Green as in Irish, Green as in Garden

Unlike most of my Paintbox Garden ruminations on colour, this one has a slightly more whimsical, personal approach. After all, March (my scheduled green month via my New Year’s resolution), contains St. Patrick’s Day — so two birds with one blog. Green Array-Janet Davis Ask anyone in my family what my favourite colour is, and they will all know the answer: green. My bedroom walls are kiwi-green; my kitchen is celery-green; our summer cottage is stained sage-green. Even my car is forest-green. My Green Subaru Outback

My clothes (many of them, anyway) are shades of green, from bright chartreuse to olive, no matter the season. Janet Davis-Green-Summer & Winter

Perhaps my passion for green comes from having family roots on the Emerald Isle. This pile of stone and slate is all that remained of my grandfather’s childhood home and blacksmith stable in what was once Kilkinamurry, near Banbridge, County Down, in Northern Ireland. I took the photo when we visited the ‘old country’ in 2008. But look at those lovely spring-green fields!  Green as in Ireland!

Campbell House & Blacksmith Shop ruins-County Down

The old Campbell house and blacksmith shop on Glen Corner, as we found it in May 2008 on our trip around Northern Ireland.

This (below) is how it looked in 1917. My great-grandmother Ellen Ann, the gardener, and great-grandfather Patrick Campbell are there in the centre, with some of their children and grandchildren around them, the men in their blacksmith aprons.  My grandfather, also named Patrick (Paddy) Campbell and also a blacksmith, had already immigrated to Canada in 1911.

Campbell Family House & Blacksmith Shop- Glen Corner-County Down

From left, daughter Maggie (m. Cooney), granddaughter Minnie McIvor, Ellen Ann, Patrick, son James and grandson Willie (Bill) McIvor.

Yes, Paddy Campbell. Perhaps I’m drawn to green for the love of gardening I inherited from my grandfather, seen here listening to 11-year-old (bossy? eager? young gardener?) me in his vegetable patch in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, when we would visit from the west coast for our summer vacations. (That’s my uncle Vic and cousin Debbie in the background).  If gardening is in the genes, I proudly claim a share of his DNA.

Janet & Paddy Campbell-Saskatoon I have green eyes, too, for what it’s worth – and I like to imagine I was born with them so I could ‘see’ the world through nature-tinted irises.  But of course, green eyes are a product of inheritance (both my parents had blue eyes, which makes mine kind of rare) and melanin pigment and light scattering, so I can’t claim any special powers there. No, I’m quite sure that my love of restful, cool green is a direct result of being so energized and happy in the green and growing world.

Green Eyes-Janet Davis But speaking of pigments, let’s talk about chlorophyll, the pigment that makes our world “green“ and enables our survival on earth through the process of photosynthesis, in which life-enabling oxygen is a waste product. Chlorophyll is in every plant, (there are two types, Chlorophyll A and B, depending on the photosystem of the plant). Though we call it the ‘green’ pigment, in fact it is because it reflects back unused green spectral light waves (sunlight provides the energy or photons needed for photosynthesis) that we perceive it as that verdant colour. In the sugar maple (Acer saccharum) below, the leaves are metabolizing chlorophyll even as they unfurl. A few weeks from now, the full complement of chlorophyll will have turned the leaves dark green.

Sugar maple-Acer saccharum-flowers & leaves In the Kentucky coffeetree (Gymnocladus dioicus) below, photosynthesis occurs from the moment in spring when those first leaves unfurl until the moment they lose their chlorophyll and expose the underlying orange and yellow pigments in autumn, before ultimately separating from the tree as falling leaves (abscission). It happens zillions of times a day in every leaf, as long as sunlight is there to power it.  That is how the tree feeds itself, and by extension us and other animals – through all the vegetable foods and plant-eating animals we eat. Gymnocladus dioicus-Kentucky Coffeetree

Once upon a time, we got along quite well understanding the science behind photosynthesis via a simple equation, like the one I made below.  The tree leaf absorbs 6 molecules of carbon dioxide via the porous stomata in the leaf surface, while drawing up 6 molecules of water from the soil.Mix them up using solar energy in the chlorophyll-rich chloroplasts in the plant tissue cells, and voila! Plant sugars are synthesized and oxygen is released. End result: the tree feeds itself and grows, and we breathe in the released oxygen. Substitute corn or lettuce or any number of edible plants, and you have the planet’s green grocery store. Add in a grass-eating cow or plankton-eating salmon (incidentally, ocean-borne phytoplankton are responsible for 50% of the world’s oxygen) and you have the photosynthesis-enabled meaty side of the diet. Photosynthesis

Perhaps it’s no surprise that photosynthesis is not really as simple as my little bare-bones equation.  If you thought it was, do yourself a favour and take 12 minutes to watch this excellent video. Then watch it again, and again, for this is the single most important process for life on earth.

BACK TO THE GARDEN….. Now that I’ve written a blog-length introduction with a lot of questionable personal asides, what is there to say about green in the garden? First, of course, it’s the quiet framework — often evergreen —  for all the splashes of colour that attract bees and butterflies (like the Painted Lady on the purple coneflower below). From a design point of view, you need that neutral background to make the colours pop, and give the eyes a rest. And from a biological point of view, each plant must photosynthesize in order to flower, fruit and set seed. Painted Lady butterfly on echinacea

Since many of the plants we think of as “foliage” accents are happier in dappled light, we often consider green designs as being a gift of cool shade, like this leafy section of the David Lam Asian Garden at the University of British Columbia Botanical Garden in Vancouver. UBC-Botanical Garden-Creek

Or this ferny glade at Vancouver’s VanDusen Botanical Garden. What a perfect little scene! Ferny Glade-Van Dusen Gardens-Vancouver

And I adore the Takata Japanese Garden at Victoria’s Horticulture Centre of the Pacific. Look at all this green, with just the tiniest burgundy-red contrast. Takata Japanese Garden-Horticulture Centre of the Pacific-Victoria BC

One of my favourite places to visit in May is the shady woodland garden at Toronto’s Casa Loma. It’s full of northeastern wildflowers (trillium, Virginia bluebell, wood poppy, among others), many of them spring ephemerals, but shimmering in a rich tapestry of ostrich ferns. Casa Loma-Wildflower Garden

The Shade Garden at Montreal Botanical Garden is a spectacular part of this world-class garden, and the subject of one of my favourite blogs. I marvel at how they use just the smallest touch of colour to add sparkle to what is an overwhelmingly green eden under mature trees. Shade Garden-Montreal Botanical Garden

Even without dipping into the other colours in the paintbox, you can design some pretty cool combinations using green, as the Toronto Botanical Garden did here using hostas, ornamental grasses and hydrangeas (Hydrangea arborescens ‘Grandiflora’, front, and Hydrangea paniculata ‘Limelight’, rear) Toronto Botanical Garden-green vignette'

Green is good for drawing lines in the garden, whether ornate, as with the parterre here at Chateau Villandry in France’s Loire Valley,  with its symbols of love and music….

Villandry-Second Salon-Ornamental Garden …or more simple, like the little Nancy Bryan Luce Herb Garden at New York Botanical Garden.  Some years, the green knots are filled with leafy plants like cardoon (Cynara cardunculus), below….

NYBG-Nancy Bryan Luce Herb Garden (1) …. and other years, something more colourful, like clary sage (Salvia sclarea), here. NYBG-Nancy Bryan Luce Herb Garden (2) You can even draw with green and enjoy the painting when the garden is covered in snow, as with the Beryl Ivey Knot Garden at the Toronto Botanical Garden, below.

Boxwood Spiral-Beryl Ivey Knot Garden-Toronto Botanical Garden Lawns are green, it’s true, but you can even have fun with a boring green lawn by turning it into a checkerboard path like the one here at Lakewinds Bed & Breakfast in Niagara-on-the-Lake, (I’ve blogged about Lakewinds before – have a look.) Lakewinds Bed & Breakfast-Niagara-on-the-Lake Though they sometimes seem overused in gardens, hostas are valuable for the elegant foliage statement they make. (If only gardeners would stop cutting off those bee-friendly flowers!)  Here are just a few of the thousands of cultivars that boast every possible permutation of ‘green’. Hosta Array

Green furnishings and accessories can be added to the garden with spectacular results. Look at this fabulous scene at Landcraft Environments in Mattituck, on Long Island, New York. The cushion on the chaise lounge is the icing on the foliage-green cake. Patio & Chaise-Landcraft Environments

And this elegant garden room in Toronto – once a utilitarian garage before being opened up on two walls — was paved in limestone and furnished as a cool, chintz-and-wicker outdoor retreat. Former Garage as Garden Room

In her Raleigh, North Carolina garden, garden writer Helen Yoest has this mint-green Luytens bench to sink into when she needs a rest. Isn’t it pretty?

Helen Yoest-Luytens bench Containers can be green-themed, too. I love my little Home Depot ceramic pots, below. Filled with succulents – they head out to the deck table each spring and I ignore them almost all summer. Succulents-Green Pots

Well, there are containers, and then there are containers….. How about these wonderful urns from Landcraft Environments? Gorgeous, right? (By the way, though Landcraft is a wholesale nursery and closed to the public, it does open one day this summer for the Garden Conservancy, on July 9th, 2016. Plan a trip to the Hamptons around it; you won’t be sorry!) Urns-Landcraft Environments

Let’s end this little exploration of green with a few vignettes. The first is from Chanticleer Garden in Wayne, PA, near Philadelphia, my favourite small public garden in North America. (I’ve blogged about Chanticleer before, Part 1 and Part 2). Yes, it’s a pleasure garden with a talented roster of designers at the top of their game (including Dan Benarcik, the creator of this scene). Yes, there are greenhouses in which to store all the delectable tropical plants used here. And yes, there’s a generous budget and most of us can only afford the inspiration, not necessarily the ingredients. But isn’t it wonderful, this lush, green greeting? Don’t you want to linger before opening the door?

Chanticleer House GardenBut even a small space can feature a tiny, perfect vignette, like this cool green welcome in Portland designer/writer/garden guru Lucy Hardiman’s colourful garden. A Paris bistro chair, an array of green foliage plants, a soft-green wall behind, and a funky ceramic tile in the brick paving, just to keep things interesting. Perfection. Lucy Hardiman-Green Vignette Something to think about, as we contemplate another chlorophyll-rich spring in our own gardens.   Lamprocapnos spectabilis 'Gold Heart' & Polygonatum odoratum 'Variegatum'

Not a Blog!

This is not a blog. I repeat: this is not a blog.  It is merely a taste of blogs to come this year. And they will be about COLOUR!  Or color (if you prefer it without extraneous British/Canadian vowels).

Flower Colour Array-ThePaintboxGarden

Yes, I thought it might be time for The Paintbox Garden to adhere to its stated theme. So each month of 2016 will be devoted to a different hue, beginning with JANUARY, which will be white as the driven (or walking) snow. White as in wonderland, appropriate to the season. White as an even paler shade of pale. And of course, white as in perfume – coming up soon.

White Flowers-ThePaintboxGarden

FEBRUARY will be red, as in better — than dead, paint the town —, roses are —,  and UB-40s favourite beverage.  And the longest, boldest wave length in Isaac Newton’s spectral light arsenal. Plus, of course, swamp hibiscus.

Red Flowers-ThePaintboxGarden

MARCH will be green (yes, I know, hackneyed Irish trope for St. Paddy’s). But it is the only really important colour in the garden paintbox, as all chlorophyll-lovers know.  Nevertheless, as Kermit is fond of saying, it ain’t easy being green.  My March blogs will help dispel that notion.

Green Leaves-ThePaintboxGarden

But being Kermit-green is definitely easier than being chartreuse, which is half-green and half-yellow. I will squeeze some limes… and chartreuses…into my March blogs as well.

Chatreuse Leaves-ThePaintboxGarden

Because it’s the cruellest month, as T.S. Eliot reminded us, APRIL will be blue. Actually, I chose blue for April because of all those lovely little azure bulbs that spring up from the snow. But there will be azure blues….

Blue Flowers-ThePaintboxGarden

….and lighter sky-blues for the entire gardening season, too.

Sky-Blue Flowers-ThePaintboxGarden

MAY will be pink, as in the darling buds. Think crabapples, weigelas, columbines, peonies, and phloxes and hydrangeas for later in the season. There will be lusty pinks…

Pink Flowers-ThePaintboxGarden

…and delicate, light pinks.

Light Pink Flowers-ThePaintboxGarden

I’ll skip magenta because I wrote a love letter to that neon hue in 2014.

JUNE will be purple. Riots often break out about what purple means (for the record it comes from the Greek word porphura, for little murex sea snails that bleed that dark crimson ‘purple’ dye). So let me say June will be about lilac-purple..

Lilac-Purple Flowers-ThePaintboxGarden

.. through lavender-purple…

Lavender-Purple Flowers-ThePaintboxGarden

… into violet-purple…

Violet-Purple Flowers-ThePaintboxGarden

… and finally rich, royal, Seagram’s Bag, Tyrian purple.

Purple Flowers-ThePaintboxGarden

JULY will be all sunshine: lots of yellow…

Yellow Flowers-ThePaintboxGarden

… and gold.

Gold Flowers-ThePaintboxGarden

AUGUST will be black(ish). And hopefully some good thunderstorms!

Black flowers & leaves-ThePaintboxGarden

SEPTEMBER will be every lovely shade of brown, as in grasses and seedheads.

Brown Flowers & Leaves-ThePaintboxGarden

OCTOBER will be jack-o-lanternly, clockworkly-orange.

Orange Flowers-ThePaintboxGarden

And I’ll throw in peach (even though it likes to party with pink, too)…

Peach Flowers-ThePaintboxGarden

…and apricot (even though it sometimes hangs out with the gold crowd)…

Apricot Flowers-ThePaintboxGarden

… and salmon for a well-rounded fruit & fish diet.

Salmon-Orange Flowers-ThePaintboxGarden

NOVEMBER will be wine or burgundy, because who doesn’t fancy a little vino in dreary November.

Wine Flowers & Leaves-ThePaintboxGarden

DECEMBER will be silver, as in bells, hi-ho, and Long John.

Silver Leaves-ThePaintboxGarden

And that’s a promise!

El Remanso: A Week in the Costa Rican Rainforest

When my group of friends decided to travel to Costa Rica this November, it was partly out of a desire to see the country, but partly out of a desire to do something we do each autumn: hike in a wild place in nature.  Since the 1980s, we’ve been hiking one weekend each September or October along little stretches of Ontario’s fabled Bruce Trail.  Friday and Saturday nights are spent in the nearby homes or chalets of one of the group, or in a bed-and-breakfast. Over the years, the hikes have gotten a little shorter and definitely less strenuous.  This was our 2014 version, a trek through a damp maple forest in Kolapore, near Collingwood.


But we also want to do a little world touring, and Costa Rica fit the bill for several of us who are able to get away. So, three couples do a Caravan eco-tour by bus for 8 days, beginning in San Jose and hitting all the tourist hot spots: volcanoes, aerial trams, beaches, etc., before returning to San Jose.  There we’re met by a fourth couple, and off we fly down to Costa Rica’s spectacular Osa Peninsula for another 6 days of rest, relaxation and…hopefully…. a little hiking!  To get there, we take Sansa Air from Juan Santamaria International Airport in San Jose to Puerto Jimenez.  There isn’t a lot of room inside the Cessna Caravan, with 14 passengers shoe-Sansa flight-San Jose to Puerto Jimenezhorned in, but then it’s not a long flight, about 45 minutes…..

…and the view is spectacular. Here we are leaving San Jose, below.

San Jose Aerial View

In fact, the view is wonderful all the way south over Costa Rica’s beautiful green mountains to the little town of Puerto Jimenez. Here is its harbour.

Puerto Jimenez harbour & public pier

It’s a decidedly rustic airport, with the ticket agent coming out of the “terminal” (read small stucco building beside the ice cream vendor) to load and unload luggage.

Sansa Cessna - Puerto Jimenez

We’re picked up by vehicles from El Remanso Lodge, our destination for the next week. No question, it’s a bit of a bumpy ride south, given that this is the end of rainy season and the road is full of potholes, but the driver goes slowly enough to avoid them and the view is interesting along the way. El Remanso means “a backwater” – that might give you an idea of the remoteness. But we’re soon at the lodge and the sign at the entrance confirms that this part of the peninsula is all about conservation, not civilization (and you’d better have 4-wheel drive!)

Entrance Sign-El Remanso-Osa

After a short orientation in the open-walled dining room, we cross the footbridge over the rainforest and walk down to the cabins.

Rainforest birdge-El Remanso

And we discover that our accommodation, La Lucero (Spanish for bright star), is just perfect and surrounded by tropical foliage.

La Lucero exterior-El Remanso-Osa

Our bed is comfortable, and we never once unfurl the mosquito net, though we do use the hammock as a clothesline as the weather becomes more humid and rainy later in the week.

La Lucero interior-El Remanso-Osa

The lodge is off the grid, with its own solar panels and hydro-electric power.

Solar panel-El Remanso

And though all guests are told not to use a hair dryer, which could cause the power to go off, the shower is always hot and air conditioning is not needed; the screened walls work just fine at cross-ventilation.

Sink & flowers-El Remanso

I love this welcoming touch beside the sink:  a bouquet of gorgeous walking irises (Neomarica caerulea).

Walking iris bouquet-Neomarica caerulea

And look at this chaise lounge – perched on the edge of the rainforest, a perfect place to relax with a book….

Chaise-El Remanso-Osa

…. or just lounge and listen to the peaceful sounds of birds and insects surrounding you. (And if you need to check emails, wifi is available in the lobby).

Our first afternoon is warm, and we take a dip in the lodge’s small but refreshing pool before dinner.

Swimming Pool-El Remanso Lodge

As I return to our cabin, I hear a piercing call from the trees behind the restaurant – it’s my first toucan sighting!

Chestnut-mandibled toucan in cecropia-El Remanso

The property on which El Remanso sits was acquired in 1991 by environmentalists Joel Stewart and Belen Stewart. Joel was captain of Greenpeace’s ship Rainbow Warrier; Belen Stewart was a Greenpeace board member in Spain. The lodge was opened in 1999 with just three cabins (ours is one of them) and strict ecological and sustainable policies. Today, El Remanso is operated by Belen’s daughter Adriana Domenech Momeñe and her husband Daniel Gehring, below, who gave up their corporate jobs in Paris in 2006 to come to Costa Rica. Over the past decade, they have modernized the lodge and added more accommodation and services for the comfort of guests, while continuing to adhere to a conservation ethos. (They are also the parents of twin girls).

Adriana & Daniel-El Remanso Lodge

On our first morning we awaken before dawn to the “5 a.m. alarm clock”, an alpha male howler monkey (Alouatta palliata) greeting the day from the other side of the rainforest valley.

Our first full day’s activity is a pre-arranged long hike through the rainforest with one of El Remanso’s nature guides, Felix Campos. He leads us down the trail into the valley and stops frequently to point out things of interest…..

Felix & hikers-El Remanso Lodge

…like a tiny frog so well camouflaged, I’m astounded he could see it among the fallen leaves.

Rugose rain frog-El Remanso

He sets up his scope under a fig tree where….

Felix-using scope in rainforest-El Remanso

…. Geoffroy’s spider monkeys (Ateles geoffroyi) are using their four fingers to pluck the fruit.

Spider monkey-El Remanso

We watch Felix cut open a fig. He’s hoping to show us the small fig wasp that pollinates the flowers inside the fruit (while laying its egg in the fig cavity), but it’s already gone. This specialized fig-wasp mutualistic partnership is unique in the floral world, and essential to produce what is a prime food source for birds, monkeys and other mammals in tropical forests throughout the world.

Felix-Fig pollination demo-El Remanso

There is a spectacular fig tree – or what Costa Ricans call “chilamate” – on the El Remanso property, which I believe is Ficus tonduzii, native to the Osa Peninsula.

Ficus tonduzii-Chilamate-El Remanso

Beside the path in the rainforest, I see a little plant that seems familiar to me. I realize that’s because I’ve photographed it as a fairly common house plant in North America, flame violet or Episcia lilacina.

Episcia lilacina-El Remanso

Felix loves ants and their complex social colonies, so we spend lots of time studying the leafcutter ants making their way along the path towards the nest. Felix even uses a baseball cap to illustrate the ant’s strong mandibles.

We learn about walking palms and epiphytic ferns and termite nests and myriad other bits of rainforest lore, until it’s time to head back to the lodge for drinks and dinner. That means crossing one of the beautifully engineered suspension bridges over the rainforest floor

Suspension bridge-El Remanso

As we near the lodge, Felix spots a crested guan (Penelope purpurascens) sitting above us in a tree.  A perfect end to our hike!

Crested guan-El Remanso

After dinner, we’re treated to a beautiful, lingering sunset over the Pacific.

Sunset-El Remanso

On our second day, I take my camera on a walk to explore the flora and various birds around the lodge. Hummingbirds are plentiful in Costa Rica, of course, and I’m delighted to see a little charming hummingbird nectaring in the purple flowers of Stachytarpheta frantzii.

Charming hummingbird on Stachytarpheta frantzii

A different hummingbird has a much longer beak adapted to the flowers of heliconia. Here it is in slow motion.

There is an incredible diversity of plants around the lodge. Many are endemic to the Osa Peninsula, with a few non-native tropicals in the landscape. Below, clockwise from upper left are Heliconia psittacorum with a crimson-patched longwing butterfly; shell ginger (Alpinia zerumbet), an Asian native; a honey bee on native Miconia schlimii; and a bird eating the fruit of native Miconia oinchrophylla.

Flora-El Remanso

The lantana bush near our cabin is particularly popular with all types of heliconia butterflies.

And I spend a few minutes watching a banaquit in a palm tree.

Bananaquit on palm tree

You can usually find the name of a butterfly or bird or orchid in the excellent nature guides and books kept at El Remanso’s information desk at the restaurant or in the bookcase in the little reception building.

Nature Guide Publications-Costa Rica

As I walk back to our cabin, I hear the loud, unmistakable squawks of a pair of scarlet macaws (Ara macao) flying over the valley. I can’t believe my luck when they land in the wild almond tree (Terminalia catappa) right above our little sundeck. I fetch my zoom camera and point the lens into the upper branches. Scarlet macaws were once endangered in Costa Rica, but a conservation program and prohibition on exports as pets have increased their numbers nicely. They are monogamous, and this pair is doing a little mutual preening.

Scarlet macaws-mutual preening

Then I watch as one hops down to a lower branch and plucks a fruit to eat.

Seeing birds and animals nearby is an everyday thing at El Remanso.  From the restaurant’s excellent vantage point, you can often see an iguana lazing on a branch….

Iguana-El Remanso

…or a boa constrictor quietly digesting its lunch but noticed and pointed out by one of the guides…..

Boa constrictor & guides hand-El Remanso

….or a white-faced capuchin monkey with its prehensile tail….

Capuchin monkey-El Remanso

… or even an entire family of them helping themselves with dainty fingers to a not-quite-ripe coconut.

Even the waiters enjoy being naturalists, with one pointing out a stick insect on the outside of a water jug!

Stick insect

One night I stand at the bar as twilight descends (the fancy cocktail made with Costa Rica’s national cacique sugar cane liquor is quite delicious!)…..

Bar-El Remanso

….and watch as a bat begins its circular insect hunt in front of me.

After dinner, which offers an excellent selection of meat, fish and vegetarian entrees, as well as homemade desserts like this strawberry-and-cookie confection….

Strawberry chocolate dessert-El Remanso

,,,, as darkness falls, you can walk back to your cabin guided by the glow of your flashlight while listening to the call of the tink frogs, Diasporus diastema (nicknamed for their techno sound) echoing over the rainforest.

Speaking of darkness, our third night at El Remanso features a night hike. Despite the rain, which increases steadily as we creep along the rainforest paths, we notch a number of sightings, including an exciting encounter with a juvenile fer-de-lance pit viper (top), a poisonous cane toad (bottom right) and Costa Rica’s famous red-eyed tree frog (bottom left).

Fer-de-lance viper-Redeyed frog-Cane toad-El Remanso night hike

The rainforest, of course, is filled with plants and wildlife adapted to days of pouring rain, like this jumping anole, glimpsed during our rather wet short hike with Felix in the rainforest.

Jumping anole-El Remanso

On our fourth day, we decide to hike down the sloping path to the beach.  It’s one of many self-guided trek options on El Remanso’s property, and must be plotted according to the tides notice announced on the daily bulletin board, since high tide engulfs the walkable part of the beach. The path begins rather enchantingly under an arch of bamboo, and descends through a series of stairs and curving paths.

Beach trail sign-El Remanso Lodge

Part way down, I’m excited to glimpse the world’s largest damselfly (Megalopraepus caerulatus), one of the “forest giants” (approximately 7 inches in wingspan) with gossamer wings and a rotating, helicopter-like flight habit. Alas, by the time I switch to video mode, it has perched on a leaf.

Forest giant damselfly-Megaloprepus caerulatus

Twenty minutes or so later, we finally arrive at a sandy beach with the crashing Pacific Ocean lapping the shore.

Beach-El Remanso Lodge

This is definitely not a beach for swimming; the riptide is savage. But some guests enjoy walking down the beach at low tide to investigate the small tidal pools.  I manage to get my toes wet, but we then turn back for the much slower (and warmer) ascent, since it’s almost lunchtime and zip-lining is on the afternoon’s agenda.

Our zip-line guides are Rinaldo and Pocho, and they carefully fit everyone into their harnesses before giving the how-to-demonstration on the ground before we ascend onto the first platform.

Zipline gear-El Remanso

I elect to skip the adventure (along with two of our group) and instead be the videographer.  One by one, with Rinaldo’s help, they launch themselves off the platform toward Pocho waiting on the far platform, Finally, Rinaldo leaves me behind and zips himself over the first of five segments high over the rainforest below.

Our last full day on the Osa Peninsula is a rainy one. Some play bridge in the dining room, while others read or do a little stretching in the yoga pavilion.  Mid-November is normally the end of the rainy season but in this El Nino year the peninsula is being treated to more rain in one week than fell in all of October! I enjoy capturing the intensity of the rain with my camera.

But as the rain comes and goes, it doesn’t deter the toucans from searching out food.

Nor does the rain deter us from enjoying our final day in this lovely green oasis on the Osa Peninsula. Because tomorrow, of course, it’s back to reality.

A Shade Garden Master Class

Seldom do I find a large garden where the brilliance and beauty of the plant combinations remain top-notch down every path and into each tiny nook and cranny. And I can count on one hand – one finger, actually – the number of times that exquisite sensation happens in a garden devoted entirely to shade. That singular honour goes to the Shade Garden (Jardin d’Ombre) at the Montreal Botanical Garden (MBG).

Shade Garden sign-Montreal Botanical Garden

I try to visit MBG, known in Montreal as the Jardin Botanique, once a season, usually over a two-day period in order the cover the 30 outdoor theme gardens and 10 greenhouses arrayed around the institution’s 190 acres (75 hectares).  On a spring visit after a Quebec winter that lasts a full six months, nature’s flowery abundance seems nothing short of a miracle. In the third week of May, the late tulips are hanging on; the alpine gardens are full of little treasures; the exquisite collections of lilacs, crabapples and yellow magnolias (about which I blogged last year) shower blossoms everywhere.  But for me, the star of the May ball is the Shade Garden. And before the summer rush of tourists, you are very likely (especially if you visit on a weekday) to have a bench all to yourself from which to sit and study the intricacy of nearby plantings.

Bench-Shade Garden-Montreal Botanical Garden

Measuring 12,950 m² and comprised of approximately 2800 species and cultivars of plants, the Shade Garden once stretched like a “Gothic cathedral” under an avenue of American elm trees. Sadly, except for a few survivors, almost all these magnificent natives succumbed to Dutch Elm disease.  In the 1980s, the trees were replaced with a canopy of maples, lindens and ash trees.

Shade Garden path-Montreal Botanical Garden

It is almost too much to bear that the same fate that befell the elms is likely in store for the ash trees, which are under attack by the Emerald ash borer.  So in time, another species will likely have to replace the ashes so the light remains dappled to encourage all the woodland beauties, like the ostrich ferns (Matteucia struthiopteris) and  hostas, below, with ligularia just emerging in the lower right.

Ostrich ferns & hostas

Late daffodils and azaleas and rhododendrons light up the shadows, along with the pretty front-of-border perennial spring vetchling (Lathyrus vernus).

Azaleas & Daffodils & Lathyrus verna-Montreal Botanical Garden

Lathyrus vernus comes in a few vibrant pinkish hues.

Lathyrus vernus

Plants from Europe and Asia are combined with native North American wildflowers, like this beautiful blue combination of Siberian bugloss (Brunnera macrophylla) and Virginia bluebell (Mertensia virginica).

Brunnera macrophylla & Mertensia virginica

This is a cheery duo:  North American wood poppy (Stylophorum diphyllum) with the woodland tulip (Tulipa sylvestris).

Stylophorum diphyllum & Tulipa sylvestris-Montreal Botanical Garden

And this combination of Hosta montana ‘Aureo-Marginata’ with wild blue phlox (Phlox divaricata), below….

Hosta montana 'Aureo-Marginata' & Phlox divaricata

…. is one of the starring duets in this beautifully-planted section near a foot-bridge.

Bridge-Shade Garden-Montreal Botanical Garden

Wild blue phlox does seem very at home here, along with the other North American natives such as Solomon’s seal (Polygonum sp) left and little reddish violets, right.

Phlox divaricata- Violets-Hostas

I love this combination of Japanese royal fern (Osmunda regalis) and Himalayan mayapple (Sinopodophyllum hexandrum).

Osmunda japonica & Sinopodophyllum hexandrum

Look at these wonderful fiddleheads of the Japanese royal fern….

Osmunda japonica

…..and these spectacular flowers of the Himalayan mayapple.

Sinopodophyllum hexandrum

There are trilliums galore, including a beautiful stand of the gruesomely-named bloody butcher (Trillium recurvatum).  I think I prefer its other common name, prairie trillium, due to its presence in the American tallgrass prairie savannah, as well as in other parts of eastern-to-central U.S.

Trillium recurvatum

The white form of the more common red wake robin (T. erectum) shimmers in the garden…..

Trillium erectum var. album

…while common violets (V. sororia) create a lovely framework for  yellow trillium (T. luteum)…….

Trillium luteum & Viola sororia-Montreal Botanical Garden

….and showy trilliums (T. grandiflorum) look particularly pretty as their petals age to rosy-pink, thus making a nice pairing with the ‘Raspberry Splash’ lungwort (Pulmonaria hybrid).

Trillium grandiflorum & Pulmonaria 'Raspberry Splash'

There are plants grown for their spectacularly-coloured foliage, like Podophyllum ‘Spotty Dotty’, below,

Podophyllum 'Spotty Dotty'

….and the bronze form of Rodgersia podophylla just emerging.

Rodgersia emerging

There are plants I’ve never heard of before, such as Chinese umbrella leaf (Diephyllia sinensis) with its tiny white flowers….

Diphylleia sinensis-Chinese umbrella leaf

…and Japanese wood mint (Meehania urticifolia), below. How sweet are these lilac blossoms?

Meehania urticifolia

Noble birthwort (Corydalis nobilis) from China joins the wonderful pantheon of corydalis species so useful in part shade.  Here it is on the left with wood poppy (Stylophorum diphyllum) and blue lungwort (Pulmonaria cv – perhaps ‘Blue Ensign’?) and in closeup on the right.

Corydalis nobilis-Noble birthwort

And I’ve not come across balm-leaved red deadnettle (Lamium orvala) or yellow fairy bells (Disporum uniflorum) before either.  Have I been living under a rock?

Lamium orvala & Disporum uniflorum

The combination below is so startling and shimmery, I literally blink my eyes. Who would think of combining ‘Goldheart’ bleeding heart (Lamprocapnos spectabilis) with the ferny foliage of Asparagus tenuifolius? In fact, who has even heard of this Mediterranean asparagus, which is described as not tolerating shade, but seems to be doing very well indeed in part shade?  (I presume the gardeners grow it on in glasshouses through winter and plant it amongst the bleeding hearts in early spring).

Dicentra 'Goldheart' & Asparagus tenuifolius

Speaking of gold, the garden also utilizes luminous gold-leafed shrubs like Cornus alternifolia ‘Gold Bullion’, below, to light up the shadows.

Cornus alternifolia 'Gold Bullion'

There are beautiful Japanese maples chosen for the way the sun backlights their leaves, such as the fullmoon maple Acer shirasawanum ‘Autumn Moon’.

Acer shirasawanum 'Autumn Moon'

White flowers are used to add contrast to all the greens, like these ‘Triandrus’ daffodils with the Solomon’s seals (Polygonatum biflorum). Underneath are Confederate violets (Viola sororia f. priceana).

Solomon's seal & Narcisus 'Triandrus'

Also with white flowers, pinnate coralroot (Cardamine heptaphylla) is a less familiar member of the cuckoo flowers.

Cardamine heptaphylla

There are some old-fashioned, familiar plants such as ‘Mrs. Moon’ lungwort (Pulmonaria saccharata) on the left, and Jacob’s ladder (Polemonium caeruleum) on the right.

Pulmonaria saccharata 'Mrs. Moon' & Polemonium caeruleum

Some garden thugs, below, like purple deadnettle (Lamium maculatum) and lily-of-the-valley (Convallaria majalis), seem suspiciously well-behaved here in the garden where they’re paired fetchingly with Solomon’s seals (Polygonatum biflorum).


When I have trouble identifying a plant, I seek out gardener Sylvain Villeneuve, who, despite my terrible high school French and comical hand gestures, valiantly attempts to answer my questions.

Sylvain Villeneuve-Jardin Botanique de Montreal

Sylvain assures me that they do have trouble with certain invasive plants, particularly the lesser celandine (Ranunculus ficaria) which forms a rampant (but beguilingly-green) groundcover in large areas here. It has muscled out some very fine primroses, he says.

Ranunculus ficaria

Finally, it is time to head out into the sunny expanses of Montreal Botanical Garden to see some of the other collections.  But I cannot help but be charmed as I Ieave by this small, perfect tapestry of pale-yellow Anemone x lipsiensis with rivers of Japanese hakone grass (Hakonechloa macra ‘Aureola), ferns and violets. To me, this little vignette is the best advertising possible for that beau jardin ombragé we all dream about – a beautiful, cool garden in the shade.

Shade Tapestry-Montreal Botanical Garden


Nabygelegen: French Formal in Pietermaritzburg

Less than an hour’s drive northwest of Durban is the city of Pietermaritzburg (estimated population 500,000), capital city of KwaZulu-Natal. It’s in a lovely private garden here that we finish up Day 6 of our South Africa garden tour.  We are standing under a massive plane tree in the front garden of Wiida and Erick Badenhorst in the leafy suburb of Wembley, listening to Wiida give a short history of their garden, designed and built a little over ten years ago.

Wiida Badenhorst-Nabygelegen

Masking the sound of the occasional passing car is the splash of a fountain in a circular pool, which forms the focal point of a long, serene garden room flanking the garage.


Behind the house, we cross a lawn and come to the dramatically-framed entrance to the lower terrace.  The tall hedge in front is sweet viburnum (V. odoratissimum).  “Green” in all its many shades is the motif here, with myriad evergreens providing the precisely-clipped hedges that enclose and separate the garden rooms on different levels.  While gathering ideas for the design, the Badenhorsts travelled to gardens in France, Italy and England, and were particularly inspired by the philosophy of “green architecture” embodied in the work of Belgian landscape architect Jacques Wirtz.

View to lower terrace-Nabygelegen

Walking under the arch and down the stairs, we are greeted by  another water feature, this one a long formal pool enclosed by a hedge-on-sticks – a form of pruning that interweaves shrubs (and trees) that lend themselves to shearing, while exposing the lower trunk.  The pool separates the two halves of the formal terrace garden.


The Badenhorsts both hail from generations of farming families and their vegetable potager is a lovely connection to that tradition, while still fulfilling its formal role.


Wiida’s love of roses is manifest in the rose parterre on the other side of the terrace.

Rose parterre-Nabygelegen

The perfect bloom of the hybrid tea ‘Five Roses’ looks vase-ready.

Hybrid tea rose 'Red Rose'

As we leave the rose parterre, we circle back up to the front via a long narrow garden gently ascending via multiple levels along the property line.  Here, more hedges draw the eye.

Side garden-Nabygelegen

Wiida has kindly labelled some of the plants, many of them new to us.  This hedge, for example, is Asian variegated serissa (S. foetida ‘Variegata’).

Serissa hedge-Napygelegen

There is also hedging made from Chinese orange jessamine (Murraya paniculata).


It is a true pleasure for those of us visiting gardens to have an enthusiastic gardener share her (or his) passion for plants, as Wiida does with her visitors.

Wiida Badenhorst talking to tour members

The narrowness of this garden and the high hedge walls enhance the fragrance of some of the plants, such as the lovely star or Confederate jasmine (Trachelospermum jasminoides), shown here in a pretty pairing with ‘Iceberg’ roses.

Rosa 'Iceberg' and Star jasmine

After a refreshing drink on the Badenhorst’s house terrace, we bid farewell to Nabygelegen and head back to the centre of Pietermaritzburg.  The town itself is resplendent in early October, its streets lined with massive blue jacaranda trees (Jacaranda mimosifolia).  It is the most popular and common tree in a genus within Bignoniaceae that includes 48 other Jacaranda species.

Jacaranda trees-Pietermaritzburg

As I noted in an earlier blog, South Africa is making an effort to eradicate the spectacular but invasive South American trees, long favourite street trees in cities like Pretoria and still beloved for their luscious purple flowers.  Native to Bolivia and Argentina, the tree was introduced to Cape Town by Baron von Ludwig in 1829 and was soon planted (and escaped) throughout the country.  How could you not love to look up and see this arching canopy above you?

Jacaranda boughs-Pietermaritzburg

Australia is also the adoptive home of jacarandas; one town even has a jacaranda festival from October 31st to November 7th.   They are grown as street trees in places as diverse as Lisbon, Los Angeles and Lahore. The name “jacaranda” is believed to come from the Paraguayan Guarani language and mean “fragrant”, but that is not certain.

Jacaranda mimosifolia closeup

We stop near City Hall as we’re scheduled to visit a gift shop and art gallery nearby. As we walk through the parking lot, I notice a plant growing in a weedy area that we sometimes see as a summer annual or medicinal herb garden plant in North America. Here in South Africa, Madagascar periwinkle (Catharanthus roseus) is just considered an invasive.

Catharanthus oseus-Madagascar periwinkle

Pietermaritzburg was founded by Dutch Voortrekkers in the 1830s as the capital of the short-lived Boer Republic (following battles with the Zulus to gain control) but was taken over by Britain in 1843 and for 50 years it formed the seat of government of the Natal Colony.  In 1893, when Natal received responsibility for self-government, the City Hall was built.  When it was razed by fire two years later, it was rebuilt.  Elaborately Victoria in design, it is reputedly the largest brick building in the Southern Hemisphere.

Pietermaritzburg City Hall

After we load up on South African gifts at the art gallery, we settle back into the bus for the drowsy hour-long drive back to Durban in the rain. Tomorrow, it’s an early start for our flight to Cape Town!