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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. 

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.