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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.

I have been enjoying sharing with you about my recent trip to the beautiful gardens of Vizcaya, located in Miami, Florida. The trip and garden visit came as a part of my partnership with the folks at Troy-Bilt.  These gardens are inspired by Italian gardens and use plants that thrive in tropical climates.


Last time, we explored the secret garden, climbed up the man-made hill and saw a most magnificent, covered patio.


Today, I invite you to journey with me as we explore the gardens further…

 
The second part of our garden journey begins at the top of the man-made hill, looking toward the house.
 

 

On top of the wall, are examples of the stonework present throughout the gardens.  Most of it was made from limestone, which had a real ‘aged’ appearance.
 
 
This is a photo that I shared on my Instagram account of the mangrove forest.
 
Mangroves are trees that grow along coastal areas in the tropics in areas where most other plants cannot grow because of the salty water.  They are an important of the ecosystem and help to prevent erosion.
 

 

*Imagine how spooky this area would look on a foggy day?
 
 

 

A large staghorn fern (Platycerium bifurcatum) was mounted from the side of a Royal Palm tree.  They are epiphytes, which mean that they get water and nutrients from the air and not from the host plant.
 
When wet, this large staghorn fern can weigh up to 200 pounds!
 
 
 If you look carefully, you can Spanish moss hanging from the Southern Live Oak, which also grow in the desert – they just don’t get as big here.
 
*Did you know that Spanish moss is NOT a moss?  It is another example of an epiphyte and gets its water and nutrients from the air.  I have some from my trip to Savannah, Georgia last year that I used to make a terrarium.
 
 
A brown anole, which is a lizard native to Cuba and the Bahamas.  They are considered an invasive species in Florida.
 
 
This is a green anole, which is NOT considered invasive.


**A special thanks to my friend and garden companion, Steve Asbell, who explained the difference between these two lizards.
 
 

More examples of the statuary throughout the garden with ferns in the background.



Orchids grew naturally outdoors, which made me slightly jealous, although I have been able to grow them indoors.





There were even orchids growing in trees, which is where they are often found growing in the wild.  Most cultivated orchids are epiphytes, which means that they get their water and nutrients from the air.



As we neared the end of our journey through the garden, we encountered a fence with vines growing all over it concealing another secret garden.  There was a small hole, so I peeked through.



Looking through the hole, I saw another area of the garden that was closed off from the public.  I’m not sure if there are any plans to open this section called the Marine Garden, but I definitely wanted to explore it further.

 
As our time in the garden ended, I was so grateful to have been given the chance to view such a beautiful place.
 
I hope you enjoyed this ‘virtual’ tour.  If you are ever in Miami, I encourage you to take time to explore the Vizcaya Museum and Gardens.
 
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If you want to explore this garden further and learn more about its history, check out my friend Steve’s latest blog post.
 
Next time, I will share with you our next Floridian adventure, which was to create a community garden.  While vegetable gardening is much the same wherever you live (except for the plsnyinh calendar) we did encounter an unusual barrier, which I will share in my next post.
 
*I traveled to Miami as part of a group called the Saturday6, which is a group of six garden-bloggers from around the country brought together by the folks at Troybilt.