Allan Gardens – Christmas 2017

It’s beginning to look a lot like…..peacocks? That’s right. At Toronto’s Allan Gardens, it’s beginning to look a lot like a beautiful peacock feathered with colourful succulents will be ready to strut his stuff well in advance of the Christmas Season.  I was there yesterday and got a sneak peek from gardener Mikkel Schafer, who is the designer of this year’s feature topiary (see my video below)  Made of colourful flowers of Kalanchoe blossfeldiana and various echeverias…..

Allan Gardens-Succulent Peacock-Christmas 2017

…. the big bird is preening himself amongst the alocasias and bananas in the grand Palm House, the glass-domed centre of the five-glasshouse structure.

Allan Gardens-Palm House-banana

Mikkel was still working on the peacock’s neck, which is made from pine cone scales and leaves of silver dollar plant (Xerosicyos danguyi).

Allan Gardens-Succulent Peacock neck-Christmas 2017

I loved the kalanchoe ‘eyes’ in his tailfeathers, below.

Allan Gardens-Succulent Peacock-kalanchoe and echeveria eyes

In the Tropical House, below, the succulent Christmas tree was already finished and standing in its place of honour amidst the bromeliads. It will greet many visitors when this year’s edition of the Allan Gardens Christmas Flower show opens on Sunday December 3rd, with seasonal music from noon to 4 pm. The floral displays will be in place through the holiday season daily from 10 am to 5 pm until January 7, 2018.

Allan Gardens-Succulent Tree-Christmas 2017

Look at the detailed work here…..

Allan Gardens-Succulent Tree-echeveries and kalanchoes

Mikkel posed with his topiary moose in the Temperate House.  Its antlers are encrusted with mosses and lichens.

Mikkel Schafer-Allan Gardens-Topiary Moose

This mossy tree in the Temperate house…..


….is hung with decorations, like these cool silvery ornaments made from the velvety leaves of lambs’ ears (Stachys byzantina).

Allan Gardens-Lambs Ears Christmas ornament

This one is fashioned from the dark seedheads of blackeyed susans (Rudbeckia ‘Goldsturm’).

Allan Gardens-Rudbeckia seedhead Christmas ornament

Spiced orange pomander balls deck this topiary tree made from the leaves of red oak (Quercus rubra).

Allan Gardens-Red oak leaf & spiced orange pomander ball topiary tree

The pool in the Temperate House is a favourite destination for many, especially little kids counting the goldfish. It’s edged with azaleas this week.

Allan Gardens-Pool & Fountain

Head down into the Tropical Landscape House where…..

Tropical Lanscape House-Allan Gardens

….. apart from the usual gorgeous blossoms like hibiscus….

Hibiscus-Allan Gardens

….. there is a trio of Cryptanthus-adorned topiary trees under the magnificent cycad.


The Arid House will look like a sparkly yuletide desert by early December, when the lights are in place amidst the spectacular collection of succulents and cacti. (This photo is from a previous Christmas).

Allan Gardens-Arid House-Christmastime

I made a short video to whet your appetite for a seasonal visit to Toronto’s wonderful Allan Gardens this holiday season.  Please note, the show runs from December 3 to January 7th.

But rest assured, if you miss seeing all the beautiful Christmas touches, like this lovely wreath in the Tropical House…..

Allan Gardens- Christmas Wreath-2017

…Allan Gardens Conservatory is a cozy, leafy oasis throughout Toronto’s long winter months when a parade of flowering bulbs, tropical blossoms and spring bulb flowers beckons. Do make a date to go!

Allan Gardens-Tropical Array

November Work: Cutting Down the Meadows

Last week, I performed what has become for me a ‘rite of November’: cutting down the meadows at our cottage on Lake Muskoka, a few hours north of Toronto. I have to admit, it isn’t my favourite chore of the year, though I acknowledge I don’t actually have a lot of “chores” up there, given the naturalistic way I garden. But it’s definitely the most labour-intensive – amidst the least pleasant weather conditions of autumn, as it usually turns out. This year it was blowing a gale as I assembled my wardrobe and tools:  hedge shears, rake, cart, bundling cloth and ropes, rubber boots, extra layers under my waterproof jacket and fleece band to keep my ears warm. I started out with the big bluestem (Andropogon gerardii), the tallest of my prairie grasses, at 7 feet with its turkey-foot flowers. Considering it’s growing in shallow soil atop the ancient rock of the Canadian Precambrian shield, rather than the deep loam of the tallgrass prairie where its roots can extend far down, I think it’s rather happy at the cottage, and I took a selfie of us together before I chopped off its head!

Janet Davis-Lake Muskoka-Big bluestem in the meadow

Since my meadows and beds likely measure only about 1600 square feet or so, it’s not a lot to hand-cut with the hedge shears. People wonder why I don’t use a string trimmer, but I find that holding the weight of a trimmer just above ground is harder on my back than bending over and chopping the stems manually. I understand you can buy a harness for the trimmer, so that might be an improvement – but there’s something hypnotically satisfying about working with the shears.

Shears-cutting big bluestem-Lake Muskoka

As I work, I rake and pile the stems into windrows near the cart where I’ll eventually pack them up into bundles to carry by hand up the hill behind the cottage to a place out of sight where they can break down.

Cottage meadow-Lake Muskoka-November 15

If I don’t cut the meadows, the heavy snows of winter will soon bend down the grasses and forb stems, but the thatch that accumulates makes it less attractive for self-seeding wildflowers and daffodils emerging in spring. So if I want the scene below in mid-summer, it pays to prepare for it by cutting old growth.

Cottage meadow-Lake Muskoka-July 31st

And if I leave the switch grass (Panicum virgatum) standing after it turns colour in fall….

Switch grass-October-Lake Muskoka-fall colour

…. it will look like this in May.

Switch grass-May 15-Lake Muskoka-uncut

So I remove all the above ground growth in November.

Switch grass-November 15-Lake Muskoka-after cutting

And if I’m travelling during this late autumn window (as we have on a few occasions), the daffodils will still come up in the meadow the following spring, but it’s a bit of a struggle.

May 15-Big bluestem-Lake Muskoka-uncut-daffodils

In short, if I want this…..

Cottage bed & Orienpet Lily-July 31-Lake Muskoka

…I have to do this.

Cottage bed-November 15-Lake Muskoka

And if I want this…..

View of path-Lake Muskoka-July 31

….I have to do this.

View of path-Lake Muskoka-November15

I could hold off on the cutting until late winter or very early spring, when the ground is still frozen (as I do in my city meadow), but timing doesn’t always work that well up here and a fast thaw means I’m cutting on mucky soil. And since most of the seed-eating birds have flown south and those that remain seem adept at picking up seed from the ground, I’m happy to clear out this…..

Path through meadow-Lake Muskoka-November15

…. in order to enjoy this next summer.

Path through meadow-Lake Muskoka-July15

Beyond the chores of this month, I love the varied browns of November. I’ve even blogged about Beguiling Brown in the Garden. And I enjoy inspecting all the seedheads as the plants complete their life cycles. Plants like showy goldenrod (Solidago speciosa), its white panicled seedheads shown below alongside the charcoal autumn foliage of false indigo (Baptisia australis). (Incidentally, though these plants flower at the opposite ends of summer, they’re among the best for bumble bee foraging.)

Seedheads-Solidago speciosa & Baptisia australis-November

Here is the candelabra-like seedhead of culver’s root (Veronicastrum virginicum) with the ubiquitous button-like seedheads of wild beebalm (Monarda fistulosa).

Seedheads-Veronicastrum virginicum & Monarda fistulosa-November

Those seedheads above, of course, are proof that the attractive summer flowers, shown below, attracted the pollination services of the appropriate wild bees.

Flowers-Veronicastrum virginicum & Monarda fistulosa-summer

And the late summer-autumn season has also allowed the various grasses to shine, below, including – apart from the big bluestem – Indian grass (Sorghastrum nutans) and switch grass (Panicum virgatum).

Big Bluestem & Indian grass-Lake Muskoka

November is the perfect time for dormant seeding native wildflowers, so as I’m chopping the stems, I also do some fast sowing into the meadows, using my boot toe to kick little bare spots into the soil, then grinding some of the seeds just below the surface, while leaving others exposed. I do this with New York ironweed (Vernonia noveboracensis), below.

Fall seeding-New York Ironweed-Vernonia-Lake Muskoka

Chopping, raking, piling, carrying. Chopping, raking, piling, carrying. After a good day-and-a-half in blustery wind and intermittent cold rain, I manage to take 8 tied bundles of stems up the back hill to a spot on top of the pile of blast rock that was cleared when we built our home here on this waterbound peninsula 16 years ago. In time, the vegetation will decompose amidst the staghorn sumac pioneers and create a more complex meadow planting here.Compost pile-Lake Muskoka

Finally, as I finish washing out the cart, coiling the garden hoses, cleaning my tools, bringing everything indoors and preparing to drive back to the city in the waning light of the third day, I gather up a handful of the stems I’ve put aside in my cutting. Because apart from enjoying vases filled with summer flowers in July…..

Bouquet-July meadow flowers-Lake Muskoka

….. it feels virtuous, somehow, to accord these plants the same respect in November.

Bouquet-November meadow seedheads-Lake Muskoka

To capture a little of the atmosphere of what it’s like to perform this task in November, I’ve made a short video to enjoy here. (Please excuse the wind – it was impossible to find quiet moments.) The good news? My back and I are still on speaking terms!


Hiking With Friends

I’m heading off the beaten path in this blog with a personal memoir, a little gift to good friends – but you can come along too, if you like. A few weeks ago, we hiked at a favourite location, the Torrance Barrens in the Lake Muskoka region. It’s a place I visit regularly and blog about, too – and indeed, it’s a spot my hiking gang has visited a few times before, using our cottage as lodging. What’s significant, for me, is that this year’s walk represented the 25th year my husband and I set aside a weekend in autumn to hike with the group. For it was October 1993 when we were invited “in” and posed, below, near the famous Bruce Trail in Beaver Valley, Ontario – a suitable christening for a pair of novice hikers (I’m in the hat, he’s in the yellow jacket) as we slogged through forest and field in cold, pouring rain.

1993-Beaver Valley-hikers

The Bruce Trail has been our favourite hiking venue, and we’ve slowly bitten off chunks of its 890 kilometre (553 mile) length,

Bruce Trail

… all the way from the spectacular Lion’s Head Provincial Park up on the Bruce Peninsula overlooking Georgian Bay way back in 1994….

1994-Lion's Head Provincial Park

….where we took turns posing on the rugged Amabel dolostone (limestone) cliffs high above the water – capstone that was the bottom of a shallow limestone sea some 420 million years ago…

1994-Lion's Head-limestone cliffs

…..and ate our picnic lunch, as was our custom, on the rocks overlooking the water……


…. to the Niagara Gorge at its south end, in 1995.

1995-The Niagara Gorge

In 1996, we ventured off the Bruce Trail and headed to Pelee Island for the weekend. Later, as Lake Erie waves crashed onto shore, we strolled the sand at Point Pelee, Canada’s most southerly point of land.

1996-Point Pelee-Hiking

1998 saw us head east to ‘the County’, i.e. Prince Edward County and Picton, Ontario – just emerging then as the choice destination it has become since then. There we found a particularly picturesque bed & breakfast called The Apple Basket Inn (sadly no longer there)….

1998-Apple Basket-Inn-Picton

…. and lovely scenery nearby, including actual apple baskets at Hughes’ Orchards!

1998-Hughes' Orchard-Picton

2004 was a special year, when we hiked the tropical hills of Mustique in the Caribbean, courtesy of John & Anne. This is the view of Britannia Bay….

2004-Mustique-Brittania Bay

….. and this is the view of Bryan Adam’s house!  (Honestly, we did hike….)

2004-Mustique-Bryan Adam's House

In 2006, we were back on the Bruce Trail over the forks of the Credit River in Caledon….

2006-Caledon-Forks of the Credit River

…. where the group posed for my camera.

2006-Hiking Group-Forks of Credit

The year 2007 saw us beginning our Saturday hike under a rainbow in Collingwood…..


….before hiking the Bruce Trail in the Owen Sound area.  It rained that year, as we slogged our way through a carpet of sugar maple leaves in Sydenham Forest.

2007-Sydenham Forest-hikers-Bruce Trail

The glacial potholes in the Sydenham forest were so fascinating, created from the action of glacial melt-water roughly 12,000 years ago, their damp walls home to maidenhair and provincially rare hart’s tongue ferns.

2007-Glacial Pothole-Sydenham forest-Bruce Trail

The most spectacular sight was Inglis Falls, which was the site of an 1840s grist mill.

2007-Inglis Falls-Bruce Trail

Looking back at our picnic lunch in the rain that day, I recall that we were not going to let the rigors of the hike derail our South Beach diet!


In 2008, we again hosted the hikers at Lake Muskoka where I’d asked Orillia naturalist and mycologist Bob Bowles (navy cap) to give us a walking seminar on mushrooms.

2008-Mushroom Lessons-Lake-Muskoka-Bob Bowles

Though the forest floor on our peninsula was laden with maple and beech leaves by that point in October, we were able to key 29 species of mushrooms.

2008-Lake Muskoka-Page's Point-Beech Bracket Fungus

We also hiked the Torrance Barrens that year, where the blueberry bushes were bright red and the paper birch skeletons shimmering white.

2008-Torrance Barrens-beaver pond

We eased into our 2009 hiking weekend in Prince Edward County with a wine-tasting personally conducted by Norman Hardie at his renowned vineyard.

2009-Norman Hardie-Wine-tasting

We all enjoyed a sip — best be prepared ahead of a hiking trip!

2009-Wine-Tasting-Norman Hardie Wines

The next day, when we hiked the soaring dunes of Sandbanks Provincial Park….

2009-Sandbanks Provincial Park

….. where some found time to wade in the waters of Lake Ontario…..

2009-Sandbanks Provincial Park-hikers

… I did a little botanizing, and  was thrilled to see fringed gentians (Gentianopsis crinita) in flower.

2009-Gentianopsis crinita-Fringed gentian-Sandbanks

In 2010, we headed back to Niagara, but this time we walked about 10 kilometres (6 miles) of the Niagara River Parkway…..

2010-Niagara River Parkway

….where the view of the river was spectacular…..

2010-Niagara River

….before getting into our cars (ah, the magic of the pre-parked cars!) and driving to Ravine Vineyard for lunch.

2010-Niagara Ravine Vineyard

In 2012, we hiked near Susan’s beautiful farm…..


….. where we sat for a group photo (again, of most of us, but not quite all).


As with many of our hikes, we enjoyed brilliant fall colour – here of Susan’s gorgeous paper birch…..

2012-Paper Birch-Betula papyrifera-fall colour

In 2014, we bunked in at Anne and Bob’s in Collingwood, and headed out on the Kolapore trail, which Bob helps maintain.

2014-Kolapore sign

Though it sometimes feels like a dark cathedral of trees as we hike amidst thousands of slender trunks of sugar maple, beech and birch….

2014-Kolapore hiking

…. it’s good to look up occasionally, and see fall-coloured leaves fluttering against the autumn sky.


The trail that year was muddy in places – there was the odd little spill…..


The vegetation was wonderful: here are hart’s tongue ferns (Asplenium scolapendrium), quite rare in the region.

2014-harts-tongue ferns-Asplenium scolopendrium

Though non-native, it’s always a treat to see watercress (Nasturtium officinale) in a clean, moving stream.


In 2015, eight of us decided to pack our bags and head to a different kind of forest for our autumn hike: a rain forest. In Costa Rica!

2015-Beach Trail sign-El Remanso Lodge-Osa Peninsula-Costa Rica

And do you know how mother nature makes a rain forest? That’s right…….

Let’s just say our hiking attire was a little lighter than normal, given the almost total humidity and warm temperatures.

2015-Felix-Long Hike-El Remanso

Five of us did the zip-line through the jungle. I chickened out but served as the documentary photographer.


(I wrote  a special blog about El Remanso Lodge on the Osa Peninsula of Costa Rica, if you want to read a little more.)

In 2016, we hiked the Mad River Side Trail near Glen Huron, Ontario. The colours were spectacular.


Here’s a video I made of that lovely hike along the Mad River.

When we arrived at the base of the Devil’s Glen Ski Club to have lunch, I made a group shot, (well, most of us and one guest – a few had wandered away) and just managed to get myself back into the frame before the shutter clicked.

2016-Hiking Group-Devils Glen

Heading back to our lodging, we stopped at an apple stand and stocked up on Northern Spy apples, my favourite for pies and crisps.

2016-Spy Apples-Glen Huron

Which brings me to this year, the 25th edition of our hike, when we once again met in Muskoka and walked the beautiful Torrance Barrens.  We marvelled at the fluffy white clouds reflected in Highland Pond….

2017-Highland-Pond-Clouds-Torrance Barrens

…and noted the tamaracks (Larix laricina) at the water’s edge.

2017-Pine-Sumac-Tamarack-Torrance Barrens

Bob pointed out aspects of geology, as in ‘this is gneiss, not pure granite’.


We walked past my favourite paper birch….

2017-Paper birch-Torrance Barrens

…..and saw the fluffy cotton grass (Eriophorum vaginatum) flanking the bog.


The little bridge over the small pond is sinking in the middle and necessitated a ‘one-at-a-time’ rule.


It’s always fun to stop and look at the erratic boulder left behind when the ice retreated, and it appears that Alex Tilley, founder of Tilley Hats, agreed. This little interpretive sign was paid for by Tilley, whom I’ve seen hiking the Barrens.

2017-Erratic-Precambrian Shield-Torrance Barrens

With so much rain this summer and autumn, many parts of the path were waterlogged and Bob (the veteran trail groomer) pointed out drier spots to navigate.

2017-Water on trail-Torrance Barrensl

We crossed Southwood Road and finished our hike in the deeper soil of a forest….

2017-Hikers-in-oaks-Torrance Barrens

….featuring bracken ferns and beautiful red oaks.

2017-Red Oak-Torrance Barrens

A tiny red-bellied snake (Storeria occipitomaculata) was on the path (it’s only my lens that makes it look huge) – one of many reptiles I’ve photographed in the Barrens over the years.

2017-Red-bellied snake-Torrance Barrens

And at the end of the trail, we posed for our traditional photo (minus four who couldn’t be with us this year).  Over a quarter-century, we’ve seen our children grow up, marry, change jobs, and have their own kids. We’ve talked about books, theatre, food, health and travel to faraway places. We’ve lost spouses or partners, and felt the comfort of the friends who knew them well. And we’ve welcomed new partners to the group and made them feel welcome and loved. It is a simple thing to do, walking a trail, and it reminds us that we need nature – and the company of friends – to live full lives.

2017-Hiking Group-Torrance Barrens


In memory of Murray, Tim and Jim.

Monkshood & Snakeroot for a Fall Finale

What a luscious October afternoon! I looked out my back window and was drawn, as I always am this time in autumn, to the furthest corner of the garden, where a little fall scene unfolds that I treasure more because it’s a secret. Want to see it?  Let’s take a little stroll past the messy pots on the deck with their various sedums and swishing sideoats grama (Bouteloua curtipendula) out into the garden past the table and chairs that haven’t been used since… when? August?

Janet Davis-garden-autumn

Keep going to where the lovely chartreuse Tiger Eyes sumac (Rhus typhina ‘Bailtiger’) is currently doing its Hollywood star thing in brilliant apricot…..

Tiger Eye Sumac-Rhus typhina 'Bailtiger'-fall color

But what’s this scene, just behind it?

Tiger Eye Sumac-snakeroot-monkshood-Janet Davis

Yes, two stalwarts of the autumn garden – and I mean autumn, fall, October!  Autumn monkshood (Aconitum carmichaelii ‘Arendsii’) and autumn snakeroot (Actaea simplex), aka fall bugbane. Each year, they flower at the same time, and enjoy identical conditions in my garden, i.e. the most moisture-retentive soil (lowest corner of the garden by a few inches), with reasonable midday sunshine but dappled shade a good portion of the day. The fragrance of the snakeroot is fabulous, something a little soft and incense-like, or reminiscent of talcum powder (in the nicest way).  Colour-wise, I love blue and white, from the earliest anemones-with-scilla in April to this shimmering, assertive finale.

Janet Davis-Actaea simplex & Aconitum carmichaelii 'Arendsii'

And did I mention pollinators? As in bumble bees of different species, honey bees……

Pollinators-autumn garden-fall snakeroot & monkshood-

(WHO has the beehives near my house? I’d love to know)…..

Honey bees-Apis mellifera-Actaea simplex-fall snaekroot

……hover flies…..

Hover-fly on fall snakeroot-Actaea simplex

….and paper wasps, below, as well as ants and cucumber beetles.

Paper wasp on fall snakeroot-Actaea simplex

Monkshood is deadly poisonous, but its pollen seems to be an attraction for bumble bees and honey bees once the asters have finished up.

Bombus-Fall Monkshood-Aconitum carmichaelii 'Arendsii'

Finally, do note that the snakeroot is not any of those fancy-schmancy dark-leaved cultivars like ‘Brunette’, but the straight species with plain-Jane-green-foliage,. And that it used to be called Cimicifuga, but the gene sequencers have now moved it into Actaea.  It is a lovely plant and should be used much, much more.

A Visit to Idaho Botanical Garden

Before the bloom is off the rose, I’d like to take you on a tour of the Idaho Botanical Garden. This has been sitting in my to-do pile for a year, the delightful culmination of a trip we made to the Grand Tetons, Yellowstone National Park and Sun Valley, Idaho last September. That morning, we’d driven down from Sun Valley, elevation 5945 feet, with its ski runs visible, below…..

Sun Valley Idaho-summer

….to Boise, 2730 feet.The late summer scenery on the 160-mile drive down was at first sage-dominated high rangeland (ecologically termed “sagebrush steppe”) flanking the Sawtooth National Forest….

Rangeland-Sawtooth National Forest

….and later, as we descended towards Highway 84 near Mountain Home, Idaho, gold and green farm grasses and picturesque grain silos against a backdrop of the indigo-shaded mountains of the Sawtooth Range.

Grain silo-Sawtooth Range-Idaho

How I would love to have been on this road in spring – an entire camas prairie!

Camas Prairie-Centennial Marsh

After making the turn onto Highway 84, we headed northwest into Boise where I had arranged to meet my garden writing colleague Mary Ann Newcomer, author and host of Dirt Diva on Boise radio. (If you’ve got a few minutes, listen to this excellent interview with her on North State Public Radio.) She kindly picked us up at our hotel after lunch and chauffeured us to the botanical garden where she spent 10 years as a board member and continues her relationship today as the garden updates certain sections.

Janet Davis & Mary-Ann Newcomer (2)

We entered via the newly-installed, Franz Witte-designed Entrance Garden.

Entrance garden-Idaho Botanical Garden-Boise

Coming in we passed a display of annuals that was as beautifully-maintained as it was colourful!

Annuals - Idaho Botanical Garden

There was a wedding reception going on in the English garden when we arrived, but we asked permission to sneak in.

English garden terrace-Idaho Botanical

Mary Ann continues to be particularly involved in the English garden, now undergoing a design update to accommodate the increased shade of trees that were tiny sticks when installed years ago, like the lovely katsura (Cercidiphyllum japonicum) below…

Katsura tree-Idaho Botanical

I liked the unobtrusive shrub support for this clematis.

Clematis-English Garden-Idaho Botanical

Iron gates created a lovely flow through this garden.

Gate-English garden-Idaho Botanical

Late summer perennials, shrubs and grasses were in their glory, like the blue mist bush (Caryopteris x clandonensis) with feather reed grass (Calamagrostis x acutiflora ‘Karl Foerster’) below.

Caryopteris & Calamagrostis-Idaho Botanical Garden

There were some sweet surprises, too, like this miniature pumpkin vine climbing the upright stems of fernleaf elderberry (Sambucus canadensis ‘Laciniata’).

Fernleaf elderberry & pumpkin vine-Idaho Botanical

We were chatting so much, I didn’t pay close attention to our meander into other areas, including the Rose Garden. Looking up through rose blossoms at a former prison watchtower, this is when you understand that the Idaho Botanical Garden is situated on the former site of the Idaho Penitentiary.  And though all the buildings now house botanical garden administration offices, etc., it’s a remarkable use of historic property.

Watchtower-Idaho Botanical

We passed some fun metal sculptures.

Sculptures-Idaho Botanical Garden

I loved this little inset border of colourful annuals beside the Meditation Garden.

Meditation garden-Idaho Botanical

In the Children’s Garden was a fabulous display of carnivorous plants. What a great teaching opportunity this is. (And yes, that’s native annual sunflower behind!)

Carnivorous plants-Children's Adventure Garden-Idaho Botanical Garden

And this looked like great fun for kids.

Children's Adventure-Garden-Idaho Botanical

For this high desert climate (Boise is classified as USDA Zone 7, but frequent, sustained winter lows have persuaded Mary Ann that it’s safer to buy plants for Zone 5), Idaho Botanical Garden features an important garden, the Plant Select® Demonstration Garden.  Based on a program developed by Denver Botanic Garden and Colorado State University, these are plants that are adapted to Boise’s hot, dry summers.  I loved this combination of Bouteloua gracilis ‘Blonde Ambition’ and Wright’s buckwheat (Eriogonum wrightii var. wrightii).

Bouteloua 'Blonde Ambition' & Eriogonum wrightii var. wrightii-Idaho Botanical

And this little firecracker has become a new “it” plant: ‘Marian Sampson’ hummingbird mint (Monardella macrantha).

Monardella macrantha 'Marian Sampson'-Plant Select

What about this gorgeous Mojave sage, Salvia pachyphylla?

Salvia pachyphylla-Mountain Desesrt Sage-Idaho Botanical

As we left the Plant Select® garden, I stopped to admire a little sagebrush lizard.

Sagebrush Lizard-Idaho Botanical Garden

We passed by the beautiful Herb Garden….

Herb Garden-Idaho Botanical

…. but stopped for a bit in the Vegetable Garden.

Vegetable garden-Idaho Botanical

Check out the cages on those berries! That’s the way to outsmart birds and rodents.

Vegetable garden-protective cages-Idaho Botanical

You can grow grapes in the high desert!

Grapes-Idaho Botanical

Then it was on to the Summer Succulent Garden.

Summer Succulent Garden-Idaho Botanical

I could have spent a lot of time studying the various opuntias and cylindropuntias…..Summer Succulent Garden-Cactus-Idaho Botanical

But we were heading up to another of Mary Ann’s favourite areas: the Lewis & Clark Native Garden. The garden celebrates a score of native plants, including many that were recorded for the first time by Meriwether Lewis and William Clark and their Corps of Discovery during their President Thomas Jefferson-commissioned 1803-05 expedition west through the Louisiana Territory to the Pacific.


For me, this fabulous garden represents what botanical gardens should be doing everywhere: celebrating locally indigenous plants according to their geographical and ecological niches, and showing visitors the rich diversity of flora native to their region. Here the stone marker is appropriately flanked with snowberry (Symphoricarpos albus), a plant observed by Lewis near Missoula, Montana on August 13, 1805.

Lewis & Clark Native Plant Garden-snowberry-Idaho Botanical

I saw plants I’d never heard of before on this path, like fernbush (Chamaebatiaria millefolium), with its big, bee-friendly panicles……

Fernbush-Chamaebatiaria millefolium

…..  and cascara buckthorn (Rhamnus purshiana), whose dried bark was used as a laxative by the Native Americans of the Pacific northwest, then by colonialists. (I even recall cascara being in medicine cabinets when I was a girl!)

Rhamnus purshiana-Cascara buckthorn

In the Western Waterwise Garden…..

Western Waterwise Garden-Idaho Botanical

….. I found beautiful creeping hummingbird trumpet (Zauschneria garrettii ‘Orange Carpet’)….

Zauschneria garrettii 'Orange Carpet'

In the Wetlands Garden….

Wetlands Garden-Idaho-Botanical

…. there was familiar Oregon grape (Mahonia aquifolium)….

Mahonia aquefolium-Oregon grape

…. and unfamiliar black or Douglas hawthorn (Crataegus douglasii), ultimately named for David Douglas, who later collected the seed in his explorations of the west….

Crataegus douglasii-Douglas hawthorn

…. and lovely streambank wild hollyhock (Iliamnia rivularis).

Iliamna rivularis-Streambank wild hollyhock-Idaho Botanical

Then I was exploring Plants of the Canyons. I loved this creative way of showing off Idaho natives!

Plants of the Canyons-Idaho Botanical

Beargrass (Xerophyllum tenax) was collected by Lewis & Clark on June 15, 1806, on the Lolo Trail in Idaho’s Bitterroot Mountains. Clearly, young plants are a favourite of hungry herbivores up here!

Xerophyllum tenax-beargrass-Lewis & Clark-Idaho Botanical

Here is beautiful western columbine (Aquilegia formosa), recorded by the explorers the very next day, June 16th.

Aquilegia formosa-western columbine

Nine days later, on June 25, 1806, they found scarlet gilia (Ipomopsis aggregata) on the Lolo Trail.

Ipomopsis aggregata-Scarlet gilia-Lewis & Clark-Idaho Botanical

Look at the beautiful markings of scarlet gilia, which show stripes typical of the colour shift that occurs in some populations of this species later in the season.  According to the USDA: “Red-flowered races of scarlet gilia tend to be pollinated mostly by hummingbirds, which are especially attracted to the color red because of their outstanding vision. White flowers are more attractive to moths that visit the gilia flowers at dusk or nighttime and are drawn by the flower’s unpleasant scent. Scarlet gilia blooms over much of the summer and in some populations blossoms that emerge from May to July are red and hummingbird pollinated, while flowers that mature later in July and August are white and pollinated by moths. This color shift can even be observed among different flowers on the same plant.

Ipomopsis aggregata-closeup-Scarlet gilia

To treat his fever and intestinal condition, Lewis made a dark tea of chokecherry bark (Prunus virginiana), shown in fruit below, collected May 29, 1806 near present day Kamiah, Idaho.

Prunus virginiana-Chokecherry-Lewis & Clark

Oceanspray (Holodiscus discolor) was noted on the same day.

Holodiscus discolor-Oceanspray-Lewis & Clark-Idaho Botanical

Nootka rose (R. nutkana) had already formed hips. It was observed in flower on the Wieppe Prairie by Lewis & Clark on June 10, 1806.

Rosa nutkana-Nootka rose-hips-Lewis & Clark

In the grasses grew annual sunflower (Helianthus annuus), so elegant and simple – unlike the big, multi-coloured forms produced by hybridizers over the past two centuries. Its height was impressive to Sgt. John Ordway, who referred to it as “weedy” on August 13, 1804. He wrote: “we crossed the North branch and proceded along the South branch which was verry fatigueing for the high Grass Sunflowers & thistles &C all of which were above 10 feet high


Annual great blanketflower (Gaillardia aristata) was observed by the expedition in what is now Lewis & Clark County (Helena), Montana, on July 7, 1806.

Gaillardia aristata-Great blanketflower-Lewis & Clark

On February 2, 1806, the Lewis & Clark expedition was at Fort Clatsop, Oregon, when blue elderberry (Sambucus nigra ssp. cerulea) was collected.

Sambucus nigra ssp. cerulea-Blue elderberry-Lewis & Clark

Prickly pear (Opuntia polyacantha) was observed on September 19, 1804 in Lower Butte, South Dakota, but its effects were regularly felt by the Corps of Discovery. Wrote Clark: “… as the thorns very readily perce the foot through the Mockerson; they are so numerous that it requires one half the traveler’s attention to avoid them.”

Opuntia polyacantha-Prickly pear-Lewis & Clark

Ponderosa pine, of course, is the predominant conifer in this region. When Clark was preparing to navigate the Columbia River in the fall of 1805 and his men were ill and weak, he felled ponderosas and hollowed them out by burning so they could serve as canoes. The seeds are edible, and the pitch from the tree could be used to waterproof the canoes, but it was also used as chewing gum and as a glue to fix arrowheads to the shafts.

Pinus ponderosa-Lewis & Clark

I finally reached the top and saw a small garden devoted to Sacajawea (c. 1787-1812). As a child in the Shoshone nation, she had been kidnapped and raised by the Haditsa tribe before being sold in 1804 to French-Canadian fur trapper Toussaint Charbonneau.  However unsavory her husband (nine years earlier, he had been stabbed by an old Saultier woman in Manitoba for raping her daughter, and he was already married to a Shoshone when he married Sacajawea), Clark valued Sacajawea immensely for her knowledge of the Shoshone language and arranged for her, Charbonneau (who spoke Haditsa) and his other wife, Otter Woman, to accompany the expedition as translators. In February 1805, Sacajawea’s son Jean Baptiste was born on the trail.


Not only did Sacajawea find food for the expedition from the land, including hog peanuts (Amphicarpa bracteata) and Indian breadroot (Pediomelum esculentum), she provided valuable information on the navigability of the Missouri River, in Montana, having recognized it from her childhood with the Shoshone. On August 17, 1805, Clark  watched as she was reunited with her brother Cameahwait, the Shoshone chief.  She and Otter woman then translated communications from the Shoshone to the Haditsa language, which Charbonneau was then able to translate into English for Clark and Lewis. After the gruelling 3-week trek through the Bitterroot Mountains they finally reached a tributary of the Columbia River.  The painting below by famed Montana artist Charles Marian Russell was made in 1905, exactly 100 years later, titled “Lewis & Clark on the Lower Columbia”, and shows Sacajawea gesturing to unidentified Indians of a West Coast tribe.Charles Marion Russell-1905-Lewis & Clark on the Lower Columbia

In early winter, Clark and Lewis reached the Pacific Ocean. When a trip was arranged to procure whale meat, Clark wrote of Sacajawea: “She observed that She had traveled a long way with us to See the great waters, and that now that monstrous fish was also to be Seen, She thought it verry hard that She Could not be permitted to See either (She had never yet been to the Ocian).”  She and Charbonneau were allowed to go. They began the return trip in late spring, Jean Baptiste, and the Charbonneau family stayed with the expedition until August, 1806, when Clark offered to set them up in St. Louis and oversee the education of Jean Baptiste, whom he had nicknamed “Pompey”, his version of the Shoshone word for “firstborn”.  Though Charbonneau refused initially, in September 1809 he bought land from Clark and tried his hand at farming for 18 months, before quitting and departing with Sacajawea, leaving behind their 5-year old son to be raised by Clark. Sacajawea would die of typhus a few years later, four months after giving birth to their daughter Lisette. Eventually, the guardianship of both children would be transferred to Clark.

Sacajawea-sign-Idaho Botanical

It would have been wonderful to visit Sacajawea’s garden in spring, when the camas is in bloom.

Camassia quamash-Camas lily

As it was, I had to content myself with enjoying this sculpture by Rusty Talbot called Camas Lily/Sacajawea.


Standing at the Promontory, I was able to look down at the old prison buildings below through two more common sage steppe plants mentioned by Lewis & Clark, green rabbitbrush (Chrysothamnus viscidiflorus) with yellow flowers in the foreground, and rubber rabbitbrush or chamisa (Ericameria nauseosa) with glaucous leaves beyond.

Promontory view-Idaho Botanical

I could have dallied for hours more, but it was time to make the trek back down. Thank you, Mary Ann Newcomer, for introducing me to your special garden. I learned so much!