February 27, 2018

Spring Break at Balboa Park's Desert Garden

display garden

Back in March 2016, we had a family event in San Diego, so we made a vacation of it and did some sightseeing and exploring on the side. I've done a few previous posts on San Diego's botanical highlights.

Today, I'm focusing on Balboa Park's Desert Garden. I honestly only spent about two or three hours touring Balboa Park, and although there's much, much more to explore on a return trip, it's astonishing how many amazing treasures I discovered. Note that very few of the Desert Garden plants were marked (and I'm less familiar with these), so please correct me if I've identified them incorrectly.

The Desert Garden and Rose Garden are set off a bit from the rest of Balboa Park.

planted median

As you walk the bridge over Park Blvd., you notice that even the medians are planted with lovely xeric plants.


Looking back over the bridge, this offers some perspective--most of Balboa Park is on the other side.

highway overlook

At the edge of the Desert Garden, you get a nifty canyon view overlooking the highway below.

ice plant patch

When I was there, the Ice Plants (Delosperma cooperi) were blooming.

ice plant bloom

A stunning sight to see after four months of bitter winter.


I always notice the lizards when I travel. I know--when you see them all the time, it's not a big deal. But we have only a few lizards in Wisconsin.

hummer 1

This cute, little hummingbird followed me around the Desert Garden. I think it was a rufous, although I didn't get close enough for a positive ID.

barrel cactus and statice

This grouping of Golden Barrel Cactuses (Echinocactus grusonii) was impressive framed by Statice flowers (Limonium sinuatum).

blooming barrel cactus

Blooming Barrel Cactuses (Ferocactus spp.) were plentiful, too. The yellow flowers were yummy in the California sunshine.

old man and oxalis

I love the common name of this one: Old Man Cactus (Cephalocereus senilis). It looks soft as a pillow, but be careful! I also like the Oxalis blooms floating in among the grouping: I don't know if this was intentional, but it was pleasant.


The Sennas (Cassias?) were blooming golden yellow, too. I think this is either Senna surattensis or Cassia leptophylla. These two genera seem to be under review and have similar histories and purposes. Anyway, they're glorious in bloom.


No question about the drama and awesomeness of the Torch Aloes (A. arborescens). They seem much at home in San Diego, although they're native to Southern Africa.

cow's horn euphorbia

How about this awesome Cow's Horn Euphorbia (E. grandicornis)?

lion's tail

Lion's Tail (Leonotis leonurus) seems to beckon hummingbirds.

crown of thorns, chalkstick, artichoke agave

This grouping was my favorite in the Desert Garden: a beautiful Artichoke Agave (A. parryi), nestled between Crown of Thorns (Euphorbia milii) and Narrow-Leaf Chalksticks (Senecio cylindricus).

In this cold, wet transition from winter to spring here in Wisconsin, I'm longing for a warm, dry day. These pleasant memories help...a little.

various succulents

February 21, 2018



Where do you find your bliss? Recently, my mind wandered to the concept of bliss, and I wondered where people I love and care about find it.

Bliss, as described in part by Merriam-Webster is "complete happiness ... paradise ... heaven ..."

Bliss also has been described as completely living in the moment and finding great joy in a simple, singular observation, event, afternoon, or experience ... finding happiness in the present. And in that state of bliss, not obsessing about the past or worrying about the future.

I can't imagine living in a constant state of bliss--not in this life, anyway. But it hits me regularly, particularly in nature and during pleasant times with family and friends. Add prayer to it, and the experience can be pretty powerful.

Most of my moments of bliss are set off by simple, stunning visual cues in nature.


The exquisite beauty of a spring flower.

monarch on sumac 2

A butterfly landing on a fluffy plant in the dappled sunlight.

snowy leaf

Discovering the simple outline of a leaf under the sparkling snow.

Other times, bliss is more auditory.


Like the sound of spring songbirds.

foliage and water

Or gentle rain dropping on summer foliage.

Often, the bliss experience involves all the senses--sight, sound, scent, taste, and touch.

There are many other catalysts, too, but I don't want to bore you. I want to know: Where do you find your bliss?

February 12, 2018

Nature's Color Palette

moss color palette

I've been thinking about color lately. Many of us talk about color being wiped from the landscape during the winter, and it can certainly seem that way on dark days in December, January, and early February.

But the colors are still there, aren't they? They aren't as obvious because the light is low, the colors aren't as intense, and the grays and browns dominate. On many winter days, we see a lot of this:


Or more accurately, this:


Even the snow incorporates shades of gray, metallics, and even browns and blues.

Because color pops against white, and when the sun is bright, berries and the stems of Red Osier Dogwoods add shades of dramatic burgundy and maroon and red to the landscape:

maroon red

There's a certain blue-gray of a cloudy winter sky that seems to cry for brightness; while on other days, the sky sings in shades of crystal-clear, bright blues:

             gray blue    blue gray

Greens are everywhere: the dark, nearly black shades of the conifers, as well as the lighter, vibrant mossy greens:

             dark green    mossy

Of course, brown is always present, too, but oh so many shades of brown--from the dark browns of Oak leaves and soil, to the rusty, golden tones of moss sporophytes and the rainbows of browns on turkey tail fungi:

             brown    golden

When we pull together all the colors in our minds, a simple color mosaic begins to paint the picture, with snow as a central element ... when it's present:

winter color collage

But that's not enough: There are so many patterns and shadings in between. Evergreens are often blue-green, and that blue-gray sky is mixed with clouds:

Color Collage

It's insufficient and it's truly just the start of an endless panorama of color. But it helps to paint the picture of winter's colors. Winter, actually, is quite a colorful season if we care to look closely:

Winter Collage

* * * * * * * * * *

Note: In every season, I've been noticing fun color combinations and inspiring shades of color that feed my creativity. I'm not a painter, but sometimes I think, "Gosh, that chartreuse would be lovely in a sweater over a moss green blouse," or, "I've never realized how many shades of cyan are found in nature."

I've added a sidebar widget to this blog so I can record current inspiring colors around me. Do you ever feel inspired by the colors of nature?

February 04, 2018

Let's Head to the Tropical Dome

tropical dome

It's February, it's cold, and I'm trying to warm up. So let's head back to Milwaukee's Mitchell Park Horticultural Conservatory (The Domes).

I covered the Show Dome for a holiday post in December. The others--the Tropical Dome and the Desert Dome--don't change much with the seasons. And I learned a lesson: Start in the tropics and end in the desert, not the other way around. Moving from a dry climate to a humid one can be a little uncomfortable.

working plan

When I was there, displays described The Domes Task Force feasibility study. Currently in phase one, the task force goal is to rehabilitate the facility and provide a sustainable operating model going forward. The Domes have been a Milwaukee fixture for many decades.

cardinals guard

I hope The Domes' future will be bright; the facility's plant collection is incredible, like this stunning Cardinal's Guard (Pachystachys coccinea).

Other plants in the Tropical Dome that caught my attention included:


Many Bromeliads, including these Earth Stars (Cryptanthus spp.) clinging to rocks.

variegated ficus

Earth Stars surrounded by Variegated Creeping Ficus (F. pumila).

golden shrimp

Golden Shrimp Plant (Pachystachys lutea).

amethyst star

Amethyst Star (Pseuderanthemum laxiflorum).

bird of paradise

Birds of Paradise (Strelitzia reginae).

orange jasmine

Orange Jasmine (Murraya paniculata). (Yes, it did smell pleasant.)

fairy garden

This fairy garden featuring tropical plants was fun. I almost missed it while focusing on eye-level plants and tall tropical trees.


I was surprised by the impressive collection of orchids in the Tropical Dome.

orchid zygo rhein

Zygopetalum Louisendorf  'Rhein Moonlight.'

orchid phal 1

Bright yellow Phalaenopsis.

orchid phal kaoda

Phalaenopsis 'Kaoda Twinkle.'

orchid phal 2

Magenta-speckled Phalaenopsis.

orchid paph aladdin

Paphiopedilum 'Aladin.'

orchid catt summit

Cattleya percivaliana 'Summit.'

orchid angraecum

Angraecum eburneum subsp. giryamae.

orchid c. horace

Cattleya Horace 'Maxima' x  C. jeamanii.

orchid paph rothschild

An unmarked cross with Paphiopedilum rothschildianum.

orchid oncidium sharry

Oncidium 'Sharry Baby.'

orchid phrag geigelstein

Phragmipedium Geigelstein.

Some of these and other beautiful orchids had lovely scents, too, although I didn't spend enough time noting the fragrances.

The Domes facility is worth a trip if you live nearby or are traveling in the area, particularly if you need a little winter break.