove by the house that my grandparents used to live in.  Memories of this home include Christmases past and summer dinners in the backyard.

The late 1970’s


Today

I was happy that I was able to recognize the house right away, even after almost 40 years.


The end of our day was nearing, and we drove to my aunt’s house on the other side of Santa Barbara.  My uncle, who is an architect, built this house in 1976, and I have memories of visiting the work site and later spending weekends there with my cousin, who was the same age.

The house is perched on the side of the hill; that overlooks the ocean and the Channel Islands.


It was so nice to be able to step into a welcoming home with family and a home-cooked dinner instead of staying in a hotel that night.

Then it was time to sleep and prepare for our next day’s adventure, which would involve exploring Santa Barbara further, including a historic mansion and its gardens in nearby Montecito.
Thank you for taking time out of your day to come alongside us as we journey up the coast of California 🙂

Did you ever read the book, The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett?  It was one of my favorite books as a child, and I always imagined myself exploring a hidden garden.



Well, on the second day of our road trip, I was able to explore a very secret garden that very few people have seen.

To be honest, this hidden garden wasn’t on our original itinerary.  We were to travel by boat to the Channel Islands and explore Santa Cruz Island for the day.  But it was canceled at the last minute due to the high winds.  So, we had to find something else to fill our do for the day.  What better than to find a garden to visit?

We did some searching for gardens near the town of Ojai, which was near our hotel and found a reference to the Taft Garden, which is a 265-acre garden that couldn’t be found on a map and wouldn’t come up on a GPS search.


We were given a map with landmarks provided such as a cluster of mailboxes, creek crossings, forks in the road and a big white barn.  With my reliance on GPS, it was somewhat surreal to navigate the way most people used to a long time ago.


The bottom of the map had large, bold print that advised us against sharing the location of the garden with anyone else, so I won’t spill the beans.

Our route meandered through the foothills of the mountains outside of Ojai, and we passed large homes that sat on large acreage.


Three peacocks were perched on a corner watching us drive by.

The road was so little traveled that we only saw one car on our way to the garden.


Groves of oak trees stood in natural areas along our route, which took us across two creeks, pass a large barn and finally to our destination.


The entry to the garden is unassuming so as not bring attention to the fact that it is there.


Our rental car was the only vehicle in the parking lot as we were the only visitors.


Walking toward the visitor center, I was filled with anticipation for what discoveries awaited us along the meandering paths of the garden.  I also like to learn about new plants and how I may be able to incorporate them in my garden as well as in those of my clients.

Stepping inside the small visitor center, you are asked to give a donation of $5.


Then you sign the guestbook.  

Believe it or not, we hadn’t seen anyone else in the garden at this point.


Near the visitor’s center, a lovely bed of colorful plants was on display.  The plants in this garden are primarily from Australia and Africa, and I was familiar with many of them, although a fair few were somewhat foreign to me.


The main path ran along one side of the garden with smaller, winding pathways branching off, encouraging exploration.

Aloe arborescens
This aloe was enjoying the dappled sunlight.


On the right side of the path was a nice collection of agave and prickly pear cacti.  The other side was filled with shrubs native to Australia and many different species of aloe, which are mostly native to South Africa.

Yellow Protea flower

Elk Horn (Cotyledon orbiculata)

One of the things that strike you right away about this garden is that this isn’t you typical botanical garden filled with beds of flowering annuals and perennials.  While there was plenty of plants flowering, many were somewhat unusual, although most could be grown in California as well as many other arid climates.


Scattered throughout the garden were bright red benches, which guests to stop and rest, to enjoy the beauty around them.



Agave is my favorite type of succulent, and they had several varieties including Agave angustifolia and Agave parryi ‘truncata’.  


Toward the center of the garden, is a large group of majestic oak trees that stand amidst an expanse of St. Augustine grass.  Interspersed throughout the lawn were small islands of I believe, clivia plants.


As I mentioned earlier, this Australian grass tree (Xanthorrhoea quadrangulata) is not your everyday plants – but very interesting – I’d say almost like a plant out of a Dr. Seuss novel, don’t you think?



There were so many lovely vistas as well as unusual plants and combinations; I was very busy taking a lot of photos.  However, my legs were quite sore the next day from bending and squatting down for the perfect photo shot – at least I don’t have to feel guilty for not being able to visit the gym on our trip 🙂


Mexican Marigold (Tagetes lemmonii)

Toward the back of the garden stood a large guest house.

A floss silk tree is surrounded with a variety of succulents.

Bright orange aloe blooms around the house.
The house was planted with a large variety of succulents, which were in full flower on this lovely spring morning.
Bougainvillea, yellow iris and a container filled with succulents add welcome color toward the entry.

Artichoke agave (Agave parryi ‘truncata’) and ‘Blue Glow’ agave


Across the lawn from the house, a desert area filled with several agave species, columnar cacti, golden barrels and yucca create a lovely contrast to the darker green plants surrounding them.



The dark pink flowers of rock purslane (Calandrinia spectabilis) grab your attention along with the bright orange flowers of soap aloe (Aloe maculata).

Mexican bush sage (Salvia leucantha) with Mexican feather grass (Stipa tenuissima)

This was by far my favorite combination of plants.  The contrast of textures with the grasses waving in the breeze and the upright purple flowers of the salvia was just breath-taking.



I took a video of how it looks with the wind blowing, which it was quite a lot that day.



In a nearby field, the bright orange flowers of California poppies (Eschscholzia californica) were in full bloom creating a carpet of color that could be viewed from the house.



Up the hill from the house stood a Japanese garden.  The raised terrace was built around a large oak tree, which I appreciated the shade it offered since I didn’t wear my hat 😉



Japanese statues and a Zen area completed this section of the garden.  


In the back of the raised terrace, was a vine-covered walkway with arches that looked out into an enclosed outdoor area.



Between the two arching oak trees was a circular stage.  Majestic oak trees were used to great effect throughout the entire garden.



As I walked back toward the house, I could see one of the gardeners hard at work, pulling weeds from around the succulents.



As we walked back toward the entrance, we took another route along a gravel path lined with tall tree aloes, pink flowering ice plant along with daisies of all colors blooming.



Despite the high winds, it I had a fabulous time in this very secret garden.  It is without a doubt one of my top 5 gardens of all time with its use of beautiful, drought tolerant plants from around the world.


If I had to pick my favorite vista of the garden, it would be the one pictured in this photo…



This is how I envision what heaven will be like.  I hope that God has a nice little garden cottage prepared for me next to a lovely garden like this one.


If you would like to learn more about this secret garden, here is a link to an article written about a few years ago with more photos.


Visits to the garden are by invitation only, and you can contact the garden through their Facebook page here.

Well, it’s that time of year again – time for our annual road trip.  Each year, my mother and I dust off our suitcases and embark on a trip where we enjoy the culture, food, history and of course, the gardens of a different region of the U.S.  

Each road trip takes 8 – 10 days to complete and we have a lot of fun planning the trip and the places we will see.  I also blog daily during our road trip sharing our adventures.



In the past, we have traveled throughout many regions of the country, starting out in one state and ending up several states away at the end.  We typically spend one day in each area before going on to the other.  So, we pick out one of two things that we want to do in each place we visit.


This year we decided to visit our native state of California.  Now, you may be wondering why we decided on going on a road trip through a state that we are intimately familiar with.  Our thought was to visit some of our favorite places that we had not seen in years while also seeing new places.



Our first day began early – my alarm woke me up at 3:30.  My dear husband got up to take my mother and me to the airport to catch an early flight to Los Angeles.

At this point, I must admit that it was very nice only to spend an hour on an airplane instead of 3, 4 or even 5.  The first destination of our trip was to The Getty Center, which consists of a world-famous art museum and beautiful gardens.  

As sculpture of a boy holding a frog greets visitors to The Getty Center

Once you arrive, you park and wait to get on a 5-minute tram ride that takes you to the top of the hill where the large museum sits.


Once we made it to the top, the large white buildings stood before us, filled with all priceless art.  Of course being a horticulturist, my attention was focused on the planting area filled with large London plane trees.  At this point, my mother knew the likelihood of me stepping indoors to view art was remote, so she said “goodbye” and headed indoors to look at the art exhibits while I headed out toward the gardens.


The London plane trees that caught my attention were planted amidst star jasmine, also known as Confederate jasmine, (Trachelospermum jasminoides).  In this area, it is grown as a groundcover instead of a vine.

Variegated elephant’s food (Portulacaria afra ‘Variegata’) takes center stage in this part of the Stream Garden.
The first part of the garden is known as the Stream Garden and runs along the sides of a narrow water feature, which runs through the top of the garden.



Echeverias of all types showed off their assorted shapes, sizes, and colors that gave the space a distinctive, yet attractive look.


In this area of the garden, a 
‘Sticks on Fire’ Euphorbia showed off its bright orange tips.


The water from the Stream Garden emerges out into the Central Garden, which consists of a shallow basin with a living mosaic design made out of neatly clipped shrubs.



Around the sides of this area of the garden are terraced beds that create the appearance of a ‘bowl’.

Red and yellow kangaroo paw were starting to bloom.


A lovely variety of shrubs and perennials grew within the terraced beds and pathways lead visitors through, allowing them to see the beauty up close.


Archways covered in a combination of potato and snail vine break up the pathways that line the terraced beds and frame vignettes of garden spaces left to be discovered.


Walking through the terraces, there were so many wonderful contrasts in both texture and color.


Purple leaf plum trees

Variegated nasturtium alongside the regular form of nasturtiums.
As you walk toward the top of the Center Garden, there is a more formal planting arrangement.

The top terrace is lined with trees underplanted with ‘Silver Lace’ society garlic (Tulbaghia violacea ‘Silver Lace’) whose purple flowers adds a nice cooling element to the garden.
Iconic towers made of rebar where bougainvillea grow up toward the blue sky.


Here is another view of the bougainvillea towers from up above.


Scattered throughout the wide expanse of the travertine tile-covered grounds stand groups of containers filled with creative combinations of drought tolerant plants. 

My favorite was this one filled with pink gaura and echeveria.


Many of the container plantings had succulents planted underneath the larger plants.


Located on a promontory, is a garden that inaccessible to visitors, but visitors can view it from above.  Behind the garden, panoramic views of the city of Westwood and UCLA can be seen. 

At this point, you may be wondering if I ever ventured indoors to view any art on display.  While I do love gardens, I also enjoy looking at art.  As a child, my parents would take us to art museums and I made sure that I had time to see some famous works of art at The Getty Center.

Now before you say that I shouldn’t have taken pictures of these two paintings, shown below, I want to say that it was okay to take pictures as long as you didn’t use flash photography.

Here were my two favorites – you will probably recognize them:

‘La Promenade’ by Renoir

‘Irises’ by Vincent van Gogh

After a wonderful time at The Getty Center, we continued on our journey through Los Angeles.  On the way, we stopped off to look at the house where I spent the first ten years of my childhood.


The house looks much the same as when we lived there.  The white picket fence is a newer addition, but the birch tree and large ash tree are still there.


There were roses growing in the garden, which made me remember those that my dad had always planted in that very same garden.

After leaving Los Angeles, we drove north to Ventura, which is about an hour away.  Before heading to our hotel, we drove by a place where a momentous event occurred.


This is the church where my husband and I were married almost 30 years ago.  My mother was a pastor there at the time and married us.

As you may have guessed, California is a very special place to me.  

I can’t wait to share our upcoming adventures with you tomorrow, which includes a visit to a VERY secret garden.


**I invite you to revisit some of our previous road trip adventures from the Midwest, Northeast, South and Northwest.

Do you like shopping for plants?  I do.  In fact, I often find myself tempted to buy more plants than I have space for.



Sometimes, I have come home with a plant I bought on impulse, unable to resist its lovely flowers.


It may surprise you to find out that there are potential pitfalls to avoid when shopping at the nursery such as unhealthy plants, not allowing for enough room in the garden for plants and buying plants that may are ill-suited to your area.


Before you head out to the nursery to add plants to your garden, I invite you to learn some helpful tips to make it a rewarding visit – from recognizing the signs of unhealthy plants, why smaller may be better and why it’s better to pass over a plant in full bloom for one that isn’t and more.  I promise that following even one of these tips will save you from buyers remorse and an empty wallet.

You can find my ten favorite tips for plant buying in my latest article for Houzz.com.  I hope you find it helpful!


Do you have a list of favorite plants?  I do.  Mine is made up of about 12 plants, and they change from time to time.

One of my recent additions to my favorites list is anacacho orchid (Bauhinia lunarioides).



This lovely plant can be trained as a small tree or a large shrub.


Fragrant white flowers appear in spring, and the foliage adds beauty throughout the year.


While I don’t have this plant in my landscape, yet – I have been using it in a few of my latest designs.

If you would like to learn more about this beautiful plant, I invite you to read my latest plant profile for Houzz.



How about you?  Have you ever seen or grown an anacacho orchid?

I love springtime in the desert when it comes alive in shades of yellow, orange and pink.  

Beavertail prickly pear (Opuntia basilaris)

Last week, while I was driving through a residential area nestled in the desert mountains, I could hardly keep my eyes on the road.


Everywhere I turned, there were brightly colored cactus blooming.  It’s a small miracle that I didn’t crash into the curb as I drove closer.


Even though this is my 31st spring in the desert Southwest, watching prickly cactus transform into colorful accents never ceases to amaze me.

Claret Cup Cactus

Strawberry Hedgehog

I like to see smaller cacti such as claret cup and strawberry hedgehog planted alongside boulders for a mix of textures.  The cactus also like the opportunity for their roots to be shaded by the boulder.


The colors of flowering cacti range from shades of orange, pink, red and yellow.


There are so many different types of flowers that it can be hard to identify them all.  But, that doesn’t stop you from enjoying their pretty flowers.


The flower petals are somewhat waxy and sturdy.  Bees flock to the open blooms.


Prickly pear cacti are particularly spectacular this time of year, and their flower color varies depending on the species.


I can hardly wait to see all the blossoms begin to open.

Pincushion cactus (Mammillaria)

I must confess that I don’t have a lot of cactus in my garden – I am more of a flowering shrub and perennial gal.  But, I do have a few cactus tucked in here and there that I have obtained over the years.

My favorite it a small pincushion cactus, which produces rings of pink flowers off and on throughout spring and summer.  The small, native bees just love the flowers.

How about you?  Do you have a favorite flowering cactus?


I’d like to share with you a story that began almost 50 years ago and involves someone who is very special to me.


Posing for the camera this past Easter.

Laurena is my cousin.  We are 5 months apart in age and grew up together in California.  From taking baths together as toddlers, spending summer vacations together, confiding in each other about boyfriends to being in each other’s wedding, she has always played an important part in my life.  
If some of you think that you may have seen Laurena before, you just may have.  

She and her family are featured in a commercial where she shares her battle with breast cancer that appears on television throughout the greater Phoenix area.


I still remember that day, two years ago on Easter, when she told me she had breast cancer.  I could hardly believe it.  How could my cousin, who I had grown up with, have cancer?  Sadly it was true.

The next year, Laurena went through surgery, chemotherapy and radiation.  Throughout her treatment, she remained positive and was an incredible role model for those around her on how to face, fight and overcome something as horrible as cancer.

Noelle (me) and Laurena as babies with our mothers and grandma.

You never know what trials and tribulations that life will bring except that they will come.

Laurena has been a wonderful role model on how faith, family and friends can come alongside and get you through the toughest of trials.  I am proud not only to have been her cousin for 50 years, but her friend as well.

Has there been anyone if your life who has inspired you with their battle with cancer?


You can watch more about Laurena’s story here.